Their “obligation to accommodate”

A jaw-dropper from York University in Toronto.

After refusing to honour a male student’s request to be separated from his female classmates for religious reasons, a York University professor has found himself at odds with administrators who assert he broke their “obligation to accommodate.”

Say WHAT???

There’s an obligation to accommodate a male student’s request to be “separated” from female students? Are you fucking kidding me? 

Do these administrators not realize where this goes? It goes back to what we’ve been struggling to escape from for centuries. Men getting “separation” from women means women are imprisoned in seclusion, purdah, the harem, the kitchen. It is not something that should be “accommodated” in a university or anywhere else public. (Except a church or mosque or temple? No, actually, not except those. If women don’t want to be separated, then no, I don’t think male requests for separation should be “accommodated.” But I get that that’s usually not something for outsiders to mess with [unless perhaps the women ask them to]. But on principle? No. No, I don’t think such requests should be accommodated, even in religious buildings.)

The professor ran the student’s initial memo past a Judaic scholar and two Islamic scholars, all of whom were puzzled by the request.

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.”

Mr. Grayson’s colleagues appeared to agree. At an October departmental meeting they passed a resolution forbidding any religious accommodations that contributed to the “marginalizations of other students, faculty or teaching assistants.”

And the student backed off. Grayson said the student was a reasonable guy. All was copacetic…except not quite.

Nevertheless, the rejection incensed university brass. According to Mr. Grayson, on October 18, he received a letter from the Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies ordering him to accommodate the student’s wishes.

As per documents provided by the professor, one of the keystones of the Dean’s position is the assertion that allowing the student to opt out of female interaction would not affect the “experience of other students in the class”—provided the professor kept quiet about it.

Oh yeah? So of course Grayson, being a sociologist, surveyed his female students, who saw the matter rather differently.

The response confirmed his suspicions. Female students in particular reacted with outrage and even threats of legal action.

“What if the male student asked that the women be seated at the back of the class or on the other side of a partition so that he would not have to see them?” wrote one.

What if a white student requested separation from non-white students? The parallel is obvious enough, except apparently to the Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University…which is a pretty shocking state of affairs. “Liberal” Arts? Really? You sure about that?

The Dean dismissed the November survey, saying he was not “persuaded that other students’ political views on the subject are either a relevant or an appropriate consideration.”

“I am unpersuaded that it is even arguable that the non-participation of this one male student in group work affects in any way any other student’s human rights,” he wrote.

As York’s winter semester kicks off, said Mr. Grayson, the order is still standing.

“There’s been no reversal of position,” he said.

The Facebook page Separate is never equal urges writing to the Dean.

Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies of York University Martin Singer ordered Professor Paul Grayson to “accommodate” the wishes of a student who requested to be separated from his female classmates for religious reasons.

Dean Singer said that allowing the student to opt out of female interaction would not affect the “experience of other students in the class”—provided the Professor Grayson kept quiet about it. In an October 18 email, the Dean specifically told Prof Grayson that if he was worried about the “course experience of our female students” he would make sure they “are not made aware of the accommodation.”

This is simply outrageous. The issue has not been resolved yet, so please email Dean Singer to tell him about our experience with gender segregation in the UK, how it affects vulnerable students and the huge reputational damage Universities UK had for condoning gender segregation.

You can also tweet here:

You know your duty.

Update: there is a petition to sign. Well done Kiran Opal for creating it. Thank you Kausik for pointing it out.



  1. S Mukherjee says

    I wonder if York U will be similarly sympathetic to Brahmin Hindu students who insist on not mingling with ‘lower’ caste students?

  2. Donnie says

    Then the professor should put up chairs in the back room with screens and start class by saying if any male wishes to be separated from a female then there are chairs in the back behind a screen. Granted, this segregation should never happen, but the professor should test the limits of segregation when it is a male that is put at a disadvantage. I am only proposing this as a thought experiment because the Dean is forcing accommodation despite it being a public university. The reaction, I hope, should be strong enough to highlight the issue.

    As an american, “separate but equal” though I never lived through that time still rings very true.

  3. says

    The requirement to accede to the request but not tell the women students about it is especially troublesome. Seriously, isn’t teaching hard enough without having to keep dirty little secrets from the class? And someone is bound to notice there’s something odd going on….

