Blame Canada: Toronto university sparks fracas by supporting student’s refusal to work with women

Readers Diana and Lynn, both Canadians, called my attention to a news item from Ontario—and a public debate—taking place about the conflict between state and religion. It’s every bit as portentous as the burqa debate in Europe (France, by the way, just upheld its ban on the burqa by convicting a wearer), but doesn’t seem to have gotten on the international radar screen.
The issue has been reported by the CBC, the Star, and the National Post, but the quotes (indented) are from the Star, whose coverage is most complete. This took place at York University in Toronto, which, like most universities in Canada, is a public school.
In short, a male student of unknown faith (the possibilities include Orthodox Judaism or Islam, but I suspect the latter) asked to opt out of participating in a sociology class’s focus group because it included women—and associating with women violates his religion. The professor refused this request as outrageous, but—and here’s the kicker—the York administration ordered the prof to comply.  The professor, Dr. Paul Grayson, blew the whistle on his administration. That is a brave guy!
Here are the details:

The brouhaha began in September when a student in an online sociology class emailed Grayson about the class’s only in-person requirement: a student-run focus group.

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs,” the student wrote. “It will not be possible for me to meet in public with a group of women (the majority of my group) to complete some of these tasks.”

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.

That, of course, is insane, because the student was not overseas and his refusal was due not to the inability to travel to Canada, but because he just didn’t want to work with women. And Grayson, in his reply to the dean, pulled no punches:

“York is a secular university. It is not a Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Moslem university. In our policy documents and (hopefully) in our classes we cling to the secular idea that all should be treated equally, independent of, for example, their religion or sex or race.

“Treating Mr. X equally would mean that, like other students, he is expected to interact with female students in his group.”

In a masterpiece of political correctness, the University stuck to its guns:

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.

“Students often select online courses to help them navigate all types of personal circumstances that make it difficult for them to attend classes on campus, and all students in the class would normally have access to whatever alternative grading scheme had been put in place as a result of the online format,” said Rhonda Lenton, provost and vice president academic.

The director of the Centre for Human Rights also weighed in on the decision in an email to Grayson.

“While I fully share your initial impression, the OHRC does require accommodations based on religious observances.”

Well, perhaps it does, but religious accommodations must give way when they conflict with the public good, and this is a public university. Refusing to associate with women is nothing other than an attempt to cast them as second-class citizens, and that human right trumps whatever misogyny is considered a “religious right.” If Mr. X wants to go to a synagogue in which women must sit in the back, or a mosque in which women can’t pray with men, that is his right, but he doesn’t have any right to make a public university accommodate that lunacy, any more than University College London can enforce gender-segregated seating at public lectures.

What’s the logical outcome of this kind of pandering to religion? Grayson again gave the university no quarter:

The professor argued that if a Christian student refused to interact with a black student, as one could argue with a skewed interpretation of the Bible, the university would undoubtedly reject the request.

“I see no difference in this situation,” Grayson wrote.

The interesting thing is that after hearing from the dean, Grayson (not knowing the student’s religion) consulted both Orthodox Jewish and Islamic scholars at York, who both told him that there was no bar to associating with women in their faiths so long as there was no physical contact. On that basis, Grayson and his colleagues in the sociology department refused the student’s request.

In the end, the student gave in. That might be the end of it, but Grayson still may face disciplinary action (like him, though, I doubt it). Who looks bad here is the university, which would even consider granting such a request.

Apparently this kind of clash between religious and secular values is not unique in Canadian education. As the Star reports:

The incident is the latest clash between religious values and Ontario’s secular education system.

Catholic schools resisted a call by Queen’s Park to allow so-called gay-straight student clubs because of the Vatican’s historic stand against homosexuality. But the government insisted such clubs be permitted as a tool against bullying — and a nod to Ontario’s commitment to freedom of sexual orientation.

Similar debate erupted in 2011 when a Toronto school in a largely Muslim neighbourhood allowed a Friday prayer service in the school cafeteria so that students would not leave for the mosque and not return.

However fewer cases have taken place at the post-secondary level.

Well, public schools are public schools, and they’re all supported by taxpayers. Just like a public university cannot teach creationism as science in the U.S. (at least at Ball State University), so a public university in Canada cannot discriminate against women, even in the name of catering to religious faith. How can the government insist that Catholic schools accept “gay-straight” clubs on the grounds of supporting freedom of sexual orientation, yet allow a student, also on religious grounds, to discrimiante against women?

There is no end to crazy religious beliefs, and I see no reason why basic human rights should be abrogated to cater to all those beliefs. The administration of York University now has egg on its face, and Professor Grayson is the hero.

There is now a Care 2 petition that you can sign directed to Martin Singer, Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and Noël A. J. Badiou, Director at York University’s Centre for Human Rights, those who supported the student’s right to refuse to associate with women. It reads, in part:

We the undersigned stand up for women’s and men’s equality, as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The statements and decisions made in this matter by Mr. Singer and Mr. Badiou suggest that they believe gender equality is subordinate to religious beliefs. We urge York University to retract this and re-affirm their stand on gender equality and women’s rights.

You don’t have to be Canadian to sign it, and right now there are only 453 signatures. They’re aiming for 1,000, so if you agree, head over to this link and add your name.


  1. Posted January 10, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I was just reading this opinion piece on this affair, and wondered whether you would agree with its analysis that whether to grant such accommodations should depend on the “choice” that the student has? Obviously this is a loaded question.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      I would suggest that the student isn’t there to exercise his choices, he’s there to get an education, he’s there to grow up!
      School is supposed to prepare you for life and in life you don’t get to choose to disrespect other people and claiming that girls are icky (it says so in the holey book)is not an option.
      Like so much of religion it’s just infantile denialism, get over it!

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted January 11, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Also, in a class with group work, students are teaching each other. Every student owes their classmates their respect and full participation.

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      I think Pettigrew is exactly right.

      If you choose to give priority to your religious dictates and constraints, it’s incumbent upon you to navigate the resultant terrain. That may include choosing to drop out of an institution that, in the service of teaching you to be a reasonable adult, asks you to behave like a reasonable adult.

