Monday, January 13, 2014

York University standing by choice to excuse student from group work with women over religious beliefs. From the Globe and Mail.

Who let the girls in?
York University appears to be standing by its controversial decision to permit a student to be excused from a group project because the presence of women interfered with his “firm religious beliefs.”

In a statement Thursday by provost Rhonda Lenton, the university affirmed its commitment to “gender equity, inclusivity and diversity,” but did not retract an October order authorizing the much-criticized “religious accommodation.”

The statement comes one day after York University sociology professor J. Paul Grayson went public with documents showing that university brass had backed a request from one of his students to be separated from female classmates for religious reasons.

The rest of the misery.

17 comments:

  1. Proffie Grayson had already given another student the opportunity to “complete the course requirement off-campus," so it appears the administration merely wanted him to be consistent.

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    1. But that other student was out of the country.

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    2. PG, have you been drinking my bourbon? Being out of the country is a better excuse than being Jewish? If so, then lots more students will be encouraged to vacation in Bermuda during the semester. Even a soldier would have an easier time changing hir Afghanistan deployment timeframe than a Jewish person would have of changing being Jewish.

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    3. I'm confused, Bubba. It's an online class and one of the students is taking it from another country (Afghanistan, perhaps?). When I taught online, one semester I had a student take the course from England. She, and only she, was excused from the mandatory in-person first meeting.

      I thought the religion of the student hadn't been revealed. And both Jewish and Muslim scholars had advised the professor that his take was okay.

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    4. Canada and the States have different laws and cultures, so this gets complicated. And we're relying on information from a newspaper, so the veracity of the basic facts must be in some doubt by reasonable people. And we're talking about religion, which has little to do with being reasonable. And then there's the question of whether Judaism is a religion or an ethnicity or something else. And whether or not "mandatory" is, in fact, an absolute adjective. And on and on. This case could be debated for centuries.

      It might cost the student in England a thousand dollars to fly to the States for a mandatory meeting. OTOH, it might cost the "religious" student eternal damnation to participate in that same meeting. Eternal damnation seems like the higher price to pay.

      If a student is excused from a mandatory meeting, then apparently that meeting isn't mandatory.

      If Jewish and Muslim scholars tell me that there is a god, that doesn't mean there is a god.

      Of course, religion is a bit silly. And the student who claims to be in England is probably actually in Pennsylvania--because that's what students do. Students lie. We all lie. I vote for bourbon.

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    5. Yes, so much for academics to debate here. We did know that my student was in England, and she had already successfully completed a few online courses with us, so the "mandatory" orientation meeting was not crucial for her. We did have a lively discussion of what "mandatory" means after that, and also what "distance education" meant, and whether it was good policy to require all online classes to start with a mandatory meeting.

      Eternal damnation is indeed a high price to pay. Pass the bourbon.

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  2. I'd guess the administration merely wanted to avoid a lawsuit and is using the other incident to justify their decision.

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  3. "Gee, I can't be around women at all! So I'll enroll in this school with 70% female students." Makes sense to me.

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    1. Yeah! Except that it was an online class. Maybe he figured that he'd only have to *virtually* intermingle with the opposite sex. Hmm. This raises a whole set of off-topic questions about whether his religious beliefs keep him off mixed-sex chatrooms and discussion boards on the web.

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  4. I had a married 18-year-old Saudi woman once request to not be in a group without her husband or brother present (all three were in the class together) if there were other single males in the group.

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    1. I've had a number of female students who cover to some degree, from just a headscarf (quite common) to everything but the eyes (one instance). The latter student was in a class with her brother, but did not make any requests about group work. I suppose I'd double-check with my chair and/or a dean first, just to be sure, but my instinct would be to say that in a co-ed secular university, that's not a request I can accommodate (unless the brother and/or husband happen to fit the criteria I use to make the groups -- in this particular class, people in the same/similar majors work together).

      That was a face to face class. Online is a bit different;I can't assume that my students are available to meet in person on or around campus with anyone, including me, since some are traveling and/or doing internships -- or possibly deployed, though I haven't had that circumstance yet -- in other states or countries.

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    2. Maybe the Saudi woman's husband and brother both enrolled in the course because she needed the course and there would be single males present. While I disagree with the premise, it would make sense for one of them to be in a group with her.

      It's a tough call. But denying the request could mean denying this very young woman the chance for an education that she otherwise couldn't get, given her powerlessness in her culture.

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  5. On the surface, both parties did everything right - the prof asked for advice from the Dean's office and human rights office rather than act unilaterally, and the Dean/admin also sought legal and humans rights advice before giving a response to the prof, rather than act unilaterally - and yet the Dean's office came up with the 'wrong' decision. My question at this point would be, who the hell did the university get legal advice from, and why aren't they being brought to task here? You can't criticize the university too much, from their perspective they are following the advice they were given by the "experts". I'm no lawyer, but it seems an obvious legal argument that certain rights trump other rights, and gender equality rights would trump religious rights at a public secular university.

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    1. Agreed, especially because the professor also ran it by scholars in Islam and Judaism, and they agreed with his approach.

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  6. This story is not as bad as the racist editorial it spawned in my local paper. The problem with the story is it should not be an issue. Is the face to face meeting in the uni calender? Is it in the course outline? This is a simple fix if the prof in question did as the student asked and then fixed the problem with a clear statement in the outline next term.

    We've all been there in some form where we have something unexpected happen and then take steps so it never happens again. What we don't do is make a stink that shows how unprepared we are for a student body that changes every term.

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    1. There should, indeed, be warning of any required face to face/on campus meetings, tests, etc. in the information students receive before the semester in an online class. As I said above, I can't, and don't, assume that my online students will ever be available for face to face meetings, with me or their classmates.

      However, unless all the courses this student needs to take from this university are available online, I'd say that he made a less than wise choice of institution.

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