York university dean orders accommodation of male student who won't work with women

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Unionist
York university dean orders accommodation of male student who won't work with women

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Unionist

[url=http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/01/08/york_u_students_refusal_to_wo... U student’s refusal to work with women sparks rights debate[/url]

Quote:

A York University student who refused to do group work with women for religious reasons has sparked a human rights tug-of-war between a professor and campus administration.

While the professor wanted to deny the student’s request, a university dean ordered him to comply.

Professor Paul Grayson is now blowing the whistle on what he sees as a hierarchy of freedoms at York — religious rights trumping women’s rights.

“In order to meet an instance of a religious requirement we have tacitly accepted a negative definition of females,” Grayson told the Star. “That’s not acceptable.” [...]

The professor took the dean’s ruling to a department meeting. Other professors agreed with Grayson and passed a motion refusing any student accommodations if they marginalize a student, faculty member or teaching assistant.

The following day, Grayson used this justification to reject the student’s request.

The professor insisted that the student at the centre of the controversy is not a zealot. In fact, he later agreed to work with his assigned group, many of whom were women.

“I cannot expect that everything will perfectly suit what I would consider an ideal situation,” the student wrote. “I will respect the final decision, and do my best to accommodate it. I thank you for the way you have handled this request, and I look forward to continuing in this course.”

Regardless, Grayson may face consequences for defying the dean’s decision and creating a new departmental policy to justify his stance.

So the problem isn't the student - he was quite prepared to accommodate his religious beliefs to the demands of his professor. The problem is the whole hierarchy of university administration, "human" rights experts, etc. who think that my belief in the Flying Fettucine Monster should trump the equality rights of women with men.

 

Caissa

I found two apects of the article interesting.

 

 

"While Grayson’s gut reaction was to deny the request, he forwarded the email to the faculty’s dean and the director for the centre for human rights.

Their response shocked him; the student’s request was permitted.

The reasoning was apparently that students studying abroad in the same online class were given accommodations, and allowed to complete an alternative assignment.

“I think Mr. X must be accommodated in exactly the same way as the distant student has been,” the vice dean wrote to Grayson."

 

and secondly,

"A university provost, speaking on behalf of the dean, said the decision to grant the student’s request was made after consulting legal counsel, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the university’s human rights centre."

lagatta

No accommodation for such bigots.

Caissa

I found the rationale by the Dean to be of interest. The course was an online course that had a f2f component for students within a certain geographic location. The student chose to take an online course because he did not wish to have an f2f component. Those outside of a certain geographic area did not have to partake in an f2f component. Therefore, the Dean's solution was to treat the student like other distance students.

 

The issue arises and it often does, what religious observances need to be accommodated under human rights legislation?

Unionist

Every sincerely-held religious belief needs to be accommodated, up to the point of undue hardship. That's the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

The key is "undue hardship". If my beliefs require an educational institution to impose segregation, no matter on how small a scale, between men and women, then that's "undue hardship". Sort of like if my religion prohibited me from interacting with lesbians, or persons of colour, or atheists, or Jews. The accommodation effort would have to be made, but not to the point of actually giving practical effect to these anti-human beliefs.

In Québec, one of the PQ's "wedges" to get its Charter adopted is to legally entrench guidelines that would prevent religious accommodations from infringing on the secular character of the state or the equality of women and men. These principles actually enjoy massive support in Québec society. But as critics of the Charter point out, these "guidelines" are already to be found within the existing case law and within the guarantees of gender equality in both the Canadian and the Québec charters (the real one in the latter case).

If it is true that the Ontario human rights commission and other "experts" suggested that York needed to accommodate a segregation request, then Ontario is in trouble.

In short - what lagatta said.

 

 

Caissa

An interesting case. I think most cases around "undue hardship" have dealt with financial expenses. Needless to say, I don't support the students request. I would be interested on ow the OHRC would rule on such a case.

Mr.Tea

6079_Smith_W wrote:

There is no religious foundation for this. The student was just taking a piss, and backed off "cheerfully" when called on it.

That seems to be the case.

"Throughout, the student never revealed his religion, prompting Mr. Grayson to guess that he followed either Islam or Orthodox Judaism.

