Memo on Institutional, Divisional, and Departmental Statements (PDAD&C #38)

From: Trevor Young, Vice-President & Provost
Christine Szustaczek, Vice-President, Communications
Date: April 26, 2024
Re: Memo on Institutional, Divisional, and Departmental Statements (PDAD&C #38)

An institutional statement is an official, public communication in response to local or global events, generally involving recent developments of major public interest. Such public statements are issued or endorsed by the President or other institutional leaders designated to do so on their behalf. These can include statements by a Vice-President or Vice-Provost, for example.

Over the past decade, the University of Toronto administration has made a number of such statements, addressing a range of local and global issues, including natural disasters, political conflicts, and other developments. In doing so, the University has aimed to demonstrate responsiveness, offer moral support, provide tangible resources to impacted members of our community, express collective empathy, and foster a sense of community.  

University leaders have been reflecting on our approach to institutional statements for the past two years. We have heard concerns that institutional statements sometimes have unintended and undesirable effects. We have learned that for some in our community, such statements imply a false sense of unanimity. For others, they are perceived as chilling the expression of contrary views or inadvertently sending a signal that opposing views are unwelcome. We have heard that such statements can create the appearance of the University choosing a side in a contentious political debate, which is not normally in its mandate nor is it the intent of such institutional communications. Such statements may also create a false expectation that the University will publicly comment on every major incident that occurs, or create the misperception that we care more about one community than another.

Following consultation with academic administrators, we have developed a set of considerations for determining whether the University of Toronto will issue an institutional statement.

U of T’s principles for issuing or endorsing an institutional statement

As articulated in our Statement of Institutional Purpose, U of T is an intentionally inclusive academic community in which “the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice”.[1] The University’s ability to uphold its mission of learning, discovery, and the advancement of knowledge rests on the academic freedom of its faculty members and librarians.[2] It also depends on the freedom of expression among all members of its community, including students and staff, subject to the limits under law and University policy.[3]

The University’s role is to create the conditions in which a diversity of viewpoints can be elaborated and expressed, to host constructive debate across positions of difference, and to foster deeper understanding of complex issues. Its role is not to act as an arbiter among competing positions. As noted in the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.”[4] A notable exception would be those instances in which the mission of the University and its most fundamental values are being challenged.

The U of T community is remarkably diverse – a source of great strength and pride. As such, it is impossible for any single administrative statement to satisfy all or even most members of our community, or to represent their diverse views adequately.

U of T is also a caring community. A key priority is to provide tangible supports (such as emergency bursaries or information about mental health resources) to those within our community who are most directly impacted by local or world events.

Moving forward, we expect that the application of these principles will result in fewer institutional statements.

Guidance for deans, chairs, and other academic administrators

Academic freedom supports the right of all faculty members and librarians, including academic leaders, to make statements as individuals. In general, leaders of an academic unit should promote respectful dialogue and protect the academic freedom of individual colleagues to research and teach contested ideas by maintaining an environment that is conducive to free inquiry. To maintain such an environment, and in light of the internal diversity of our community, the issuance or endorsement of a public statement that purports to represent the views of everyone in an academic unit or program is strongly discouraged.

Next steps

A new webpage has been developed on the UTogether website, where tri-campus resources are available to faculty, staff, students, and librarians who are impacted by local or world events. We encourage you to visit the site, and to consider ways to foster civil discourse at the University of Toronto as an impactful alternative to issuing institutional, divisional, or departmental statements.

[1] See:

[2] See:, University’s Report of the Working Group on Antisemitism (2021), the Policy on Appointment of Academic Administrators (2003), and Memorandum of Agreement between the Governing Council and the University of Toronto Faculty Association, Article V. (rev. 2016).

[3] See: Statement of Institutional Purpose (1992), and

[4] University of Chicago, Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action (1967).