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Canada: York University gender segregation allows no group work

This is a cross-post by John Sargeant at homo economicus

Professor Grayson has my every sympathy and support in denying a request from a student to be excused from group work so that he would not mix with female students, on non specified religious grounds. Both Islamic and Judaic scholars found no cause for this to be upheld:

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.” [National Post]

Safe assumption that sociologists do not get physical with each other as part of university group work. The student concerned expressed their reasoning for choosing to do the course online:

“One of the main reasons that I have chosen internet courses to complete my BA is due to my firm religious beliefs, and part of that is the intermingling between men and women,” he wrote, adding “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.” [ibidem]

When the student realised how indefatigable Professor Grayson was that allowing such dispensation would be a betrayal of women on the course, he withdrew his request and attended. However, despite his department and students on the course backing Grayson, the Dean ordered acquiescence on grounds that female students would be unaffected by the non presence of the
religious student.

Last night in twitter talking about the story – which actually happened earlier in the Autumn but has only just broken in the media – my concern was that dispensation from group work was given to online students that lived too far away. As such it could be considered a non compulsory requirement for all students taking the online course. The issue becomes whether such a request can be turned down based on minority religious grounds when other reasons would be considered valid for accommodation.

There is the rub for me as a secularist because I can deplore the reasoning of the student regarding women, calling it out for what it is. A request for special treatment of misogynistic attitudes on the fringes of religious faith in a secular  institution that regards men and women as equal. Yet the Dean has a point that the online course already made dispensations and so could accommodate a request (the reason immaterial) not to attend group work – and that a secular institution does not make a judgment on validity of religious claims. Which despite not knowing the religion of the student the Professor tried to by checking with religious scholars.

The Dean loses the argument finally by saying, well just do not tell female students about this so they do not get upset that we as a university consider valid sexist attitudes towards being in the company of women. The legal grounds in Canada are unclear whether the denial by the professor can be justified. Clearly a procedure needs to be in place at York University and I hope the student body is involved in setting. Though I get the feeling that procedure is the Dean deciding.

Hence this story going public, and the professor involving students and the department. It is a battle at a University which now is involved in the war of where claims of religious freedom should be trumped by gender equality as a civic virtue and human right. A secular institution needs to be loud and clear. The Dean needs to back down. My face saving suggestion would be a voluntary opt in or out of group work for online courses with no need to specify a
reason or make a core requirement to do group work to complete the
online course. [See first comment why no opt out if you attend University]*

We cannot allow gender equality to be undermined by fringe sexist thinking – some accommodations are a surrender to what needs defending in society.

*John then added a clarification in a comment

Have emphasised “online courses” in penultimate paragraph. Would hope obvious I do not think group work should be an opt out option if attending a University for a course.

Online nature of learning at York is why I make the face saving suggestion – do not think that means it is my preferred only outcome – a quick way out for the Dean who is having a turf war with the professor aka admin V faculty.

Rather I would hope York University will be “loud and clear” as I state for gender equality.