Professor Refuses To Wear Device To Help Hearing-Impaired Student
September 18, 2015 5:54 AM   Subscribe

 
Are there no laws in Canada to supersede stupid contracts like this?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:58 AM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Sounds like b.s to me. I would love it if we had a Hindu member weigh in on what the religious aspect they're citing could possibly be. I feel really bad for the student and the university, they've been put in a really tricky situation.
posted by Jubey at 6:01 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Zero sum game; how fun!
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:02 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Reynolds said she couldn't get into specifics about the religious grounds that prompted the accommodation granted to Panjabi."

I don't see anything about Hindu in the article. Anyone know what this thing is all about?
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:03 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd have to read the wording but might that also preclude phones, too? And drive through orders at Tim Hortons?
posted by tilde at 6:04 AM on September 18, 2015


Cookiebastard, the reference to Hinduism is in the second link.
posted by virago at 6:05 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The reference to Hinduism is useless, because it still doesn't have any details of which beliefs are being cited.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:06 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


She is teaching a history of espionage class and refusing to broadcast it on a small fm transmitter. I use an fm transmitter to listen to my tv via headphones late at night. It sounds to me like in addition to being Hindu, she is paranoid and thinks she could be a victim of spying if she is transmitting over fm.
posted by AugustWest at 6:07 AM on September 18, 2015 [25 favorites]


It sounds to me like in addition to being Hindu, she is paranoid and thinks she could be a victim of spying if she is transmitting over fm.

Not sure how "I'm afraid of people spying on me" would be written into her employment contract as a religious objection, frankly.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:09 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I support her religious beliefs being accomodated, if sincere, but am genuinely confused as to which aspect of them are being impacted here. It's uncharitable, but I kind of wonder if 30 years ago, Hinduism was considered a "strange" religion in uber white Canada, and so people just went along with whatever she said were religious beliefs.
posted by corb at 6:10 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Nope, just wearing a transmitter. That seems awfully specific an exclusion, but religions are what we make them*.

wracking my brain for alternative phrasing just saying belief is as individual as a fingerprint
posted by tilde at 6:11 AM on September 18, 2015


Too bad all the rest of the students don't drop the class as well.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:15 AM on September 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


Being "right" doesn't make you not an asshole.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:22 AM on September 18, 2015 [31 favorites]


I would love it if we had a Hindu member weigh in on what the religious aspect they're citing could possibly be.

I'm a semi-observant sometimes practicing Hindu (take that for whatever it is) but I've never heard of this kind of religious observance. That being said, it wouldn't surprise me if there was a particular religious prohibition as the faith is not homogeneous and there are many branches with different practices.

I personally think this Professor is acting in a disreputable way and I feel like religious freedom is being used as an excuse. Maybe she feels its an inconvenience for whatever reason and is just being bull-headed about it. Pretty shameful if you ask me.
posted by Fizz at 6:23 AM on September 18, 2015 [38 favorites]


To those saying they want more details about the religious basis of her objection/accommodation: keep in mind that you can't exactly devise any kind of test to determine which religious objections have contextual merit and which don't.
posted by clockzero at 6:23 AM on September 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


It's all part of the espionage course. If he really took the class seriously he'd have the room bugged anyway.

Don't forget to pick up a copy of the syllabus, recorded on microfilm in a hollow leg of the second table from the door at the dining hall.
posted by dr_dank at 6:24 AM on September 18, 2015 [51 favorites]


I support her religious beliefs being accomodated

Genuine question: why? Or more specifically: why should a person's religious beliefs ever be prioritized over other citizens' non-religious rights?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:25 AM on September 18, 2015 [68 favorites]


I support her religious beliefs being accomodated, if sincere

MUN is a public university, and despite this being Canada/Newfoundland, I'm willing to bet their religious accommodation laws for public employees are similar to ours. So while this isn't really a Kim Davis situation, it seems clear that her accommodation is superseded by his disability accommodation.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:25 AM on September 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's purely a technical point but there are other ways to record the voice of a speaker besides a headworn microphone. If her agreement with the school precludes only a microphone worn on her person they should be able to find another way.
posted by werkzeuger at 6:28 AM on September 18, 2015 [40 favorites]


I realize this discussion is meant to be about the policy and social implications of this dispute, but I'm more than a bit surprised that such a device absolutely must be worn.

Does anyone know the particulars of the technology? Would a reasonably high quality directional mic on the podium be able to do something similar?

Or did I miss read and it's the presence of the transmitter in the room that's causing the problem?
posted by NormieP at 6:29 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm finding a lot of references to religious objections to electronic communications in tax laws, but no details on which religions actually object to it. That said, there does seem to be at least some global/legal precedent. I'm seeing a lot of discussions of ways to accommodate the objection when it comes to e-filings, electronic ID formats, etc. (Nothing regarding teaching at a public university, though.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2015


but I kind of wonder if 30 years ago, Hinduism was considered a "strange" religion in uber white Canada, and so people just went along with whatever she said were religious beliefs.

