Saturday, January 11, 2014

I'm with York University

This may be unpopular but I commend York University for standing by their decision to instruct a professor to allow a student taking an online course to opt out of a group assignment because the student did not want to work with women for religious reasons. Professor Paul Grayson forwarded the request to the dean's office for human rights which said the professor should honour the student's request given that this was an online course and the professor had given exemptions to another student who was unable to participate. The professor was "shocked" by the student's request and angered by the university's response so he refused to comply and has generated a media outcry against York University for their decision to stand by the student.

The professor's radio interview with CBC was particularly revealing early in the interview he said:
My main concern was that for religious beliefs we can also justify not interacting with jews, blacks, gays you name it and if this were allowed to go through than presumably all these other absurd demands could be made.
The professor's issue was simply that the student used his religion as the reason to make the request, and that if the university accommodated the request however insignificant it was it could lead to all sorts of terrible consequences. So it appears the professor refused the request simply to make a point. The interviewer asked, "Could you have accommodated him?" Professor Grayson's responded:
Physically sure because it's a web based course and if for example you live afar I can't expect you to fly to Toronto to conduct a focus group, but that is a completely different situation from a student who wishes not to interact with females in class out of preference. The analogy I like to use is two students come to class on Monday morning without completing their assignments, the first didn't complete it because his father passed away ok that's a very good reason, the second didn't complete it because he got drunk all weekend, well that's not a good reason.
So the professor is now equating having a religious faith with being drunk and saying explicitly that making a request as a matter of conscience is not a very good reason. In fact freedom of religion and of conscience is a foundational right in any free society.

No one would have been harmed by accommodating the student, and I'm sure the professor would have accepted almost any other reason to grant an exception from this assignment. It should have been granted.

Paul Grayson asked for a principled response from the University and I'm pleased to say he received one. Another principled response would be to discipline Grayson for deliberately refusing to follow his dean's direction.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

AÀnd what if for religious reasons he doesn't want a female prof and this is a compulsory course to get his degree? I agree that the drunken analogy doesn't sound right.

Anonymous said...

I think it was a bad decision. I should note this is not partisan as I noticed one liberal blogger also took a similar track so not totally partisan.

My reason for opposing this is gender equality is a fundamental value not just in Canada but almost all Western democracies and as such should be defended, especially when someone is using a public institution. As I've always said if someone doesn't like our values, don't come to this country. We should not go down the path many European countries have in trying to accommodate every demand from various religious groups. This has largely ended in disaster.

Patrick O'Neil said...

Anon 1 - I'd say in your example the student wouldn't be eligible for the degree, in this case exemptions from the assignment were available.

Anon 2 - how is gender equality threatened? If anything the female classmates would have a better experience without this guy in the workshop.

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed how people bend themselves into pretzels to justify gender apartheid based on some religious belief. It does not matter one iota whether this student could be "accommodated". The concept is totally outside our value system and therefore should not even be considered, especially in a public institution.

Anonymous said...

This on its own may not threaten gender equality, but it sets a bad precedent. Many immigrants we get today come from countries with much different value systems and if we start allowing them to ask us to bend to their culture, where does it end. It should be understood when you come to Canada, you follow our values and if you don't like them, then don't come to this country. I've seen in Europe where this was done and the outcome was not pretty, so we would be best to avoid the mistakes they made.

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