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York University (Mark Blinch//REUTERS)
York University (Mark Blinch//REUTERS)

THE CONVERSATION

Jan. 11: This week’s Talking Point – religious accommodation versus gender equality – and other letters to the editor Add to ...

It began when a male sociology student at York University, citing religious reasons, asked not to study with female students. Readers, print and digital, wade into the clash of rights – religious accommodation versus gender equality – that request unleashed

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Re Religious Accommodation Case Highlights A Collision Of Rights (Jan. 9): Martin Singer, the dean of York University’s Faculty of Arts, argues that a male student’s religion-based request to be excused from working alongside female students “does not qualify as a substantial impact on any other student’s rights.”

Did Dr. Singer consider that such a request is a gross affront to the cherished Canadian value of equality of gender?

York University has missed an opportunity to publicly express, in keeping with fundamental Canadian principles, that there will be zero tolerance for shunning someone, based purely on religious dictates about gender.

Gilda Berger, Toronto

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Well, excuse my second X chromosome, and any offence it may cause! Does Martin Singer seriously expect me to believe that if a student asked for accommodation to avoid having to encounter black students or Muslim students in the process of completing his coursework, he would accede to that request?

Of course he would not. That sort of request is reprehensible – and this is no less reprehensible.

The dean seems to think that it is okay to treat women as invisible because it won’t seriously affect women students – after all, where’s the harm in perpetuating the notion that women are inferior and that contact with us is noxious and offensive? Women now outnumber men on Canadian university campuses. Where does Dr. Singer propose we all hide?

Susan Cantlie, Toronto

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Group interactions on projects are important because a student’s views, thoughts and processes can help the others in his group. If we allow particular students to opt out of group work, are we not depriving the others of the best education possible?

Kevin Espin, Swift Current, Sask.

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The response of the administration of York University to Prof. J. Paul Grayson’s refusal to accommodate a student who preferred not to work in groups with women offers an unfortunate example of what happens when policies based in liberalism lose their sense of moral compass and settle into keeping up appearances.

It is true that we commonly reschedule classes and exams for students on religious holidays, but we do this not because we hold all tenets of every religious faith sacrosanct, but because we are already, by tradition, observing holidays for Christian students and fairness demands that all students be given equal treatment in this respect. So yes, sometimes fairness demands different treatment.

However, the claim of a student to vulnerable sensibilities rooted in religious faith should have no purchase on our judgment.

Quite aside from the ugly likelihood that this soon will leave us effectively revering bigotry, there remains the principle that a liberal education is dedicated to the pursuit of truth. This principle demands that we proceed with certain kinds of study regardless of any offence to our sensibilities.

Our remedy will lie in our freedom to speak out and challenge what we encounter. That argument may not please, but it is the only moral ground upon which we can make a stand when someone does not wish to study a certain text or to work alongside a person of a certain group because of some apprehended indignity.

Yes, this, too, is an ideology, but it is preferable because it insists that we diligently question all ideologies and preconceptions. Like it or not, we must hold tight to this paradox, because it is the closest thing to a backbone the modern university will ever have.

Craig Walker, head, Department of Drama, Queen’s University

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The examples of how this could be abused are boundless and staggering. Reverse the decision or it will become a precedent.

Patrick Meausette, Montreal

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It is just such rationalizations that provoked – and, picked from the other side of the tree, support – the egregious so-called Quebec Charter of Values.

Stephen McNamee, Ottawa

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I am puzzled. How has this student reached the university level in Canada without some interaction with females? Isn’t it time he learned? How will he cope in the working world and still adhere to this?

Nina Truscott, Burlington, Ont.

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Some of us who teach Religious Studies in secular universities have been wondering for some time: Will the day come when a religiously observant student claims accommodation on religious grounds against having to learn about religions other than his own, or against encountering rigorous historical critical thinking applied to her own religion?

It now appears that day is much closer than we thought.

Zeba Crook, associate professor, Religious Studies, Carleton University

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Queen’s University has a helpful example for York University on gender segregation. It had a totally separate course for women when it first admitted us in 1869 – before Toronto or Oxford – so let’s give Queen’s a cheer for making the start. When it let women into courses with men, in 1876, the classes were segregated.

For medical training, again, a separate college was needed, thanks to male prejudice. One was founded in 1883, but closed in 1894, as by then women were ad-mitted at other medical schools (where still they faced much discrimination).

The idea that “separate but equal” in education does not work was determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ended legal segregation in American schools. Perhaps the York dean in this case could look up “inherently unequal” in that decision.

Lynn McDonald, Toronto

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We don’t have to accommodate members of the flat-Earth society. Sorry. Next.

Keith Jolly, Atlanta, Ga.

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ON REFLECTION More letters to the editor

Better down than up

Re Raitt Urges Review Of Shutdown (Jan.10): Kudos to Howard Eng for his decision to shut down Pearson International Airport for weather-related safety concerns. I was once grounded in a plane. Feeling that passengers were getting impatient, the pilot announced over the loudspeaker: “Believe me, folks, you would rather be down here wishing you were up there, than up there wishing you were down here.” That put everything in perspective.

Perhaps Mr. Eng could’ve said the same to passengers waiting in Canada’s largest airport.

Michèle Patry, Montreal

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Angst, by the numbers

Re The Math Just Doesn’t Add Up (editorial, Jan. 10): Oh my God, it must be true: John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, was right – Canadian youths’ math performance is “a national emergency.”

How else but a looming national disaster to explain The Globe’s devoting a page-length editorial to the topic?

I’d back this letter up with an actual word count of your angst, but I was never good at numbers.

David Wood, Mildmay, Ont.

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Fairness in grocery fight?

Re Suppliers Brace For More Price Cuts As Grocery Fight Heats Up (Report on Business, Jan. 10): With food inspection subject to budget cuts, union-bashing at an all-time high, and marketing boards at risk, what better time to put the squeeze on suppliers?

As company profits and executive salaries are unlikely to be cut as cost-saving measures, quality and fair recompense to food producers are likely to be the losers in this strategy.

Ain’t capitalism grand?

Elizabeth Hay, Ottawa

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Hats off to the essay

What a wonderful feature of The Globe and Mail is the Facts & Arguments essay. The writing is often superb, the content totally absorbing. The essays are usually heartfelt and give the reader insight to the everyday problems and delights of fellow humans.

Listening To The ‘What Ifs?’ (Jan. 10), written by Martha Morris, a teacher, was as heartwarming because of her caring, as it was sad because of the horrors perpetrated by disturbed people.

I look forward to the essay every day. Thank you.

Marie Medoro, Mississauga

 

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