No. India is the third most common country of birth among immigrants. There were plenty of Indians and Hindus in Canada 30 years ago.

Or more specifically: why should religious beliefs ever be prioritized over other citizen's non-religious rights?


Well religious freedom is in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whereas the right to accommodation of disability is legislated, not constitutional.

But this does seem like one of those rare social problems that could be solved with a technological solution. Surely there are other ways to amplify sound from her mouth and get it into the ears of this student. Or hire a real-time transcriber. I mean maybe we don't need to know the nature of the religious belief, but I hope somebody at MUN does and is trying to find a workaround.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


keep in mind that you can't exactly devise any kind of test to determine which religious objections have contextual merit and which don't.

Wait, does this mean the Ancient and True Religion of Lord Dagon will finally be able to immanentize our deeply meaningful, profoundly mystic, hookers-and-blow ritual(s)?
posted by aramaic at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


Give the professor an option:

Wear the FM transmitter, or pay to have a stenagropher to sit in her class and take dictation out of her own salary. I bet her "objection" will vanish when she's made to bear the burden of the special facilities.
posted by Hasteur at 6:33 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Making her bear the burden would be a violation of her religious freedom. At that point they might as well fire her, and they can't do that either.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:36 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well religious freedom is in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Okay but what does "religious freedom" mean? Freedom to wear funny hats, get together in a big building, sing funny songs -- cool. Freedom to infringe on the rights of others, or restrict the ability of others to participate in public events -- I doubt that's protected. And if it is protected, that's stupid and the law should be changed.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:37 AM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wear the FM transmitter, or pay to have a stenagropher to sit in her class and take dictation out of her own salary. I bet her "objection" will vanish when she's made to bear the burden of the special facilities.

It is surely illegal to make an employee pay for their own accommodation. (Yes, you can take Rosh Hashanah off, but we'll need you to pay for a replacement surgeon that day! Seriously?)

It is the university's role to provide reasonable accommodation and to pay for this, if this is the best solution. Given this choice, her religious objection would remain and many many lawyers would materialize.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:37 AM on September 18, 2015 [26 favorites]




Here's a story from a local news source. The key phrase seems to be: "based not on a universal precept of a particular tradition, but on her personal spirituality and commitments."
posted by khaibit at 6:38 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I too am curious about exactly what the religious basis of the Professor's objection is (not that I wish to question the validity of the objection, I'd just like to learn more).

That being said, why can't the university accomodate the student here by hiring a sign language interpreter? Or a stenographer/captioner who can transcribe the discussions in the classroom for display on a screen?

I have an acquaintance who is a captioner, and often has jobs that involve attending class with a student and typing up the speech (in real time) so that it can be displayed on the student's laptop and the student can participate in the discussion.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:39 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hasteur

Why should she pay? If the problem can be solved with other technology, the university ought to have an obligation to pay for it since then they are facilitating the accommodations for both the professor and the student that they already granted.
posted by NormieP at 6:40 AM on September 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Okay but what does "religious freedom" mean? Freedom to wear funny hats, get together in a big building, sing funny songs -- cool. Freedom to infringe on the rights of others, or restrict the ability of others to participate in public events -- I doubt that's protected.

Typically, it includes the right to not do something that violates ones religious beliefs. In the workplace, especially a public/government workplace, it includes the right to any "reasonable accommodation" necessary so that one does not have to do things that violate one's religious beliefs. If no reasonable accommodation is possible and it were a core part of a person's job, then they would be found another job, if possible. If reasonable accommodation is possible or it is not really the core of their job, then the reasonable accommodation would be made. IANAL, I just read and watch a lot of them.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:40 AM on September 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Wait, I'm really confused by the tone of the comments here. This clearly wasn't some weird spur of the moment issue for her - for whatever reason (religion is nearly a red herring) she has a an agreement with her employer that is over 20 years old that she does not have to do this specific thing. For whatever reason, this is important enough that she entered into a contract, and the employer was willing to grant it. It seems like then the burden of handling this situation is not on her. She's only an asshole if she's not willing to find other ways to accommodate the person in need. Insisting that she do something that she already negotiated not to do, and was granted permission to abstain from, seems unfair.
posted by synapse at 6:42 AM on September 18, 2015 [83 favorites]


Cookiebastard, the reference to Hinduism is in the second link.
Silly me! Thanks virago!

posted by Cookiebastard at 6:42 AM on September 18, 2015


Wear the FM transmitter, or pay to have a stenagropher to sit in her class and take dictation out of her own salary.
Hiring a note-taker is a completely usual accommodation that universities do all the time. I'm sure that the university would be willing to do that for this student. The problem is that it isn't really an adequate accommodation for the student. Reading someone else's notes isn't the same as being able to process a lecture in real time and take your own notes.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:43 AM on September 18, 2015 [20 favorites]


It sounds like the only thing that's been accommodated here is woo.
posted by werkzeuger at 6:44 AM on September 18, 2015 [23 favorites]


"Mills says that during the last incident, Panjabi said something to the effect that the electronic signal interfered with her personal karma."