The professor ran the student’s initial memo past a Judaic scholar and two Islamic scholars, all of whom were puzzled by the request.

The Judaic scholar found no problem with an Orthodox Jew attending a co-ed group session. One of the Islamic scholars, in turn, declared simply, “unless he is asked to be physical with a female student, which I assume he isn’t, there is absolutely no justification for not interacting with females in public space.”

6079_Smith_W

Actually, the National Post got it:

http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/01/08/york-university-professor-who-re...

There is no religious foundation for this. The student was just taking a piss, and backed off "cheerfully" when called on it.

Dumbass.

The real problem is people in admin who take this stuff seriously, and let their rules be used to enforce "dogma" (nonsense in this case) without checking into it.

Or worse... go to bat on these ridiculous points after the matter has been settled. Why there's no discrimination complaint against this guy I don't know. Sounds like he would have "cheerfully" let it happen if no one asked otherwise.

Sineed

Matt Galloway interviewed a Human Rights representative from York U this morning. Great interview! I'm paraphrasing a bit, as I don't remember word for word, but here's the gist of it:

Matt Galloway: "What if a student said that for religious reasons he couldn't be in the same class as people who are black?"

HR person: "Well of course most people would find that much more shocking"

Matt Galloway: "Most people would find discrimination on the basis of gender just as unacceptible."

The way York U handled this just gives ammunition to those who would dismantle Human Rights legislation.

Unionist

Of course, consulting with Islamic and Jewish "scholars" is irrelevant. I don't know why this prof bothered. The law is clear that sincerely-held religious convictions must be accommodated up to the point of undue hardship - even if they don't conform to the dictates of some "established" religion.

As for Jews, I can personally attest that no two Jews agree about anything, and I'll challenge anyone who says otherwise.

 

Sineed

My father-in-law used to be a professor at a community college. Part of his job was arranging industry placements for co-op students. Occasionally, a student would tell him confidentially that he "couldn't have" a woman as a supervisor due to personal beliefs. In these cases, my father-in-law would go out of his way to make sure, if possible, that these students did have a woman supervisor for their co-op placements. As he tells it, he would in essence say, "You're in Canada now, sunshine. Get used to it." (FWIW my father-in-law is himself an immigrant.)

If he worked as a professor at York U in 2014, would he get in trouble?

6079_Smith_W

Sineed wrote:

The way York U handled this just gives ammunition to those who would dismantle Human Rights legislation.

Not just them, actually.

And from what I can see, the worst part of the original incident is not that someone needs to learn how to adapt - though there are plenty who DO -  but that it seems it was all done as a joke, or certainly not as a point of principle, misguided or not.

Unionist

I'm not sure why you keep repeating that it was done as a "joke". I know many people who have religious preferences, don't always get them acknowledged, and then have a choice to make. Sometimes it's a tough choice, sometimes it's easy. All depends on how deeply-held the conviction is, or how important to the individual is the activity which prevents that conviction from being respected. A turban-wearing Sikh who wants to work in hard-hat areas may well decide (like the vast majority of Sikh males in Canada) to doff his turban. I know one who did. That doesn't mean it started out as a "joke".

Anyway, that can't be the important part of this story. The important part is the frightening detachment of the bureaucrats from the reality of human rights and what really matters in this world. I hope they get crushed on this one.

 

6079_Smith_W

Sarcasm, Unionist.

Had it been done as a point of conviction I don't think it should have been allowed either. But at least it would have been an issue of real conflict.

If it wasn't done as a point of conviction, I don't see it as any different than the jokes that are cropping up around this about religion requiring people to take their classes in the bar.

It's a joke. A childish one, IMO, if that isn't clear. And frankly, this fellow deserves a slap for it.

If we want to take issue with mis-labelling something, how about the prof (whom I suspect was just being diplomatic) calling him a "reasonable guy"?

(edit)

Actually, re-reading that. You're right, and it's sloppiness on my part. To be clear, if he doesn't even have religious authorities acknowledging his position, he clearly hasn't done his homework. And before engaging in a request that was obviously going to offend, maybe he should have done that. Joke all the same.

 

 

 

 

Unionist

Prof. Grayson is on As It Happens right now.