      • Posted January 10, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        It’s not even remotely unprecedented, either. Look at the lengths that the orthodox of all communities go to to isolate themselves from greater societies, and what they give up in order to practice their religion as they see fit.

        And that’s all fine and dandy.

        The problem only arises when the religious want to insert their religious restrictions into the public sphere. There would have been just as much of a problem had the student wanted the cafeteria made halal so he wouldn’t have to worry about inadvertently sprinkling bacon bits on his salad, but he’d still be free to do his own cooking or to patronize some other establishment.



    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      There are two sets of rights and freedoms to consider: freedom of religion and sexual equality rights. I don’t think you can get away with using freedom of religion to stamp on sexual equality, which is essentially what happens when someone uses religion to justify sexism and refuse to work with women.

      How would this translate in the workplace? Should we accept that it’s okay for a woman to be excluded from project teams because a man on the team feels working with women is wrong? No way!

  2. Sastra
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the next tactic in the search for the justification of religious privilege is for the pious to demand that their deeply-held faith be considered a disability or mental illness. Just as an agoraphobic taking an online course might rightfully ask to be excused from an in-person requirement, so may a religious person.

    No, they won’t try that. Not flattering enough.

  3. gbjames
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Signed. (and sub)

  4. Dermot C
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink


  5. @eightyc
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Everyone is assuming that the guy actually is religious.

    To play Devil’s advocate, what if,

    1) He is not religious at all and
    2) He knows the special kid gloves with which people treat religion and
    3) therefore, the weird things that can result from political correctness

    And what if,

    4) He is simply lazy and didn’t actually want to commute to the York campus
    5) So he simply invented the religious excuse so that he can do everything online

    He can actually be a really crafty, albeit lazy, Atheist!


    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      None of which would excuse the school’s ridiculous accommodation of his request, of course.

      • Tulse
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        But why is it ridiculous if others were also allowed to take the course in that manner? Where is the actual harm?

        • gbjames
          Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          The harm is that the university establishes a principle that fear of cooties is a legitimate reason for exemptions to be granted. The school’s culture is defined by things like this.

          • Tulse
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

            As I said earlier, I signed the petition, and I too am worried about York’s general tendency for knee-jerk political correctness. But all that said, if the professor has privately granted the accommodation in the first place, I don’t think that would have been so harmful.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

              Your argument boils down to this: if an exemption is made for one reason (like living on another continent) then an exemption should be granted for any and all reasons provided nobody but the teacher knows.

              How about:

              “Excuse me because I might encounter someone with blue eyes”

              “Excuse me because I got a haircut three years ago in an dimly lit salon”

              Nobody would expect an instructor to agree to that. Why is it OK because the student believes in cooties?

              • Tulse
                Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                Your argument boils down to this: if an exemption is made for one reason (like living on another continent) then an exemption should be granted for any and all reasons provided nobody but the teacher knows.

                Not really — it’s instead that no one would have been harmed if the professor had granted the exemption.

                As for your examples, I do understand, and believe me, I am sympathetic to your position. But like it or not, religious beliefs are something that liberal societies have decided are important — they aren’t the same as merely idiosyncratic personal opinions.

                Let’s try this with other examples: Suppose the class was on a Friday evening, and the student was an Orthodox Jew. Would it have been acceptable for the prof to allow the student to do the class remotely rather than have to drive to campus? (Ignoring for the purposes of discussion that an Orthodox Jew wouldn’t likely use a computer on the Sabbath.)

                Or let’s say a student had a service dog they brought to class, and a Muslim student objected to being in class with a dog (which are seen as ritually unclean).

                In those cases, would it have been offensive to accommodate the student’s request?

                (I should be clear that I am rather conflicted on the actual case, and I am certainly willing to be convinced otherwise.)

              • Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                I don’t see how exemptions are justifiable in either of your examples. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised at seeing accommodations made by those eager to osculate the posterior of gullibility, but that doesn’t make them justifiable.

                People have a choice: to embrace modern society, or to embrace primitive superstition. Expecting modern society to revert to irrational nonsense that it’s worked so hard to escape is insufferably hubristic. If you care so much about your voodoo that you value it more than society, that’s fine — but those preferences come with consequences. If you don’t like the consequences, then grow up and drop the bullshit.



              • gbjames
                Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                The institution is harmed.

                As for your counter-examples, easy.

                If the Orthodox Jew can’t attend Friday classes for religious reasons, so be it.

                If a Muslim can’t be in a room with a service dog, so be it.

                Exemptions should not be granted for religious reasons. It is offensive to grant special exemptions for religious reasons.

                Let me put the question back to you: Let’s say a student wanted an exemption to a Friday evening class because he wanted to go out and get drunk on Friday nights. Should the professor grant the exemption?

              • Tulse
                Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                Exemptions should not be granted for religious reasons.

                Period? So if a student has to miss a class because of a religious holiday, it should be OK to penalize them?

                I do sympathize with the view you and Ben are putting forward, but at the same time I think liberal democracies should tread very lightly on religious beliefs when no one else is harmed by them, which seems to be the case here. In other words, I don’t think that religious beliefs, however silly and primitive and absurd, are to be treated as mere personal preferences (largely for the same reason that I don’t want the essentially secular nature of civil society to be seen as a merely competing personal preference).

              • Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                Yes, there should be no exemptions for religious holidays.

                Why should a Catholic teacher be forced to do extra work to provide alternate and make-up work for a Jewish holiday? Why should a Muslim teacher be forced to do the same for Hindu holidays?

                That way madness lies.

                The course schedule is published well in advance of registration, as are attendance and other requirements. If you know in advance you cannot complete those requirements to specified standards, you should either accept the lowered grade or not take the class in the first place.

                …and it’s not like there’re a shortage of higher educational institutions or of students looking to attend them. If you really want to go to a school that’ll respect your religious preferences, I’m sure there’s a seminary that’d be a perfect fit.



              • gbjames
                Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                If a special exemption is required for religious purposes then the principle of secular education is harmed.

                If you grant an exemption because someone believes in cooties then you should grant an exception because someone wants to get drunk and eat pasta with meatballs.