I kind of get a tone of disdain here, and that combined with "something to the effect of" suggests this isn't quite accurate. But ok, if it's the signal, they can surely get her a wired microphone or ask her to use the podium mike. Or maybe the hard of hearing student could sit near the front and have a microphone near them that feeds into their earphones in a wired manner. Hell, it's been 20 years, there are all sorts of new electronic signals...how does her karma do with bluetooth? Wifi? Is it just the FM-ness?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


My sense is that the willingness to use an FM transmitter should just be a requirement for getting the job in the first place, and that Memorial made a mistake in making this accommodation 20 years ago. Hard to undo that damage one they made the deal with her.
posted by beau jackson at 6:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


for whatever reason (religion is nearly a red herring) she has a an agreement with her employer that is over 20 years old that she does not have to do this specific thing. For whatever reason, this is important enough that she entered into a contract, and the employer was willing to grant it.
I don't know anything about Canadian disability law, but in general, people with disabilities have a right to accommodation that supersedes most contracts. It's a matter of fundamental equality. Unless the instructor's fundamental rights are also at stake here, then the student's right to equal participation trumps whatever contract the professor made. That's why religion isn't a red herring here.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [26 favorites]


This makes me think of the recent case of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis being jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences to gay couples. There my immediate reaction was to label her religious bigot who should do the job she is employed to do, or resign. Possibly this is because I am familiar with Christianity and the some of the types of people in it and hence will sometimes come to the conclusion that that person is being unreasonable or is even a "nut". It seems to me that I'm more willing to give other religious people, such as Hindus, more slack because I'm less familiar with their beliefs and would like to think of myself as being open and tolerant. But I don't know whether I should.
posted by drnick at 6:47 AM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is a weird case no matter what. Now I'm wondering what would happen if someone claimed a religious exemption and refused to, say, teach in buildings that were wheelchair-accessible.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:50 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


If a typical microphone wouldn't solve this problem because she likes to walk and talk or something, could they maybe put up some boundary microphones?
posted by drezdn at 6:50 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


from kahaibit's link: "She explained to her Department Head and the Dean of Arts at length that her reasons were of a religious nature, based on her personal spirituality and commitments. She gave the Dean examples of how this same principle, based on her understanding of the harmony between spirit and body, prevented her from wearing devices such as a Walkman radio or tape player"
posted by grippycat at 6:51 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


If a typical microphone wouldn't solve this problem because she likes to walk and talk or something, could they maybe put up some boundary microphones?

Yes, or perhaps she could agree to try standing at a plugged-in mic, for the sake of the student. It really shouldn't be that complicated.
posted by beau jackson at 6:52 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


The reason a QSL or ASL interpreter may not be an option is that not all hearing impaired individuals know a version of sign language, just as not all hearing impaired people are deaf (or are Deaf). My brother, who is Canadian, does not know or use sign language due to not being completely deaf in one ear, but rather has very limited hearing in one ear, and being totally deaf in the other. Since he got an implant very young, he never learned ASL or QSL. On top of this, he only has full use of one arm and hand, and thus a LOT of signs would be hard for him to make without large modifications, so learning either SL would be very hard for him. Thus, if he was in a situation where he needed the amplification equipment, he couldn't use an interpreter in place of it. This student may have a similar issue as my brother does.

As for an FM transmitter being an issue... why can she not wear a wired mic? Yes they are a pain in the wazoo if you're lecturing, but if its the "FM transmission" aspect she has a problem with, then a wired version is totally the way to go. If wearing the mic is the issue, then mic the room. If it is something about a mic period, then this prof needs to either be replaced, or moved to a non teaching position.
posted by strixus at 6:52 AM on September 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


"Mills says that during the last incident, Panjabi said something to the effect that the electronic signal interfered with her personal karma."
posted by grippycat
So yeah, how an FMunit works is basically a microphone unit. It brocasts on the FM band to anyone wearing an assistive hearing device within range.

A standard mic set up, which she presumably also does not use, broadcasts to room-based speakers, be they lecture hall or lobby intercom. Does not use the FM band; it was offered as an option by my school when they refused FM use in class by the teacher.

Similar to a cell phone or wireless phone, which we might need to presume based on stated objections, she also may not be using, but brodcasts to a specified user, subject to interception by agencies and organizations presumably covered in the class she teaches. But also not on the FM band.
posted by tilde at 6:54 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The best solution to people refusing reasonable accommodations on some made-up grounds (or not made up, but ridiculous) is to provide another accommodation that they must provide which avoids the issue, but is a giant pain in the ass. Won't wear a transmitter? You must provide a transcript of the lecture to your students. In full.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:54 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


This makes me think of the recent case of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis being jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences to gay couples. There my immediate reaction was to label her religious bigot who should do the job she is employed to do, or resign.