The dean and the human rights "expert" at York should seriously be thrown out. These people are allegedly responsible for the enlightenment of our youth.

 

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

I'll bet it was a decision (the dean's, that is) based on who is most likely to sue/file a Human Rights complaint.

Unionist

Timebandit wrote:
I'll bet it was a decision (the dean's, that is) based on who is most likely to sue/file a Human Rights complaint.

Yes! Should of thought of that.

But if so, the dean guessed wrong. The student acquiesced when Prof. Grayson laid down the law - but Grayson isn't done yet. Good for him!

6079_Smith_W

@ TB

That would make the most sense. But if Greyson is to be believed, that's not the case. Or at the very least they just didn't bother to ask any questions at all. They just went with what was most reflexive (and demonstrating they were in control, of course).

You know, I have a book that claims that the European powers basically policy manualed themselves into the first world war without anyone making any actual decisions at all. I doubt it's entirely true, but given how some of these institutions work, it makes perfect sense.

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I'm waiting for the anglophone Canadian press to get in a tizzy over how Ontario can't seem to figure out how to respect religion in this multicultural day and age. Or something.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

I hate to underestimate the power of institutional stupidity. Interesting what the decision says about consciousness of discrimination - in the so-called post- feminist era, sex discrimination has become less visible, while racism and faith discrimination are seen as touchy. Glad Grayson's going to the mat on it.

Unionist

Though the context was different (the duty of non-discrimination in commercial services offered to the public vs. the religious beliefs of the entrepeneurs), some of the same issues arose in our discussion here:

[url=http://rabble.ca/babble/labour-and-consumption/muslim-barber-refuses-hai... refuses haircut to woman on religious grounds[/url]

 

Unionist

More discussion about religious accommodation on The Current right now.

 

Slumberjack

The people at this university who decided in favour of the student's original request do not belong in positions of power, nor do the human rights officials and legal counsel who may have advised the university to agree accommodate the student.

Caissa

One interesting wrinkle in this case is that it seems that students outside of a certain geographic area did not have to meet f2f in groups.

Unionist

Caissa wrote:

One interesting wrinkle in this case is that it seems that students outside of a certain geographic area did not have to meet f2f in groups.

Right. But here's the rub. Let's say your so-called religion prohibits you from interacting with persons of colour. As a result, you decide to take distance courses. You request and receive confirmation, in advance, that there will be no requirement of physical attendance of any kind, including exams. You are happy, and so is society - because we don't try to police people's minds and hearts. We do, however, police how people relate to each other and to the state.

If it turns out that the educational institution gave you wrong information, and there is in fact some human interaction required - then I suppose you could sue them for damages - but it would still be unacceptable to accede to your request just because they had made a mistake.

Even further - if the school had promised you white-only classes, and then reneged - you could have recourse for damages, but you could not require performance of the implied contract.

Everything changes when I say, "I'd like to be excused from this activity, or have it modified, because my religion forbids me from interacting with Muslims/women/queer folks - whatever." Now the issue is no longer my beliefs, prejudices, preferences - it becomes your issue. You the state, or the institution, or the employer, or the landlord, or the merchant, as the case may be. I can choose not to patronize establishments owned by Jews. But if I phone city hall and say, "Hey, my religion won't let me shop at Jew places, can you advise me of alternative options?", the correct answer is, "No." Accommodation doesn't stretch that far.

In 2010, the Québec Human Rights Commission issued two interesting rulings. One was that a person being served by a hijab-wearing clerk in a government office had no right to ask to be served by someone else. The other was that a person getting their photo taken for the mandatory QC health card had no right to specify the gender of the person(s) taking the photo. Got it right both times. The PQ's xenophobic charter would of course change one of those rulings, but our job is to make sure it is defeated.

 

6079_Smith_W

Caissa wrote:

One interesting wrinkle in this case is that it seems that students outside of a certain geographic area did not have to meet f2f in groups.

I consider the application of that in this case an utter abuse of the rule, like any other law that is conveniently used to discriminate. The only difference between this and busting people with vagrancy law is that in this case it was designed for a legitimate purpose. That doesn't justify its use here at all.

