A student at York University who is pursuing an online course sought to be excused from co-ed group work because his religious beliefs forbid him from interacting with people of the opposite sex. His professor Paul Grayson rejected his request, which led to a controversy at the university over human rights.
Grayson is a professor of sociology and believes that accommodating the student’s request would violate everything he stands for. He got in touch with the dean’s office as well as the Centre for Human Rights but both said that he would have to comply with the student’s request. While speaking to CBC Radio’s Ontario Today on January 9, Grayson said he knew nothing about the student’s religion but he would not accommodate him on fundamental grounds.
“I was quite shocked and so I refused. My main concern was that for religious beliefs, we also can justify not interacting with Jews, blacks, gays, you name it. And if this were allowed to go through, then all these other absurd demands could be made. This takes us back to the dark ages as far as I’m concerned. It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.
The exchange between Grayson and the university took place over three months and in the time being he spoke to the student directly, after which the student, whose identity has not been revealed, participated in the group work anyway. However, Grayson’s contention was with the university as it asked him to convey to the student that he did not need to interact with female classmates.
“Very early in the game, I got in touch with the student and said, look, I'm sorry, I simply cannot accommodate you and he was OK with it. The student is not the problem,” said Grayson.
However, York University went on to issue a statement saying, it respects different religious beliefs and this particular case was “complicated by the fact that it was an online course where alternative arrangements were put in place to accommodate students who were unavailable to attend classes on campus.”
While speaking to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on January 10, Rhonda Lenton, provost and vice president academic for York University clarified that the student’s request was supported by the university because he was pursuing an online course that did not require him to interact with any other student.
“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. 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,” said Lenton.
Lenton also said she understands the controversy but the university made the most appropriate decision.
“We are committed to gender equity; we do not prioritize one set of rights over the others. 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,” she said.
The controversy also led to some federal politicians teaming up with Grayson and asserting that the university went too far in siding with the student.
Photo Credits: Andremet