The difference there was that A) Granting marriage licenses is pretty much her whole jobs B) she was offered multiple reasonable accommodations and refused them. She wasn't just demanding the right to not do things herself that violated her religion, she wanted to make sure everyone else in her office followed her religion, too.]

If a typical microphone wouldn't solve this problem because she likes to walk and talk or something, could they maybe put up some boundary microphones?

I like to walk around when I teach, but if I couldn't then I would suck it up and not walk around. Unless she has a religious reason why she needs to walk around, then I think it's totally ok to require her to stand within range of the wired mike.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:57 AM on September 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Honestly, there should be a way to accommodate both of these people. Whether its a different form of amplification, a seating arrangement, providing the student with notes on the lecture, or some form of interpreter, there should be a solution.

K-12 schools have to solve these issues regularly, so I seriously cannot imagine there isn't already something out there.
posted by lownote at 6:57 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


strixus, I know your brother is not the student in question here, but I'm wondering if an alternative accommodation like real-time captioning would be helpful for him?

It just seems so weird -- like the university and student are insisting on this one particular accommodation, without explaining why other options wouldn't work.

I mean, when it comes to two completely incompatible scenarios, obviously the rights of the disabled student need to trump whatever the professor chooses to believe. But how much is the school really attempting to work with her here, and how much does the school just want to hang her out to dry/make her look bad/crazy/unreasonable so that they can get rid of her?
posted by sparklemotion at 6:58 AM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm sure I'll be in the minority here, but I'm skeptical of the notion that employers are obligated to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, and this is a prime example of why. I certainly believe in inclusiveness, and wouldn't tolerate discrimination against an employee due to any inborn trait such as gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. But religion doesn't fall into that category—a person chooses to adhere to a a particular set of religious beliefs (or not). I should not be obligated to accept your religious beliefs (and all they entail) unconditionally, any more than I should be obligated to accept your other beliefs unconditionally.

If your religion requires you to believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, you don't get to teach a biology class. If your religious beliefs preclude you from speaking on Tuesdays, then you don't get a job teaching in a school that's in session Monday through Friday. If your religion obligates you to avoid contact with women, then you don't get to teach, period.

And if your religion requires you to refuse to teach hearing-impaired students—well, that seems pretty straightforward to me. If you're not willing to perform the duties of the office, then you don't get the job. The fact that your refusal is part of a belief system that we call "religion" is beside the point. Filing a belief in the box labeled "Religion" does not magically render it above questioning, criticism, censure, or common sense. A religious belief, like any other belief, can be flawed—and we can say that it's flawed, and respond as if it's flawed.

We need to give up the idea that "but it's religion!" is some kind of universal get-out-of-jail-free card that renders any belief sacrosanct, no matter how preposterous that belief would be thought without the "religion" label on it.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:58 AM on September 18, 2015 [140 favorites]


Honestly, there should be a way to accommodate both of these people.

Didn't the article state the university came up with a solution, but that the student was still put-off and so left the class anyway?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:59 AM on September 18, 2015


The best solution to people refusing reasonable accommodations on some made-up grounds (or not made up, but ridiculous) is to provide another accommodation that they must provide which avoids the issue, but is a giant pain in the ass. Won't wear a transmitter? You must provide a transcript of the lecture to your students. In full.

I think you misunderstand the purpose of religious accommodation. It's intended to allow people to do their jobs in a manner that is in keeping with their religious beliefs. It's not to punish them for having beliefs you find ridiculous.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:59 AM on September 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


If it works for the Kim Davises and Ranee Panjabis of the world, why not the rest of us? Rob a convenience store? Religion. Scream on the bus? Religion. Pass gas in an elevator! Steal your coworkers' lunches!

I'll assume the guy who parks on my bumper is as devout as they come.

On preview, escape from the potato planet said it much more elegantly, kindly and intelligently.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 7:00 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


That being said, why can't the university accomodate the student here by hiring a sign language interpreter?

Many hearing impaired people, particularly for those that the FM loop would accommodate, don't speak sign language.

It's surprising to me that there's not another technical option in place. Many theaters have implanted microphones that feed the loop system. But picking up a large space requires lots of microphones, at least in all the set ups I know of. She'd need to be willing to use a handheld microphone in all likelihood.

I rely on this kind of technology, and I'm feeling pretty upset at the university over it. It's not the professor's responsibility to work out a solution, it's the university's. They have the power to work out an alternative solution. And frankly, all this skepticism of whether it's a sincere belief? It's pretty darn racist. Beliefs are wide and varied, and deserving of respect even if you think they're silly. Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't make it made up.

The professor and the student both have rights. It is the university's job to mediate that and find a solution. They're abdicating their responsibility by redirecting the focus to her religion with a heavy overtone that it's insincere and made up. She is not the bad guy for having religions convictions. They are for not seeking other solutions. They certainly exist.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:01 AM on September 18, 2015 [33 favorites]


Wait, farting in an elevator is illegal now?
posted by kmz at 7:02 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Panjabi said something to the effect that the electronic signal interfered with her personal karma.