 

Unionist

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Caissa wrote:

One interesting wrinkle in this case is that it seems that students outside of a certain geographic area did not have to meet f2f in groups.

I consider the application of that in this case an utter abuse of the rule, like any other law that is conveniently used to discriminate. The only difference between this and busting people with vagrancy law is that in this case it was designed for a legitimate purpose. That doesn't justify its use here at all.

 

Yup, that's what I meant to say lol, but I got on a roll and couldn't stop. Thanks for putting it clearly and succinctly.

MegB

The only major religious text that is overtly misogynist is the Bible. By comparison the Koran, Torah and Talmud are progressive. In fact, the Koran had protections for the rights of women hundreds of years in advance of the Christian world. The argument against men and women being in public together when they are not related is custom, not religion, just as female genital mutilation is custom, not religion. Gender segregation during prayer is something else entirely, but in a secular environment there is no such prohibition. Using religion to prop up misogyny is as old as religion itself. It is deeply disappointing to see a public institution so cynically consult a team of lawyers in a decision that should be guided by common sense. Disappointing, but not surprising.

mersh

I have had numerous requests for accommodation from students over the past few years, mostly to do with ability/disability (including mental health) issues. I have run into conflict with students and (unfortunately) management over what constitutes reasonable efforts to accommodate while maintaining course integrity, as well as what amounts to volunteer labour once my contract ends (ie: grading assignments well past the end of a course, and well past whatever additional deadlines I had originally agreed upon).

I think Grayson's offering us a real opportunity to question how York and other universities consider accommodation -- as a legitimate effort to promote equity among students, or (ultimately) a sort of risk-management strategy that actually ignores questions of power and identity. You can guess where I'm leaning -- I'm not particularly impressed with the wishy-washy, cautious legalese coming from York spokesfolk.

ETA: And to clarify -- I think the response from York management really does undermine constructive efforts to build an inclusive, equitable setting for learning. There are quite a few political-correctness-gone-wild responses out there, and dodging questions of sexism by referring vaguely to the OHRC only fuels that sort of fire. It certainly sends a message to female students.

 

MegB

The York admin did their job - a cost benefit analysis. Women lost in that equation, which is not surprising given that women in academia frequently face an uphill battle when it comes to career advancement, more so than their male counterparts. Be that as it may, a guy I know who happens to be quadrapelegic dropped out in the final year of his BA because continually banging his head gainst the wall of stupidity presented by the Accessibility Office left him exhausted and demoralized. Needless to say, being on a fixed income made him easy to ignore. It always comes down to who has the most money

Caissa

Mersh, when it comes to accommodation for students with disabilities, the university is required to provide accommodation up to "undue hardship." The onus is on the university to prove that the  requested accommodation is one that undermines the integrity of the legitimate academic goals in a course or programme. I spent 8 years as a disability services provider in two universities and this issue arises often.

 

Of course, your employer should not be asking you to volunteer your time after your contract is over. Given the vagaries of part-time teaching, it is often hard to say "no" to these sorts of requests by management.  

pookie

I would have to agree.  I know it gets us into a slightly different context, but I do see this situation as a symptom of a general failure to achieve the proper balance between all kinds of accommodation and academic integrity (which, in this case, extends beyond measures of performance to the very governing ethos of the institution.)

The immediate response is to frame the request in litigious terms, to see the student as a potential complainant and to seek to avoid legal challenge. The accommodation is simply granted. There is little opportunity to discuss what is being requested, even though that's actually considered best practices under rhe ORHC.

And yes, I realize the risk of lumping requests motivated by asserted disability and by religion together, but they are in fact dealt with of a piece. 

ETA: Caissa, we cross-posted, but in Ontario "undue hardship" applies to every ground, not just disability.  It definitely applies to religion.

Caissa
mersh

Caissa wrote:

Mersh, when it comes to accommodation for students with disabilities, the university is required to provide accommodation up to "undue hardship." The onus is on the university to prove that the  requested accommodation is one that undermines the integrity of the legitimate academic goals in a course or programme. I spent 8 years as a disability services provider in two universities and this issue arises often.