    (My dad had a BA from York, earned in his 50s. However, he’s not really in a condition to be writing outraged alumni letters to the administration…..)

  4. Jenora Feuer says

    When I heard this on the radio this morning, I figured there would be discussion of it here.

    During the phone-in segment on CBC Ontario Today ( ), pretty much everybody who called in was on the side of the professor. There was a bit of arguing over whether religious beliefs constituted a choice, but for the most part, everybody agreed that the religious ‘right’ to not have to interact with women was trumped by the human right of the women to be involved with the class.

    About the only people who weren’t completely on the professor’s side were the human rights lawyer, who simply cautioned that at this point we hadn’t heard all the story and that it was quite possible we never would (he didn’t actually seem to have any problem with the professor’s actions, he just said that it might be more complicated than what we had heard so far), and one fellow who thought the professor shouldn’t have taken it upon himself to violate the University’s procedures (though it didn’t seem to me that the professor actually had).

    York University posted a whole bunch of weasel wording about this situation being complicated by this being at least in part an online course that had its own issues with how to organize people.

    And, well, it looks like the Dean has failed spectacularly at making sure the female students “are not made aware of the accommodation.” A Streisand-effect level of failure, in fact.

  5. sambarge says

    I agree with Donnie. If the man wants accommodation he can have it, so long as it inconveniences no one but him. A screen, at the back or side of the room, which he can sit behind would adequately shield women from him. The female students can then participate in the class unencumbered.

    And, the women should know exactly what the screen is about. This is a Liberal Arts class, right? They should use it as a learing experience, for crying out loud. “Let’s discuss what this religious position is saying about men and women…”

    When I was at university, I invigilated exams for a woman who was a rape survivor. In general she was okay but the stress of exams combined with the stress of being in a room with men, set off her PTSD (it was the all the silence, apparently). Anyway, she needed the accommodation of a private room with a female invigilator. As the only female invigilator on staff, I was happy to take the job. Her accommodation seemed appropriate to me. She had a physical, diagnosed condition. It was going to make employment really f*cking hard for her (then agin, life hadn’t exactly easy for her up to that point) but the university had an obligation to accommodate to undue hardship because she had a recognized disability.

    Even though she did have recognized disability, you wouldn’t believe (or perhaps you would) the grief I got about invigilating her exams.

  6. sambarge says

    Oh, and the student did attend that course with the female students:

    But less than a week later, the student told Dr. Grayson he would “respect the final decision” to deny the request, was pleased with the way it had been handled, and has since met with his learning group.

  7. says

    Your Name’s not Bruce? (#7) –

    I have two words for the student in question: correspondence school.

    Or go one better: expulsion. He sounds like another potential Marc Lépine.

  8. says

    This nonsense has got to stop. Universities cannot be dictated to by those who do not believe in the principle of absolute equality. We had the same over here last year when Laurence Krauss was expected to give a lecture to segregated students. And Steve Jones of Imperial College had Muslim medical students who wanted preferential treatment. The United Kingdom is not a Muslim state how ever. We do not do segregation but integration. This should not even be happening in Europe or in North America. But this is what happens when you let political correctness trump human rights. Which is paradoxical to say the least since the two are supposed to be mutually compatible. I predict more of this nonsense and it will not stop unless or until it is made absolutely clear that this sort of thing is completely unacceptable. Liberal democracy and fundamentalist belief can not accommodate each other. One has to give. And it has to be the latter. Simple as that. I signed the twitter petition. Hope it gets as many as possible

  9. sambarge says

    Eamon Kinght @#12 – Most of the posts here are extrapolations beyond the available data.

    Who said the student in question was Muslim? Certainly not the student – who never identified his faith when he requested accommodation on religious grounds. The professor conferred with Judaic and Islamic scholars on his own accord but we don’t know what faith the student was claiming. We don’t even know that student’s name. For all we know, the student was trying to get out of an onerous group assignment because he was lazy but dragged up religion because he thought it might fly.

    What do we know? The student was taking an online course and asked to be exempted from a group learning assignment. The university administration decided to grant the accommodation based on the fact that another student was exempted from participating due to geography. The professor disagreed and told the student so. The student was given the option of dropping the course for a refund or attending the learning group. He chaose to attend the learning group without accommodation and, if semesters are York are like everywhere else, is probably done the course now.