                Basing the decision on how much direct harm to other students might occur is a distraction. If the institution is secular then religion is no excuse for an exemption.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

                No someone would be harmed – several people actually, those women who are told they aren’t allowed to work on a project with a particular man because they are women. That’s sexual discrimination, period. The National Post coverage stated that the professor surveyed women in his class (not stating the particulars of this case) and they were outraged.

                To make it more odious, since sexism is downplayed in our society, would you feel the same way if someone requested not to participate in person because there were Jews in the class or blacks?

      • @eightyc
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        I graduate from UofT and this is why “friends don’t let friends go to York”.


        But on a serious note, York admin dropped the ball on this one.

  6. George
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    We need to start questioning the privileged place of religion in society. Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago Law School has.

    In 2012, he wrote a short book “Why Tolerate Religion?”

    You can see him talk on the subject here:

    • gbjames
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Looks like an interesting book.

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Thanks for posting – very interesting.

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      University of Chicago? Don’t we know someone else there?


      • George
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Their offices are about half a mile from each other and separated by Midway Plaisance. If Jerry were in Chicago in the past week and went to visit Leiter, strong possibility of death while walking over. Although it is warming up – we are now above freezing!!! Temp is 36F (2C) and is supposed to go up to as much as 40F (5C). Unfortunately, we are going to have heavy rain starting this afternoon – just in time for rush hour. Anywhere from 0.25″ to an inch. All permeable surfaces have between one and four feet of snow piled up on them. And since the ground under all that snow is frozen, it is not very permeable. So to go along with the snow and bitter cold, we will have – FLOODING! Thanks polar vortex.

  7. Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure it’s true to suggest that this ruling elevates religious beliefs over women’s rights; that would be the case if the student had successfully limited female students’ access to education rather than his own (for example, by insisting on gender-segregated seating at lectures). But I agree very much with Grayson’s comments.

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it does.

      It grants legitimacy to the notion that men should not suffer even the presence of women, except in the case of baby-making.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Musical Beef and as I proposed up thread, would you think it legitimate if the student asked to be excuse from in person attendance because he didn’t want to work with Jews, blacks, Indians, etc? Granting such an exception would imply that the administration agrees with racism just as granting this exception implies the administration agrees with sexism.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 11, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

        I agree!

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 12, 2014 at 12:29 am | Permalink


  8. Rob
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I think Canada tries to walk the line of letting you do what you want and letting insane religious ideals have priority.

    It does it pretty well. However with the Quebec Government trying to ban religious related symbols on government employees to which the majority protested is interesting to observe.

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Actually, Quebec just became more hypocritical, since *some* displays will be allowed, with the weasel-word “ostentatious” being used to cover some which aren’t. Both CFI (the secular organization) and almost every religious origanization in the province is opposed to the legislation, which should tell you something. Personally, I would agree with it if all the escape clauses for everything were removed. Unfortunately, ten gazillion place names in Quebec are religious (“Saint” – which tranlates to “Holy” too, not just “Saint”) so it won’t happen.

      • Tulse
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        The situation in Quebec is somewhat more complex that it may first appear to outsiders, since Quebec has a history of being less than tolerant to various immigrant and ethnic groups, especially Jews and Muslims. The Quebec law is less about secularism and more about xenophobia and racism. (Keep in mind that Quebec also has language laws that forbid signage and commercial products that don’t have French as the most prominent language.)

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:06 am | Permalink

          The Quebecois are notorious for being ‘more French than the French’. My delightful French tutor Jennifer made a standing joke of it – any time the subject of borrowings from English came up, such as ‘le weekend’ – “except in Canada!”.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

            I was just laughing about that the other day because there was a coupon and the French side used “fins de semaine à 15% de rebais!”.

        • Posted January 14, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          Certainly; I am an Anglophone originally from Montreal, and have experienced language bigots (on both sides, but also defending the laws, which are bigotted on one side alone).

  9. Frank Stabile
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    This is ridiculous. Happy to put my name down as a small sign of solidarity.

  10. Lianne Byram
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Glad you made me aware of this Jerry, although I’m very disappointed that this occurred in my hometown. Kudos to Professor Grayson for his courage and integrity! I signed the petition and shared it on Facebook.

  11. Tulse
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I signed the petition on principle, and I too am outraged that there are people in the world who think that women need to be kept away from men. Also, based on the university’s response and York’s history of this kind of political correctness (I live in Toronto and have two friends who are profs there), I think the response is part of a disturbing trend.

    All that said, the more I think about this incident and the facts surrounding the specific course, the more I think this is not a great example to get outraged over. In specific, this case is made more complex by the fact that other students in the course were allowed to do all their work online.

    Given this, it’s clear that the in-class component was not a necessary part of the course, and it’s also clear that the professor could have acceded to the request privately without publicly announcing that fact, and thus avoided publicly offending the women in the course. In other words, unlike in the segregated seating cases in the UK, the student was not imposing on anyone else in the class, not asking to change anyone else’s behaviour, and not asking for specific processes that weren’t already being provided to others.

    So it seems to me that when I initially got offended at this case, I was offended by the student’s attitudes and beliefs, but not by the impact that the actual request would have had. I still think I’m right to be offended by the attitudes and beliefs, but I don’t know that, given others were already taking the course remotely, that granting that option to another student would have been so bad.

    I’m happy to be convinced I am wrong, however.

    • Chris Slaby
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Doesn’t the reason for taking the course remotely matter? Accommodating a male student’s desire to not interact with female students simply because of apparent religious beliefs that dictate some sort of male-female separation is not just offensive. It smacks of, at best, some sort of separate, but equal mentality. And really it’s most likely just a form of (male) privilege.

      I haven’t read everything everyone’s written about this yet so I’m not sure if this has or has not been mentioned, but I think it certainly matters: that some people in the world still see gender-based separation as good or normal is not good. It seems silly in 2014 to think of college as a time for males and females to learn how to interact like normal human beings. While we haven’t achieved anything close to perfect gender equality in the U.S. or Canada, at least it is seen as normal for men and women to simply interact as people. Though this is hardly a main reason for the existence of a place like York University (i.e., a public university) at this time, perhaps this event can remind us that in our everyday behavior we get to set our norms and values. Human beings should be able to interact freely and normally with other human beings. Such interactions are part of being a mature adult human being and should indeed be a result of a good college education (should certain individuals need to be reminded of this).