 

Yup, I have read this too, and do my best to work with students who have specific requests and/or letters, respecting their rights to privacy and confidentiality. I consider it a possible way of fostering equity in an increasingly inequitable system.

I didn't mean to meander off from religious accommodation, but I have found that the administration of the process is often more concerned with appearing to comply with provincial legislation than with actually providing students a fair opportunity to succeed. This is manifested in understaffed and underfunded counselling facilities, lack of support for instructors, as well as responding without being consistent with formal policies, which tends to undermine these very procedures and create additional work for administrative and teaching staff. We really don't do enough to build in meaningful supports for all students.

This is anecdotal, of course, and I do fully support accommodation. I just see it more as a risk management exercise, which is a shame.

Caissa

You are correct in recognizing that there is a risk-management component. Universities do not want to be respondents in human rights complaints and lawsuits. Even more they don't want to lose human rights complaints or lawsuits. On the ground, most accessibiloity staff are attempting to ensure that students receive the accommodation to which they are entitled in order to ensure they have a fair oppportunity to succeed. Ultimately, administrators need to make decisions when it appears that the university may be a respondent in a human rights complaint because a faculty member objects to an accommodation in his/her course.

mersh

And many faculty still don't get it. Some ignore requests or make inappropriate demands for medical information or try to argue with students. When a student obtains proper documentation and contacts me well in advance (as per the guidelines), we almost always work something out. The accommodations folks have a pretty good approach and have given me useful information when I've asked for it. And they also have their work cut of for them in trying to explain the limitations of accommodation letters/requests to students, too.

It's the supervisory/administration folks who tend to avoid conflict by not even engaging in a conversation on the matter -- pookie's missed opportunity, as it were. This can lead to a default approval of requests and sends a lot of mixed signals to students and staff.

York administration seems to have been caught up in a default yes, and is now swimming through the fallout.

6079_Smith_W

Thing is, if it all came down to risk management, no one would ever stand up those powers which maintain control by suing into submission anyone who challenges them, or whom they want to muzzle.

This case might be a bit different than conflicts that relate more directly to that - like universities knucking under to corporate or government interests, but as an issue directed squarely at equality and discrimination against women, and keeping religious influence out of the secular realm, it is just as relevant to the welfare of the university institution.

Risk management is "doing their jobs" only in the most callous sense, and I know it's being used here half  tongue-in-cheek, because really, they are NOT doing their jobs in serving the better interests of the institution. That's not the higher learning any of us want. Sarcasm is sarcasm; let's not let that run away to the point that it gets taken as serious.

 

 

mersh

Well, that's the power of risk. It's an invention that can be deployed to depoliticize conflict. By defaulting to calculations of risk and liability, the administration has obfuscated its very real act of undermining the presence and participation of women in the university. It projects the appearance of objectivity, balance and thoughtfulness through the vocabulary of rights and legalities. In doing so, it replicates processes of that erase and disempower women in education. It's a rationality that reproduces inequality, through the very language that is (ostensibly) meant to reduce inequality. Them's my two-dollar words on this mess.

That is, if we take this shit seriously. The more I think about it, the more I think someone was trying to take the piss. Kind of like submitting fake articles to academic journals.

6079_Smith_W

Sure. And it might even be spelled out in a job description. But does that make that bureaucraic mechanism, or more importantly people's actions here right, responsible or even sensible?

If anything what undercuts that is that this problem was solved - in a way acceptable to all parties - before they even got involved. This is an injustice of their making.

 

Caissa

Keep in mind that the professor did kick the request up the line for input.

6079_Smith_W

Yes.

Do you think if they were so concerned they might have talked to the student about the refusal and asked the actual grounds, before taking an action that affects many other students, particularly women? Might they have asked women's groups what they think about this?

Throwing dice, or sticking your finger in the policy manual is not what I call input. Nor is pulling rank on someone who did have that consideration.

pookie

Unfortunately, York can't get away from its prior correspondence with the prof where it was clear that the religious belief WAS being accommodated.

If this was truly an issue of misleading advertising (course descrip didn't match up with actual components) then we're not talking about accommodation, but modification of the requirements for everyone (ie., making them purely optional). You can't be "accommodated" with respect to a requirement (f2f) that wasn't legitimately included in an "online" course in the first place.