Show me the peer-reviewed article that says that FM interferes with your Karma. Because, I sure as shit can show you a peer reviewed article that says that deaf people can't hear. If you can't, you're not doing your job and you should be replaced.

Universities are about science, but they're also about tolerance and compromise and the public interest. Even if it does interfere with your Karma, denying a deaf person the ability to take the class certainly does too.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:02 AM on September 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Real time captioning can be very exhausting to read if you have a learning disability, on top of things. It can also be very hard to follow, especially if there are tons of typoes in it.
posted by strixus at 7:02 AM on September 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious - totally fair point. I guess I'm just super uncomfortable with the amount of vilification here. She's not targeting this person or denying them legal rights, she's pointing to a personal belief that has not changed in over 20 years, that the university was apparently well aware of. The idea that it's a zero sum game where one of them "wins", or that her personally held beliefs are "woo" and therefore irrelevant seemed surprisingly hostile for metafilter.
posted by synapse at 7:03 AM on September 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


If only I had a penguin...: I think you misunderstand the purpose of religious accommodation. It's intended to allow people to do their jobs in a manner that is in keeping with their religious beliefs. It's not to punish them for having beliefs you find ridiculous.

It's not a punishment, it's just designed to keep people from abusing the system. It's her job to teach and that involves accommodating students with disabilities. If she can't wear a transmitter, she can just write everything up. It won't affect her karma and I think you'll find that suddenly she's willing to wear the transmitter after all. Or maybe not; but if that's the case, at least she's now accomplishing her full job.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:04 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sure I'll be in the minority here, but I'm skeptical of the notion that employers are obligated to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, and this is a prime example of why.

The key issue in Canadian law - and where this particular instance falls is squarely in the domain of provincial human rights acts/codes - is accommodation to the point of "undue hardship."

Additionally, you have the issue of "competing rights" under these codes.

The operative legislation in this case is the Newfoundland Human Rights Act, as universities are provincial jurisdictions.

In the absence of standards-based accessibility legislation (which only Ontario and Manitoba have at this time), this is a Human Rights Act issue.

Legal issues aside, I think this professor is a bigot and should be fired. YMMV.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:04 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Mills says that during the last incident, Panjabi said something to the effect that the electronic signal interfered with her personal karma."

If she honestly believes that, her failure to investigate the interaction between moral causality and the electromagnetic spectrum is just leaving a Nobel Prize on the table for somebody else to pick up. I'd be annoyed at her if I were her dean.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:08 AM on September 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


From the article "The Blundon Centre said they would work with the professor if William really wanted to stay in class, to come up with compromise — but to me, the compromise is that she wears the FM system. I don't get the idea of her refusing."

Well... That's not how compromises work.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:09 AM on September 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


Wolfdog- I listed four options that I have seen work as my experience as an educator in K-12 schools Explain to me how that is next to no information.

Sure, I wasn't sitting there when the university possibly offered these options, but that wasn't my point. The framing seems to suggest neither side wants to hear about alternatives. To me the story is about being inflexible as much as it is about disabilities and religious beliefs colliding.
posted by lownote at 7:10 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, there are so many people propping up ignorant engineer solutions here. I'm a profoundly deaf and also Deaf graduate student, and I use a captionist and interpreter in courses. I can tell you right off the bat these are not ideal solutions in the least. Captioning means that you can't watch the powerpoints or absorb visual information since you're fixated on watching the text (and in some cases, you can't even take notes); not only that, but you can't be involved in the class since there's such a delay. I can't tell you the number of times that a professor asked the class a question or did a survey and then the captionist lagged behind so much that I couldn't even put up my hand to respond if I was confused about the content or not. Don't even get me started on group activities or exercises - it's completely beyond me. While ASL interpretation fares a lot better, it still doesn't circumvent the issue of the sheer, sheer exhaustion that you get from processing so much visual input on a daily basis. This is even a well-studied phenomenon that shows why even well-accommodated hard of hearing and deaf children lag behind in studies. And this isn't even an option for a lot of folks - I don't understand why people think that being physically unable to hear magically endows one with automatic knowledge of a full language that takes years and years to become proficient in?

The student knows what's best for him. He doesn't need people hearingsplaining his own disability and accommodations back to him.

Also, can I quickly note that the term "hearing impaired" is considered highly offensive, and as someone who is Deaf, I'd really, really, really, really appreciate it if people would stop using it?
posted by Conspire at 7:11 AM on September 18, 2015 [127 favorites]


I'm sure I'll be in the minority here, but I'm skeptical of the notion that employers are obligated to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, I certainly believe in inclusiveness, and wouldn't tolerate discrimination against an employee due to any inborn trait such as gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. But religion doesn't fall into that category—a person chooses to adhere to a a particular set of religious beliefs (or not).