      • Tulse
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        It smacks of, at best, some sort of separate, but equal mentality. And really it’s most likely just a form of (male) privilege.

        Of course — that’s all likely true. But I’m not sure if that in itself is at issue, since there are no doubt various other students at York who hold offensive and even horrific views on various matters. What you’re saying is pretty much what I noted, which is that what people are offended about is not the actual accommodation, but the views that the student holds. If those views don’t negatively impact others in the class (and I’ve yet to see an argument that the accommodation itself would have), I’m not sure that it’s our job in a liberal democracy to punish those views, especially when they were expressed privately to the prof.

        • Chris Slaby
          Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

          Well, first off, I think any situation in which simply having a male interact with a female is considered punishment says more about the person being apparently punished than the person responsible for the punishment.

          Also, I don’t think we’re talking about the law or the state. I guess it’s a little muddled since this is a public school, but a professor is generally in charge of their classroom and can and should run it as they see fit (if their actions are objectionable, administration should then intervene). One point is that teachers should and do have the right to assert what type of learning environment their students inhabit. Here we have a situation in which it is suggested that students are expected to interact with each other–like normal adult human beings–unless one of those students has certain religious beliefs about male-female interaction. Let’s put it this way, what if the beliefs weren’t religious? I think the professor has a right to say that sexism (whether religiously motivated or otherwise) is not okay and that to the extent that a student can act in sexist ways in his class, he will not allow it.

          How would allowing this male student to opt out of an interaction with female students negatively impact others in the class? It sets them as different, and different in such a way as to allow other (male) students to not have to interact with them. This sets a standard for allowing sexism and sexual discrimination. This says that if a male student professes the right reasons, it’s okay for him to avoid contact with women. I see this as not just negatively impacting the female students in this class, nor even just negatively impacting all women in the world. This affects all of us and how we interact in the world. People can certainly hold whatever repugnant beliefs they want to hold, but we should deter any and all public inactions of those beliefs. I think the professor and York University are completely within the right to suggest that as a non-sexist entity they can and should expect male and female students to treat each other as equal human beings rather than as gender separate. Note I’m not saying they can or should have the power to determine his final views or opinions on gender equality, only that they can and should be able to limit his sexist behaviors while on campus and in class. Not wanting to interact with female students simply because they are women is sexist and I’m glad that such absurd desires are being denied.

          • Tulse
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

            How would allowing this male student to opt out of an interaction with female students negatively impact others in the class? It sets them as different

            Since the class had apparently not met in person before, what other students would have actually known he existed?

            His views may be abhorrent, but I have yet to see anyone provide a convincing case of how accommodating them would have produced any concrete harm. And I think that harm should be the criterion here, and not just how much we dislike what he believes.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

              I’ve said it elsewhere on this page but perhaps you haven’t seen it.

              Accommodations like this establish principles, in this case the principle that fear of cooties is a legitimate reason for exemptions. This exemption on its own may not directly affect any other student. But if fear of cooties is allowable here then why not in other situations. The point is that this is not a legitimate reason for an exemption, regardless of whether other students know about it.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

              They cause harm because the women are again told to tolerate sexism. If the case were hushed up to the women this doesn’t make it right.

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      He was asking others to collude in his attitudes and beliefs, and grant them a reverence they do not deserve, as if they were legitimate reasons. They were not, and no university should be made to feel they have to respond as if they are.

    • H.H.
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      In other words, unlike in the segregated seating cases in the UK, the student was not imposing on anyone else in the class, not asking to change anyone else’s behaviour, and not asking for specific processes that weren’t already being provided to others.

      And that’s the crucial distinction, I would argue. Secular society should not be arranged to avoid offending the religious, but I’m fine with the religious choosing to quarantine themselves from secular society of their own accord. If he wants to isolate himself in order to avoid contact with women, I have no problem with that.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        The question is whether he gets to ask the university to participate in his self-isolation.

        • Gordon
          Posted January 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t acceding to the demand requiring other men to comply with his prejudices assuming, which is not quite clear, that he still has to be part of a focus group.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

            Can you re-word that? I don’t understand your question/statement.

            • Posted January 10, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

              I believe he’s observing that granting a request to work only with males makes not only the university a participant, but the students as well.

              (Question mark could’ve gone at “prejudices” and the rest in parentheses. But it took some effort to come up with this possible interpretation. I agree – abiding by conventions would’ve been better. 🙂 )

        • H.H.
          Posted January 10, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          It would seem the university believes it has a legal obligation to provide minimally intrusive accommodation for his deeply-held religious convictions. Are his religious convictions sane, rational, or enlightened? No, but I’m not sure that matters very much, legally.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

            I don’t know if that is true or not. But if it is then the law, as Mr Bumble said, is “an ass”.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

            The university is also showing that they believe the rights of one group trump the rights of another. Specifically, religious rights trump discrimination.

            It’s not nice to feel that your university is behind a sexist request and women should not be discriminated against in a free and democratic society.

  12. David Thompson
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding this; he wasn’t asking for any kind of segregation, or even to be exempt from the assignment. Just asking for an alternate assignment. A request that has been granted to others. The reason he’s requesting it doesn’t matter. Or rather it shouldn’t. To say that it is acceptable to have some people, for some reason, be excused, but not others, because their reason isn’t “good enough”, is discrimination defined. If anything it was stupid for the university to schedule an online course that had an obviously arbitrary assignment requiring people to meet.
    What’s more, as I understand it, he is claiming that some harm is done to him by association with women. Creepy, but ok. Our response is, “The harm you claim is unreal. You can not demonstrate it, therefore we are under no obligation to respect it.” But what is the harm done to the women in this case? Should we be likewise required to show it? I get the “give an inch” idea, but I think it works both ways.
    What if he had claimed to be acutely agoraphobic, and was unable to interact with people in general? Would any of us suffer or have cause to feel oppressed?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I somewhat agree, and somewhat disagree. Your reason for asking for special exemptions at university usually depends on having a good reason to back it up, otherwise the university will refuse the request. Try asking for a deadline on your paper because your entire family just were involved in a serious car accident and you will have far more traction than if you admit you spent the last week at frat parties and just never got around to it. Medical reasons = yes, I can’t be bothered = no.