Unionist

So, I read [url=http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/york-defends-allowing-student-to-s...'s linked article above[/url]. York is going nuts now, in response to the universal opposition to their stand. Listen to this:

Quote:
"The course had been advertised as an online course and the student had signed up for the course on the understanding that he would not be required to attend on campus," said Lenton. "If it had been an in-class on-campus course, the likely response here would have been that an accommodation would not have been provided."
[my emphasis]

So, they're saying that if at start of semester, in a real-live course, I show up and say, "I can't be in a class with women" - they would "likely" have told me to pound sand.

And never mind "likely" - a few minutes later in the interview, they wouldn't have done it, period!!

Quote:
"If this had not been an online course, an exception would not have been accommodated."

In fact, they're also now saying that their decision to accommodate wasn't based on the student's alleged so-called religious belief at all!

Quote:
"If we had made the accommodation based on the student's request around the religious accommodation, I could understand why people might feel that way, but that was not the defining factor."

That's progress. Case closed!

Except for one thing - they still concluded, at the end, that they would provide an exception to the student. If the student had said: "Hey, I signed up for an online course, and now the ground-rules have changed - I don't want any physical interaction with anyone!", then that would have been fine. Once he stated, however, that his reason was that his God wouldn't let him rub shoulders with humans lacking penises, then York was obliged to tell him "No." The expressed motive for the accommodation request is all-important, at law, and in real life of the society.

So - they should say "no", and he can quite logically pursue them for civil damages. But they can't give anyone an "accommodation" who demands segregation or discrimination on a prohibited ground.

mersh

Caissa wrote:

Keep in mind that the professor did kick the request up the line for input.

Completely understandable. The response he got was anything but, however. Here's a case of faculty wanting to do the right thing and getting bafflegab in response. Of course he asked for support -- it's expected. The response wasn't merely one he disagreed with, but one that didn't make sense. He even had difficulty working out the course description prior to teaching, and wasn't allowed to call it "blended", even though he had a non-online component (so far as I understand it).

This really shows up the limits to the university's abilities to manage accommodation and flexibility in new approaches to teaching. Can't wait for massive open online courses.

Unionist

Nice to see that [url=http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/mps-blast-york-for-backing-student-who-s... of most parties[/url] at least feel they have to distance themselves from York's stand - even though Peter Mackay had to throw in some imperialist warmongering bullshit about Afghanistan, just to ensure Harper lets him keep his job a bit longer.

 

Unionist

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Pondering

"It's nothing short of ridiculous," Liberal MP Judy Sgro said of the student's request.

"We live in a country seeking gender equality.... This is Canada, pure and simple."

Pasted from <http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/mps-blast-york-for-backing-student-who-snubbed-working-with-women-1.2491371>

I like the way she put that.

sherpa-finn

According to Rebecca West: The only major religious text that is overtly misogynist is the Bible. By comparison the Koran, Torah and Talmud are progressive.

Well, I guess that rather depends on how you define misogynist and progressive.  There are plenty of verses in the Qu'ran that explicitly endorse inequality between the sexes, polygamy, and violence against women - and that serve as foundations for the hadiths and other rules and practices that followed.

So lets not get too warm and fuzzy about this or any other 'prophets'.

Elle Fury

All patriarchal religions need to die before there can be equality of the sexes. All women should reject them. I never understood how any woman can be  attracted to religions that support the supremecy of male dieties and prophets. It is not surprising that males in the west would use religion to justify discrimination against females. Religion always provides refuge for sexism.

voice of the damned

sherpa-finn wrote:

According to Rebecca West: The only major religious text that is overtly misogynist is the Bible. By comparison the Koran, Torah and Talmud are progressive.

Well, I guess that rather depends on how you define misogynist and progressive.  There are plenty of verses in the Qu'ran that explicitly endorse inequality between the sexes, polygamy, and violence against women - and that serve as foundations for the hadiths and other rules and practices that followed.

So lets not get too warm and fuzzy about this or any other 'prophets'.

Also, the Torah is generally defined as the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament. I'm not gonna do any research right now, but I'm guessing that there are a few anti-woman statements and narratives in there.

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