Well remember that the employer here is the state. So this isn't a human rights law issue (or what Americans would call civil rights), it's a constitutional issue. The consitution clearly DOES list religion as a prohibited grounds for discrimination (Canada has "prohibited grounds for discrimination", not "protected classes"). But even if it didn't explicitly list religion, it would still be consitutionally protected. The Charter clause that protects equality rights gives lists a series of prohibited grounds (race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.), but the list starts with "in particular", not "and here is a complete list of grounds that are unconstutional to discriminate on." So the supreme court has ruled that these are not the only grounds prohibited by the constitution. Instead, these are examples of some such grounds, and there may be other analogous grounds for discrimination that are also unconstitutional. This is why it's considered unconstitutional in Canada to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, even though that's not listed.

So what's an analagous ground? It's anything that it is either not possible to change OR can be changed only "at great personal cost." I think most people would think it a great personal cost to abandon their religion as they understand it, so even if this weren't actually listed, the university would still be required to not discriminate on the basis of religion.
Source.
Section 15(1) of the Charter lists seven prohibited grounds of discrimination: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. These are known as the listed or “enumerated” grounds. The Supreme Court has not interpreted this list as exhaustive, however. The use of the words “in particular” before this enumeration suggests that it was intended to be an open list. In Andrews, the Court recognized the first analogous ground: that of citizenship.

Analogous grounds are personal characteristics that, like the enumerated grounds, are “immutable, difficult to change, or changeable only at unacceptable personal cost.”18 Once an analogous ground is established in case law, it functions in the same way as any of the enumerated grounds and can form the basis of future equality claims.

Claimants have to establish that the distinction made between them and others is based on an enumerated or analogous ground. Alternatively, they can argue for the establishment of a new analogous ground. Thus far, citizenship, sexual orientation, marital status and “Aboriginality-residence” have been recognized as analogous grounds.19 The latter means that the Charter now prohibits discrimination against First Nations people on the basis that they live off-reserve.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:13 AM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Show me the peer-reviewed article that says that FM interferes with your Karma.

This would eventually end up with courts having to decide which religious beliefs are factually true and which are not. I think that would be problematic, to put it mildly.
posted by FishBike at 7:14 AM on September 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


The basic constraint on all workplace tolerance rights is pragmatic -- someone who's perceived as bad / selfish / nutty will find a way to get fired or marginalized even if they in theory have the right to behave that way.

Tenured professors are basically immune from that. They aren't trying to get promoted, and they are entitled to pay and teaching assignments regardless of what you think about their behavior.

Just think about UC Berkeley - it has two law professors (John Yoo and Philip Johnson) who are respectively a primary author of the Bush administration enhanced interrogation regime, and a prominent creationist/HIV-causes-AIDS denier. You don't think that 99% of the faculty and 80% of the students wanted them fired? And there's probably some Assistant Professor of Law who is just waiting to get tenure in order to let loose his global warming denial or opposition to gay marriage...
posted by MattD at 7:14 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


How did we get to the point where religions are basically a list of very specific things you should never do (including some that were not around and never thought of when the religion was founded)? I guess this is a letter of the law/spirit of the law issue?
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:15 AM on September 18, 2015


The key issue in Canadian law - and where this particular instance falls is squarely in the domain of provincial human rights acts/codes.

IANAL and if you are I will defer, but the University is a state actor, so I think the religious issue here is constitutional, not based on the human rights codes.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:15 AM on September 18, 2015


Also, can I quickly note that the term "hearing impaired" is considered highly offensive, and as someone who is Deaf, I'd really, really, really, really appreciate it if people would stop using it?

Sorry, that was me. I try to be up on this stuff, and I failed. I'm hard of hearing, but that doesn't excuse me using language people find offensive. I'll do better next time.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:17 AM on September 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


I've been largely deaf for as long as I can remember. I even used these shitty transmitters in university (twenty-plus years ago, and they haven't gotten less bulky by now? really?). I've been following this story fairly closely.

And nothing about it surprises me in the least. I wish I could be shocked by this, but I'm not. There are a lot of people out there who simply refuse to make accommodations to the disabled. They will recognize that disabled people have particular needs which have to be addressed, but are supportive only insofar as it doesn't involve them changing their own behaviour in any way whatsoever. All these refusals to change the slightest thing, but they'll say they're on your side. Someone should do something. Someone else.

Maybe there are religious reasons why this prof can't do it. I don't know. Frankly, it sounds like bullshit. And even if there is some religious reason, I'm sure that your God won't mind you breaking a rule to be decent to somebody.

And maybe the university is indeed trying to accommodate the student. So far, that accommodation means the kid taking a different fucking course. Brilliant. The univ accommodates the prof's rights by letting her contracting out of treating someone with basic human decency. Bravo.

The prof gets to do nothing, and the university gets to do nothing. End result for the kid: nothing. You're on your own. Better get used to it, kid -- there are too many assholes to deal with, especially the assholes who claim to be supportive.

So I'm not surprised by this. Bitter and angry -- absolutely. But never surprised.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:17 AM on September 18, 2015 [58 favorites]


Canadian constitutional law isn't US constitutional law.