      If this guy claimed he couldn’t mix with black people, the university wouldn’t have given him the time of day. Generally if the bigotry is aimed at women or gay people, then somehow religion remains a free-pass.

      • Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        I was just about to post something to the same effect, but Grania beat me to it. “The reason he’s requesting it” makes all the difference in the world. College professors deal with such requests all the time, and Grania’s hypothetical correctly lays out how a request in those circumstances would likely play out.

        • Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          When I was an academic, I generally followed the principle that by default changes to course procedure are not allowed. Consequently, “good excuses” are needed. Usually these are enumerated in advance, like how to miss an examination due to medical reasons, etc.

      • David Thompson
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        I’m sorry but the fact that some reasons appeal to your sympathies, and some do not is exactly my point. You are perfectly entitled to discriminate in any way you’d like as an individual. It is the essence of liberty. You can believe this but not that, buy one thing but not another, for any reason you’d like. Organizations and institutions do not have that luxury. In the same way that we say to a professor, sneaking religion into her science class, “No. That is not the subject matter. That is not appropriate in this class.” we now have an equal obligation to say to this teacher that it is not really his business whether he agrees with the student’s reason, either he can accommodate the request or not.

        I’m sorry that paragraph is so jumbled. Also I should say that I am really thinking this is a fake and part of a sociology experiment on the part of the teacher. Which would be aweshum!

        • Posted January 10, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          The standards aren’t arbitrary. Rather, they basically come down to unexpected situations beyond the student’s control.

          Religious beliefs are entirely within a student’s control. What’s more, they’re predictable in advance. A student who, at the beginning of the semester, expects to be unable to attend the final exam because of a planned surgery will likely be told to not register just the same as one who has plans to travel abroad or one who’ll be ritualistically slaughtering goats.

          It’s just like a job. If you’re unable or unwilling to do the job, don’t expect a paycheck for not doing it. Whether you’re a vegan or an orthodox Jew, you have no discrimination case against a pig farmer who won’t employ you because you won’t slaughter pigs.

          And this is entirely separate from the ADA, which requires reasonable accommodations be made for those with certain disabilities. If you’re stuck in a wheelchair, it’s not discrimination if nobody wants to hire you as a roofer, but it is discrimination if nobody wants to hire you for an office job. The former requires tasks fundamentally incompatible with being in a wheelchair; the latter does not. (And, of course, if the roofing job was operating some sort of remote-controlled nail gun drone and you never had to get out of an office chair, you’d then again have a discrimination case.)



          • Posted January 10, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            I agree. Y’all don’t what to do the course requirements, take a different course.

            • Tulse
              Posted January 10, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

              The problem is that attendance was clearly not a requirement for everyone, since some other students took the course remotely.

      • David Thompson
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Medical reasons = yes, I can’t be bothered = no.

        I think this is effectively a straw man argument since neither one of these requests is actually being made.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Permalink


  13. JBlilie
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink


    Thanks for posting this.

  14. Scote
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I was shocked when Universities UK said it was ok to force gender segregation to appease the religious sensibilities of a guest speaker. However, I disagree with you on this one.

    It’s an online class, and the student didn’t ask for any changes to the way students on site are treated (unlike Universities UK). As noted, York does allow exemptions, so that door is already opened. What if the student was agoraphobia? Or too sick to come in in person?

    I think asking to be exempted from meeting in person with, shudder, women is something I personally disagree with, but I also think it lies within the realm of reasonable accommodation for a mostly on-line class. If he was an on campus student and demanded a similar exemption, that would be different, IMO.

    • Chris Slaby
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      “…it lies within the realm of reasonable accommodation for a mostly on-line class.” I think this completely depends on the reason. What if the student said I live around the corner, but I’d really rather just have lunch with my friend. I agree that it’s weird to have an online class with an in-person component. I also think that a syllabus or description of the course better have made this expectation clear. But I think it still stands, just because there are some excusable reasons for someone not participating in the in-person assignment (such as living in another country), there are also bad reasons for not doing so. My religion says I will get girl cooties is clearly not a valid reason.

      • Scote
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        “My religion says I will get girl cooties is clearly not a valid reason.”

        There is no “clearly” about it, it is an arguable point. It has already been established by the university that personal attendance is not required and that accommodations can be made. They opened that door, and it is a difficult one to shut, especially on someone’s religious convictions.

        Let me ask you this: who does this exemption hurt? Anyone?

        The answer is no one is directly hurt. The only complaint you or I can come up with is that it “hurts” other people to not also receive an exemption, that they aren’t being treated equally if they aren’t a member of a misogynistic religion. And I’m against unequal treatment for religious people, so I’d say such an exemption would have to be available to misogynistic non-theists as well, just to be fair. And misandry, and misanthropy, too.

        I think this accommodation is not the same camel’s nose in the tent that the Universities UK audience segregation was, or the UK nurses who wanted to be exempt from exposing and washing their forearms, and all of the people who claim a need to be able to brandish their religious symbols at work, and…

        • Chris Slaby
          Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

          You think that allowing religious-based (or any other kind of) gender discrimination hurts no one? This student can hold whatever discriminatory views he wants to hold, but I think the professor is in the right to say that the student will not be allowed to enact those views in this class. Allowing gender discrimination hurts everyone, male and female. It is one of the worst, most destructive concepts human beings have ever come up with.

          • Tulse
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            the student will not be allowed to enact those views in this class

            But the student literally would not have been “in class” — presumably since this would have been the only in-person component, no other students would have even known this person existed, much less what his views were.

            • Chris Slaby
              Posted January 10, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

              I meant in the context of the class, not physically in the class.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Are you seriously asking what the difference is between a medical condition and being a bigot? I know you didn’t mean it like that, but that is what it boils down to.