  10. says

    A screen, at the back or side of the room, which he can sit behind

    A laptop with a video camera running video skype and it’s all done. Anyone who wants to segregate themself can, in any combination or geometry.

  11. rq says

    Had a Facebook discussion about this. So many people in favour of religious accomodation. I was surprised.
    That being said, he applied to university in Canada… So I presume he should have been prepared for the eventuality of there being actual women on campus with whom he might need to work.
    I should think no option to drop the course should have been offered – he did the project, fine; he chose not to, sorry, no marks for that project. It sounds like the professor (and university) was already being fairly accommodating in giving him the option of a full refund.

  12. says

    sambarge – well if some of us are claiming more than we know, your version is less than has been reported. “and asked to be exempted from a group learning assignment” doesn’t cover it – we also know (that is, it has been reported) the student is male and he asked to be exempted “on religious grounds so he would not have to interact with female peers” [quoting the Globe and Mail].

  13. sambarge says

    Yes. He’s male and he claimed his religion barred him from interacting with female peers. Actually, we don’t know that exactly but we have no reason to doubt that Professor Grayson is lying. Sorry I didn’t reiterate those points.

    I was trying to draw attention to the points that people did seem to be missing or from which they were extrapolating wildly.

    I do not support the isolation of men and women in institutes of learning (or most other places, actually) and certainly never on religious grounds, but this story doesn’t seem to be quite the meat the headlines would make you believe it is. That’s the point I was trying to make.

  14. says

    I see my penchant for understatement is causing trouble.

    Going from “Student asked for religious accommodation to have no contact with women” to “Is budding pathological mass murderer” is a wild extrapolation. The former is problematic, but the latter is in a class by itself.

  15. rrede says

    Am I the only one wondering what the response would have been had the student requested accomodation if the class was taught by a woman (speaking as a woman who is a professor).

  16. jeffrey says

    Seems an easy answer to this request. To the requestor who wants segregation, simly say, ” Fine. Get out.”

  17. NitricAcid says

    As much as I agree with the prof, universities do have a duty to accommodate students as much as possible. If I had a student such as Sambarge’s who couldn’t (or claimed to not be able to) write an exam or be in a stressful situation in the presence of other people, then I have to let them write in a private area (we actually do this often, and I have no qualms about it). However, all students have to be treated equally- if one student can apply for this, then they all can. If student A gets a note from her doctor, counselor or therapist that states that she gets to write her exam alone, then any other student can have their doctor write a note for a similar exam time. That’s fine with me- if they don’t need the benefit, then they won’t go to the hassle of getting such a note. If a student claims their religion or phobia prevents them from completing a part of the coursework, then they need something to back that up with (a therapist’s note for a phobia). I’m not just taking their word for it, because then every other student has the right to make the same claim with the same evidence. Telling the prof that he should simply “not tell the other students” is extending a benefit to one student while keeping it from others. That is NOT how it is done.

  18. NitricAcid says

    The fact that the prof told the student “No”, and the student replied, “Okay, I’ll come do the assignment, then.” tells me that the student didn’t *need* accommodation, but was hoping to not have to do the assignment.

  19. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    I’m also wondering what would have happened if any of the religious scholars consulted had concluded the student’s request had been a “reasonable” one (for certain religious values of “reason”).

    Sorry, public classroom. Not up for discussion, not up for accommodation. Not on, not up for grabs. Not on the table, not in the cards. The student can avoid interacting with women by not going to class. By staying home. If the student doesn’t like this, that’s just too damn bad. I would not have consulted anyone. If the request had been a “political” one instead of a “religious” one, would there have been any question of accommodating it at all? Would there have been any scholarly consultation? No. But because this was due to the demands of a religious belief, it was given much more respect and consideration than it deserved.

  20. says

    I agree with Donnie. If the man wants accommodation he can have it, so long as it inconveniences no one but him.

    This. I’m happy to allow any kind of religious exception to anyone, on any subject, as long as it’s clear that they are the ones who need to alter their behavior, not everyone else.