Protection of rights is mandated by our Charter, but administration of rights is through provincial legislation. Universities are entirely under provincial law. The US Federal/State division does not apply here at all.
posted by bonehead at 7:18 AM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


IANAL either, but...

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to any federal, provincial or municipal law or regulation, as well as to any governmental activity. Human rights legislation, on the other hand, prohibits discriminatory practices in both the private and public sectors, but only with respect to certain economic activities, such as employment and publicly available services and accommodation. Therefore, an overlap between human rights Acts and the Charter will exist where it can be shown that the practice at issue is an act of government that took place in the context of employment or the provision of services, facilities or accommodation.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:18 AM on September 18, 2015


I'm sure I'll be in the minority here, but I'm skeptical of the notion that employers are obligated to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, and this is a prime example of why. I certainly believe in inclusiveness, and wouldn't tolerate discrimination against an employee due to any inborn trait such as gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. But religion doesn't fall into that category—a person chooses to adhere to a a particular set of religious beliefs (or not). I should not be obligated to accept your religious beliefs (and all they entail) unconditionally, any more than I should be obligated to accept your other beliefs unconditionally.

Gender and race aren't inborn traits, though.
posted by clockzero at 7:20 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how Canadian law defines "religion" as it pertains to the concept of religious accommodation. Her religion is Hindu, but that appears to have very little to do with her objection to wearing an FM transmitter. That seems to stem from a personal spiritual belief that FM radio waves interfere with her well-being in some way.
Are all personal belief objections religious objections?

In any case, accommodation for a disability should supersede any religious objection or contractual agreement.
posted by rocket88 at 7:21 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it's both, then?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:21 AM on September 18, 2015


accommodation for a disability should supersede any religious objection

There is no hierarchy of rights. Both are required to be equally protected under Canadian law, according to our Charter.
posted by bonehead at 7:22 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


So this isn't a human rights law issue (or what Americans would call civil rights), it's a constitutional issue.

I wasn't analyzing the question from a legal perspective. I'm sure that all you say is accurate. But if any policy, legal or otherwise, says "you have the right to selectively refuse to perform duties of your job without fear of repercussion", I think that's a poor policy.

This would eventually end up with courts having to decide which religious beliefs are factually true and which are not.

Only if you maintain that the law should protect religious beliefs in the first place.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:22 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


When a similar case came up in 1996 (same professor, same university, different leadership), many different avenues were explored in good faith, but these were all found lacking, and the then-VP of the university sided with the student. This is all detailed in a very thoughtful letter (PDF) from the VP of the university to the student in question in 1996.

The student in 1996 did end up having to take a different course, but as a result of the debacle the VP concluded "that the first consideration in such cases must be the student's right to free and equal access and that Dr. Panjabi erred in her judgement that she could reasonably refuse to wear the device in view of her particular religious principles."

Why this decision has now been reversed I don't know.
posted by duffell at 7:23 AM on September 18, 2015 [32 favorites]


"Mills says that during the last incident, Panjabi said something to the effect that the electronic signal interfered with her personal karma."
From wiki:
Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म; IPA: [ˈkərmə] ( listen); Pali: kamma) means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering. Karma is closely associated with the idea of rebirth in some schools of Asian religions. In these schools, karma in the present affects one's future in the current life, as well as the nature and quality of future lives - or, one's saṃsāra.
posted by Fizz at 7:24 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


There is no hierarchy of rights. Both are required to be equally protected under Canadian law, according to our Charter.

Isn't that what the courts are for? Rights are often in conflict, and someone needs to define which are more important.
posted by rocket88 at 7:24 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If she doesn't want to wear a transmitter than let them make her stand at a mic'd up podium. How is this not completely obvious?
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, the letter I linked to above gets slightly more into the details of the religious objection, specifically that the objections were "based not on a universal precept of a particular tradition but on her personal spirituality and commitments." Trying to apply a religious test of whether her religious commitment is "Hindu enough" is not going to be an especially fruitful exercise.
posted by duffell at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


someone needs to define which are more important

Rights are always equal, and the State never makes errors. Amen.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 7:27 AM on September 18, 2015


So it's both, then?

More or less. But.

The mechanism by which a dispute (such as the one the in the FPP) would be resolved would be the human rights act or code in the province in which the alleged discrimination occurred.

If it was a case of a federally regulated industry or organ of the federal government, then the Canadian Human Rights Act would kick in (e.g., in the case of an airline, which is federally regulated).

One difference between the Charter and the provincial (or federal) human rights acts and codes is that the latter prescribe remedies, penalties etc. for their violation.

Here are some case law examples of how that works in the province in question in the FPP.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:28 AM on September 18, 2015


t's not a punishment, it's just designed to keep people from abusing the system. It's her job to teach and that involves accommodating students with disabilities. If she can't wear a transmitter, she can just write everything up. It won't affect her karma and I think you'll find that suddenly she's willing to wear the transmitter after all. Or maybe not; but if that's the case, at least she's now accomplishing her full job.

