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York Stands Behind Its Decision to Accommodate Male Student Unwilling to Work Alongside Women

But the university says if the online course had been in-class and on-campus, it would likely have been a different story.

Photo by ^ Missi ^, from the Torontoist Flickr pool

Photo by ^ Missi ^, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

When one of Paul Grayson’s students indicated he would not be prepared to do group work with female students because of his religious beliefs, the York University professor felt strongly that he should not be accommodated in this matter, as doing so would be to satisfy a religious requirement by accepting a “negative definition of females.” But the faculty’s dean and the director for the centre for human rights felt differently: the vice dean held that as other students in the online course were able to substitute a different assignment in place of group work because of distance, this student should be given the same option for religious reasons; the director explained that “the OHRC does require accommodations based on religious observances.”

After discussing the university’s decision at a departmental meeting, Grayson denied the student’s request. (The student himself ended up agreeing to complete the assigned group-work project with female students.)

Rhonda Lenton, provost and vice-president academic for York, appeared on CBC’s Metro Morning today, and said she believes the university made the right decision—but also suggested the university’s position might have had more to do with a concern about misleading advertising than the accommodation of religious observances. “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,” she said. “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.”

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