      Every university makes exemptions. They make them for reasons that they regard as genuine conditions that would understandably have put the student at a disadvantage. In this case, medical conditions, physical disability, financial hardship issues seem reasonable.

      “I think women are icky” is not a reasonable excuse. Unless you are five. Maybe.

  15. Kevin
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Signed. There are very few legitimate forms of discrimination (if that’s what they all called when justified). Even though I have no bias against anyone who smokes, I prefer strongly (mostly due to asthma) to have people smoke as far away as possible. That is discriminatory, but I suspect justified.

  16. Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this Jerry.

    I sent an email to Noël A. J. Badiou: and Martin Singer: with a copy to Prof. Grayson: expressing my extreme disapproval and included a link to this post.

    I’ll comment again if I get reply.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 11, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the contact information. I too sent an email:

      I am writing to express my concern over York University’s handling of an unnamed student’s request to opt out of participating in a sociology class’s focus group because associating with women violates his religion. I find Dr. Grayson’s decision to disallow this type of bigotry in his classroom highly commendable and the administration’s overturning of his decision brings shame not only to York university but also to Canada, a country that guarantees protection from sexual discrimination.

      York’s decision to allow such bigotry legitimizes the incorrect notion that women are second class citizens. Would York University allow the same odious exemptions if a student complained that sitting next to Jews, Muslims or gay people was something he/she was forbidden to do because of his/her religion? I suspect the request would not be given a second thought.

      I urge York University to stand behind Dr. Grayson and support his decision to reject this request. Doing otherwise is insulting to women and sends the clear message that York University considers women as less than men.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 12, 2014 at 12:40 am | Permalink

        Great letter!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 13, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        It looks like the university issued a statement about the student’s request and it has been picked up by several media outlets in Canada including the National Post.

        What is interesting is the Post says:

        Martin Singer, Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, wrote to the professor demanding that he “respect the faculty’s legal obligation to accommodate the religious practice of X

        But….I received an email from Noel Badiou, Director, Centre for Human Rights which states that the reason the concession was granted to the student was because the course is an online course and students should therefore not be expected to come to campus (I’ve bolded that statement in the email below):

        Dear Ms MacPherson,

        Please note that York University’s Provost has recently released an updated statement and I thought it would be helpful to share it with you.

        Best regards,

        Thank you for your communication with regard to a case involving a request for religious accommodation at York University. I want to start by saying that I understand the concerns that are being raised based on the coverage of the case and I regret that the University has not been sufficiently clear in its efforts to clarify the events that occurred. The situation is complex because two separate issues became intertwined: 1) the specific request for religious accommodation; and 2) the challenge associated with requiring a student who had signed up for an online course to attend campus.

        There is no disagreement on the issue of the specific religious accommodation that was requested in this case. While York is committed to creating an inclusive learning environment we have stated that the right to accommodation is not limitless. Religious accommodation cannot be granted at the expense of gender rights. On the basis of the facts involved in this case, there would have been no accommodation had this course been an in-class, on campus course.

        There was however a secondary consideration in regards to whether the student should be compelled to attend campus to complete a focus group assignment when the course had been advertised as an online course. When students register for their courses we do not require them to state their reasons for choosing one type of course over the other. We may disagree with the rationale that underpinned this student’s decision to sign up for online courses in the first place. But we need to be consistent with the format of the course as posted especially as another student had already been given permission to complete the course requirement off-campus. It was this fact that resulted in the conclusion by the Centre of Human Rights and legal counsel that the student should not be compelled to attend on campus. This did not excuse the student from working with female students online.

        As it turned out, the professor and the student satisfactorily resolved the matter on their own without the need for any accommodation.

        Speaking more broadly, it is evident that the matter of religious accommodation is raising important questions that warrant further discussion. York is not unique in trying to address requests for religious accommodation by students in Ontario universities and colleges. We assess each case taking all facts into consideration within the context of the Ontario Human Rights Code. We are reassured that the Ontario Human Rights Commission is currently engaged in a review of the Code and we will participate in that process.

        To be clear, though, York University’s position on these matters is encapsulated in a statement by President Shoukri issued in 2007. York is committed to supporting an inclusive and diverse campus but we are a secular institution. We will continue to defend the principle of equality for all students, and that includes protecting equal rights for men and women for which Canada is known.

        I very much hope that you might reconsider your position in regards to York. It is a fine institution with leading scholars who apply their research and teaching innovation to create an engaged learning experience for our students.

        Yours truly,
        Rhonda Lenton
        Provost and Vice President Academic
        York University

        I find this somewhat suspicious given what was reported in the press. Doesn’t the university review how their courses are conducted? Perhaps York sought a way to save face (because it looked so bad on them) but I don’t think that was very fair to the professor who looked like he was diligent in making sure everyone was accommodated fairly.

  17. Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Signed. The student needs to learn the reality of a modern country. This includes the interaction with women on a peer to peer basis. He might even end up with a female boss.

  18. Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink


    I am a Canadian myself and have been listening to the debate. My take on the debate is that what it comes down to is equality and human rights in the context of abstract principles versus “on the ground” actions.

    This difference is seen from both sides. From the student’s point of view, he made a request to be exempt from an exercise and that is regularly granted without affecting the ability of the student to learn the material. The issue here is purely on *why* he wanted exemption. He could have lied on the reason and may have succeeded with secular reasons (medical reasons, phobias, etc.), assuming the degree of proof is sufficiently low. In a practical sense then, denying his request would simply provide an incentive for such students to lie in the future.

    On the women’s side, no woman would have been harmed in any tangible sense had the request been approved. No woman would have been denied anything and their personal rights would not have been violated. No woman would even have been offended by it because they wouldn’t have known about it. In that sense, the “harm” of offense has come from making the request public knowledge, and that would then provides incentive to keep such requests secret. (One might argue that the pseudo-endorsement of the reason by the professor could have increased the chances of the student keeping such beliefs, and may corrode the professor’s judgment on acting against sexism.)