    Religious exceptions means you get to opt out of things you don’t like. It doesn’t mean you get to demand that other people behave differently. If you want to avoid women, that’s alright (weird, but alright). However, the class is open to anyone and if women attend, we’re not going to inconvenience them because of your religion.

    If you want to avoid something, then it’s up to you to avoid it. It’s not the responsibility of everyone else to keep it away from you, no matter where you go.

  21. cuervodecuero says

    I remember back in the days of the BC provincial SoCreds that the premier VanderZalm got caught jam-handed in mixing govt and business deals and his defense was that there would have been no conflict of interest if no one had said anything about it.

    It’s tragic that a Dean of a university tries to use the same pathetic excuse that discrimination is ok if no one tells the discriminees that it’s happening. So, it’s ok if men working on campus are paid more than the women working on campus if no one tells the women it’s so? It’s ok to make women students pay the same tuition fees as men students but not give them the same social and educational rights as men students so long as they’re not informed…with a side helping of how does one design such a class situation and who would design it to keep the women students oblivious.

    Then, once caught out in the stance, the Dean is privileged enough to dismiss student objections to a situation that is patently unfair to a gender they express, as not being as SMRT and Deepity as the august personage? Critical thinking skills…where do Deans acquire them?

  22. Richard Smith says

    So the Dean declares that the views of a bunch of female students doesn’t outweigh the (already-retracted) request of a lone male student. Good to know the Dean’s priorities are in order.

  23. Pierce R. Butler says

    C’mon now – a 7-year-old boy taking a University class has enough stress already, without having to worry about cootie exposure!

  24. latsot says

    I agree with Donnie.

    I do not. I have exactly no sympathy for anyone who feels that women shouldn’t participate in public life. People who don’t want to interact with women in public know exactly what to do: fuck off and leave the rest of us alone.

    I do appreciate that Donnie is proposing a thought experiment rather than a practical exercise and I’d probably enjoy seeing what happened if someone implemented it, but as an actual response to a pretend problem, it’s very horrible indeed.

  25. rnilsson says

    IANAA (not an Administrator) but I had no problem coming up with a very simple solution for accommodating the student who wished to be separated.

    I wonder if anyone (besides Not Bruce, Left, and the many others) can guess what it is? Yes, I expect you can – you look like quite an intelligent bunch.

    Why does the Dean at York for Liberal and Professional Stuff not fit into the same category? And how did He ever get to be Dean? How come He can Work at York? These are some of the questions that baffle me.

  26. Donnie says

    @Latsot: Exactly. The segregation should never occur. That is why I also did not mention that the Judiac scholars “agreed that it was not a issue [paraphrased”. Who cares what the religious scholars believe in the sense of a public university. As previously mentioned by someone else up thread that I could not locate.

    Eamon Kinght @#12:

    @10: Really? I think that’s an extrapolation beyond the available data

    Yes, extrapolating this issue to parallel to Marc Lépine is overboard – at a minimum. My point is not so much applicable to this story, but using this story as an example to tie in with previous stories related to the University UK and gender segregation. In the later case, place both sexes behind screens so that the speaker(s) get to talk to screens (or just the men behind the screens) in lieu of an audience. Spread the segregation accommodation around so that everyone understands the injustice that is being suggested. Hence, the parrallel of a screen for the student requesting accommodation.

    I wonder if the student talked with the various Judaic scholars. The student requested the accommodation. It was denied (though never should have been considered, in my opinion). He, I assume (or hope) understood why it was denied in a public setting and attended.

    Hopefully, I am full of optimism today that he had a learning lesson through this regarding the expectations of attending a public unversity. One hopes…..Now, the Dean on the other hand….

  27. zibble says

    The Dean dismissed the November survey, saying he was not “persuaded that other students’ political views on the subject are either a relevant or an appropriate consideration.”

    Of course. Accommodation is only for the arbitrary demands of regressive religious groups. That’s the liberal position, right?

    Why are the only “deeply held beliefs” these fuckwits consider legitimate the ones demanded by angry clerics? Like, isn’t an actual “deeply held” belief one that you arrived at yourself and believe in strongly, rather than something you just follow without questioning?

    Why aren’t the practical demands of secularists and feminists for things that actually matter (science, reason, equality) considered as deep and beautiful as the pointless, stupid rituals of mindless religion?

    Oh, right, because the feminists don’t kill people.


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