    In both cases, whether approved or denied, the functional incentives (as opposed to ideological) seems to be for information to remain hidden rather than open and honest communication, which is a bit of a paradox.

    The issue is far more nuanced, I think, than is given credit for. It’s not the rights of women versus rights of religion; it’s tangible rights of acting against private, personal belief versus abstract principle right of offense.

    Ultimately I agree with you and the critics. Not exactly for secular versus religious beliefs, but for the same reason that any other “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” justifications fail: it is ultimately corrosive on values. Disrespecting your spouse to somebody else even privately is still wrong even if nobody else ever finds out, even if you believe what you are saying. If equality of men and women is a value we publicly embrace, and it is (including in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms), then we have to live up to, and promote, that principle even if it means a hypothetical public harm trumps a tangible violation of personal belief.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” justifications fail: it is ultimately corrosive on values

      So then should York University survey all of its students on their various attitudes, and publicly castigate those whose beliefs don’t meet muster? I too am outraged that someone would hold such a belief, but as long as that belief is privately held and doesn’t explicilty negatively impact others, I don’t think it is my right, or the State’s right (and York is a public institution) to demand that such beliefs change. That to me would be far more corrosive to values.

      It may be an odd term to use in this situation, but it seems like many are being oddly paternalistic about this situation. People privately hold all sorts of disgusting views about all sorts of things, but as long as those views are purely private, and don’t harm others, I really don’t think it’s anyone else’s business.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Nobody demanded that this yoyo change his values. And privately held values aren’t subject to demands to change (how could they… if they are private nobody even knows). In this case this fellow decided to insert his values into the public stream by demanding an exemption from being exposed to cooties.

        Exemptions for reasons of cootie-protection should be denied.

        • Tulse
          Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          this fellow decided to insert his values into the public stream

          No, he asked his professor privately for the accommodation — it was the professor who made the student’s view public.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            The professor is part of the public. He is a representative of a public institution. The student pushed his fear of cooties outside of his private belief-space into public space.

    • Kerry Kilborn
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Chad wrote: “No woman would even have been offended by it because they wouldn’t have known about it.”

      This principle as you articulate it would presumably work in all directions.

      By this thinking, it should be ok for YU to pay male faculty more than female, provided the females don’t know about it.

      Conversely, if the university requires any males to physically meet with females, even with consent, and this practice offends someone’s religious sensibilities, then such consorting should not be allowed.

  19. Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    If Mr. X does not wish to associate with women, he is perfectly free to exercise his right to do so — by not taking the class or by taking it and receiving a failing grade.

    No matter what other boys, imaginary or otherwise, might have to say on the topic, girls do not have cooties, and your fear of catching them is not going to get you excused from class participation.



  20. Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Signed. 683 signatures presently.

  21. Greg Esres
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    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.

    Why did Mr. Grayson refer the request to his superiors if he were not willing to bow to their wishes? Makes no sense. When I have no respect for someone’s opinion, I don’t ask for it; it saves a lot of grief.

  22. Daoud
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    The student made the request (fine, whatever), the professor refused it, the student accepted the refusal and did the course work. It should have ended there. The administration is going to take a lot of lumps for this foolishness.

  23. krzysztof1
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    There was a famous court case recently involving a grad student in counseling at Eastern Michigan University. As part of her practicum she had to do supervised counseling. When she found out the student assigned to her was gay, she refused to offer that person counseling on grounds that it would violate her Christian principles to offer counseling about sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage. So the department dropped her from the program, and she went to court. Amicus briefs were filed on both sides, the APA supporting the university’s position. EMU won in the lower court, but lost in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. There is apparently no plan to appeal that decision.

    I disagree with the decision because I think the objection that referring a patient because you don’t want to counsel them can cause mental distress to the patient is sound.

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I’m also surprised at that decision. There’s a direct parallel with civil rights law, whereby (for example) a white barber can’t recommend a black client go elsewhere because he doesn’t specialize in “that type” of hair. As a professional, you’re presumed competent in all relevant areas of your profession.



      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 11, 2014 at 1:29 am | Permalink

        Surely from the gay student’s point of view (and assuming he genuinely needed counseling and it wasn’t just an exercise) he’d be far better off being counselled by someone who didn’t have problems with the subject. If it was against the grad student’s convictions she wouldn’t be likely to do a very good job of it, would she?

        Yeah I know the argument that the long-term interests of gays in general are better served by overcoming prejudice, but I’m not sure that outweighs the needs of this particular gay student for effective counselling right now.
        krzysztof1 said ‘Referring a patient because you don’t want to counsel them can cause mental distress to the patient’ – but surely not as much mental distress as bad counselling could cause.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 11, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

          Do we even know what the counseling was regarding? Maybe the student needed guidance with the stresses of a too busy schedule?

          In any case, it doesn’t matter. The councilor (councilor-to-be) in this case is a bigot and doesn’t belong in a job that requires interacting with people from a position of authority. Perhaps after receiving some counseling in human decency she could make another try at this career.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 11, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            The original quote specifically said ‘about sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage’. So no, it wasn’t about a busy schedule.

            If that quote is correct, she might also have had problems with ordinary heterosexual affairs too, not just gay ones. Which really would limit her counselling abilities.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

              Yes. Bad career choice.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 11, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Permalink


        • Posted January 11, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          If the counselor is incapable of professionally counseling the gay student according to the standards of the profession, then she has no more business being a counselor than, say, a family physician if she thought that little boy pee-pees were icky and didn’t want to perform physical examinations of them.

          It’s perfectly fine for her religious beliefs to prevent her from practicing certain professions. If you’re an orthodox Jew, you have no business working a shrimp trawler, and nobody will think twice of you for not signing on to one. What you don’t have is the right to sign on to pilot a shrimp trawler and then insist that you can’t pilot the boat to the fishing grounds because shrimp are treif and so the captain will have to get somebody else to do that part of your job.



  24. david macquarrie
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Hey there – first must say I love your blog! I was disheartened to say the least when I saw that a university (PUBLIC, no less) in my country would do such a thing. honestly, I thought it must be a typo or a mis-print. Unfortunately it wasn’t ; and I signed the petition you linked to immediately. I also saw this SATIRICAL but pretty bitingly funny piece from the Beaverton, sort of Canada’s answer to the Onion. It’s a slippery slope…. Thanks for the blog, always informative and thought-provoking! cheers!

    Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2014 15:36:46 +0000 To:

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      Loved that!

    • gbjames
      Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Psssst…. (You’ll soon find out it is not a blog!)

      I love that satirical piece at The Beaverton! Thanks!

  25. Posted January 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I received a reply from Noel Badiou, Director, Centre for Human Rights with an explanation and a link to a CBC interview with Rhonda Lenton, Provost and Vice President Academic at York University.

    • Chris Slaby
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Wow, the interviewer was pretty good! Rhonda Lenton’s point, though she doesn’t put it so exactly, seems to be that since this was an online course the student was under the impression that he would not (ever) have to meet in person. I guess the crucial question is now whether that expectation was valid or not. Did Grayson make it clear from the outset that there was the expectation of an in-person assignment? If not, certainly he can be somewhat faulted. Again, though, I don’t think it’s asking to much for a slight appeal to common sense: there’s an in-person assignment and the expectation that you come if you can. Kudos to the student for being honest on why he did not want to come, but I think it’s fair for Grayson to say that this students reason was not a valid reason. Was the student screwed because this was not made explicitly clear from the start? Maybe. If he had had the opportunity to ask the professor, before enrolling in the class, about missing this assignment, he might have chosen not to take the class. But then all this becomes a discussion about clearly labeling expectations for online courses, rather than accommodating (religiously inspired) gender discrimination.

      However, Lenton goes on to mention the roles of accommodation and pluralism in the university, and then says: “Nevertheless, we have to consider whether or not…there are any other conflicting or competing rights. We have to consider whether or not any type of accommodation would interfere with the student learning outcomes of the course…” I would imagine–though I don’t mean to put words in his mouth–that somewhere way down deep among the list of Professor Grayson’s hopeful student learning outcomes is that boys and girls can learn to successfully play together. I’m not saying it’s not complicated, but basically it comes down to the values and policies of the institution and the values and policies of the professor. In this case, there seems to be a slight conflict. In the end, Lenton says that the determining factor was not the religious nature of the objection, but an issue of the expectation of showing up in person for an online class.

  26. Chris Slaby
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I think two things need to be introduced into the conversation: 1) much of the time, scheduling conflicts are simply arbitrated by the professor teaching the class, and 2) current-day practice, in the U.S., at least, seems to accommodate religious holidays. I went to a private undergrad and am currently a grad student at a public school, both in the U.S., so this is where I’m coming from, if that helps.

    1) As I think I’ve mentioned, I’m not really sure about the legal issues that could be involved in this situation, whether we’re talking about York specifically (in which case we’re talking about public schools) or we’re talking about higher education institutions more broadly (in which case we’re talking about both public and private schools). From my experience as a student–and I hope others can chime in with their own experiences, including professors–a professor makes a schedule, sets their own expectations for a class, and then handles any possible conflicts. Usually a professor will, either in writing and/or out loud on the first day of class, ask for students with conflicts to speak to them. Professors generally have a lot of leeway in terms of what they do in their classrooms, what they expect, how the run the show, so to speak. Some are very strict with the schedule and deadlines and others are extremely easygoing when it comes to such things. In my experience, this is usually not a university-wide issue, but plays out on a case-by-case basis. Most often, professors decide what is and is not acceptable in terms of re-scheduling or deadlines or handing in things late. I image that all institutions have procedures in place in case students feel that they were not treated fairly–though I think some have a clearer set of protocol than others–and this very well might work at the departmental level before it goes to a dean or some other such university-wide figure. The main point is that as it works right now, for the most part and as far as I have seen it in my own experience, professors get to choose what is and is not okay with them in terms of students missing classes and the like (it’s also very possible that a school or department has its own rules, but that professors set their standards in addition to those of a university or department). So Grayson acted completely in the way that the system works by simply making his own decision on what counted as a valid reason in this instance. I’m not sure what would happen if the student complained to administration, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    2) This is related, but slightly broader. If you look at the syllabus of an undergraduate class, it will often include information beyond the course description, books, schedule, etc. The three most common additions are: some statement about help with writing, disabilities, and/or extra time for work; a statement about plagiarism; and a statement on missing classes, how many you’re allowed to miss, what will happen if you miss any, and which reasons are valid. None of this information is exhaustive, it’s just a basic starting point, but it’s useful to note that nowadays it seems to be the norm to include religious holidays or observances as valid reasons–if professors are given advance notice–to miss classes. I don’t know what the legal issues might be, but it seems this is what colleges and universities in the U.S. do now. This is a policy of inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism, and at face value those are all great, but I imagine this could cause problems. Again, I’d be very curious to hear if Jerry or other professors have run into problems with this. I’m sure it’s a very tricky area to navigate. It would not be hard to imagine certain religions or beliefs that would require multiple absences in a semester. How many would be too many? 2, 3, 4, a dozen? Statements on excused absences for religious reasons are usually very vague. For example, I’m not sure if this is an individual professor or the school writ large, but a quick search for the University of Chicago turned up this: “What is an excused absence? When you are absent because of illness (with a note from your doctor, the Student Care Center, or the Student Counseling and Resource Service) or when you have given written notice in advance and received written confirmation that your absence will be excused.” Here again we see that a professor is in charge of what counts as an excused absence from their class. Whether you agree or not with the individual professor, as it stands now, for the most part it is up to them. I think this case at York University is rather specific (was it clear that the student was expected to attend the in-person assignment if possible?), but nevertheless, given all the information we have, and the way that things work, plus the role that gender discrimination plays, I think Grayson is completely in the right.

  27. Posted January 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    The petition is past 940 sigs now.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 10, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      +1. (No really. =D)

      I doubt that I made the roundish number, but it was 999 signatures when I went over to sign.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 10, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        Yup, now its 1001. It’s a toss up who was 1000.

  28. lisa parker
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    He doesn’t want women in his Sociology class? Sounds like he’s failed that subject already.

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