If you go out of your way to ensure that the accommodation is a pain in the ass and choose it specifically on those grounds, as you suggested doing, then it does have the effect (and intended effect) of punishing the person whose beliefs are sincerely held and how does not drop the belief because you've put a PITA in their way.

Your find an accommodation that's a PITA suggests that if she (let's say) she doesn't have to write it all up. Let's say she's one of those profs (there are many) who already has it all written up. She wrote it up 30 years ago and ever year changes a few words, prints up a new copy and then goes to class and pretty-much reads what her paper says. So in this case, it's not a PITA, it's just "print up another copy." You seem to be suggesting this would not be a good accommodation to suggest because it's not a PITA and wouldn't introduce a hardship to her if she stood by her belief.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:28 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The student wants to use an FM receiver. The professor doesn't want to wear a transmitter. Put a microphone near the prof, put the transmitter in a closet.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If laws allow religious commitments to whatever the heart imagines, without a religious group to back you up, we must needs have a test of what constitutes a reasonable religious commitment, or else we have a captured system.

Religious freedom doesn't mean accommodation for beliefs made up to serve ulterior purposes (which is why we need a test). It means the government can't impose a State Religion.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


Quite frankly, I'd use an FM system if I could. Every time I want to go to a seminar or a social event, I need to know weeks ahead of time and double-check if any of my support workers are available - a lot of the time, they aren't, and then I have to sit behind. This is in contrast to the hearing students, who can just get an email about a seminar or a gathering on the same day and then decide to go at the drop of the hat. People don't understand just how much this systematically disadvantages you compared to hearing people - you get a fraction of the exposure to knowledge and a fraction of the social networks that hearing people just take for granted.

An FM system provides you with some flexibility in this regards - although it's still not a perfect solution because, hey, what if there's more than one speaker (hint: this is why hard of hearing and deaf people in mainstream environments are so profoundly socially isolated). But it only works if assholes don't decide to opt-out like this.

These are things hearing people get and take for granted. They get the freedom to choose where to go, what to do, who to interact with, what to learn. It would be nice if they could realize that these are privileges that not everyone gets; and that they have the option to make this happen for hard-of-hearing and deaf folks if they'd only perform some basic, basic things - talk to us even if it seems awkward having to go through an interpreter, look at us when we talk so we can lipread, wear the fucking FM system. But they don't even realize that all we're trying to do is get the same level of access - and in most cases, actually not even the same level, but just something a little beyond being totally isolated and alone - to everything as hearing people do. And then they don't.
posted by Conspire at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2015 [52 favorites]


Nobody else is qualified to teach that class for that semester? Seems like the simplest accommodation for both the professor and the student.
posted by papercrane at 7:32 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


And there does happen to be a de facto religious test for these matters. It's the "It's not racist enough" test.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 7:33 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nobody else is qualified to teach that class for that semester? Seems like the simplest accommodation for both the professor and the student.

That kind of class is typically an elective offering from a specific professor, having to do with their own scholarship. It's not Algebra II.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:34 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't that what the courts are for?

The Supreme Court has been pretty clear on this: it's contextual and has to be decided on a case-by-case basis according to a framework they've laid out.

There are many counter examples. Just recently, the court affirmed the right that a niquab can be worn during swearing in for citizenship. Last year, the court also judged that a niquab can be worn during trial testimony.

Were this to go to court, the student would have to demonstrate why another solution would not disregard his rights, including taking an equivalent course, or having an interpreter in class, or something else.

To be clear, I have no idea what the balance should be here, but prioritizing certain rights over others is a pretty harsh line to cross, and could have really bad side effects. The courts are quite clear that we're not going there.
posted by bonehead at 7:36 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


papercrane--don't know about this semester, but according to the article I posted above, that was the short-term solution offered and settled on when a similar case came up in 1996. The university then decided that the long-term solution would be to side with students' needs for special accommodations over the religious objections of staff/faculty.

It sounds like many of the very solutions people are posing here were already considered 20 years ago, and that the decision, ultimately, was that the best solution would just be for the professor in question to do her job and accommodate her students.

Seriously, y'all. Read the letter.
posted by duffell at 7:37 AM on September 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


[A few comments removed, maybe less all around with the low-hanging-fruit religion jokes and the Who Is Worse, The Proj, The Student, Or The School's A/V Dept framing and instead talk about the article in a "I find this actually interesting for reason x" sort of way.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:37 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is some Kim Davis-style horseshit right here. Either you agree to do your job or you don't.

People need to just be fired way more often. It's a job, not a lifestyle.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:37 AM on September 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


Religious freedom doesn't mean accommodation for beliefs made up to serve ulterior purposes (which is why we need a test). It means the government can't impose a State Religion.

Under U.S. law, that's the Establishment clause. There's also Free Exercise.

However, this story is happening in Canada.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:38 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Regardless of whether this professor should be accommodated, it sounds like she was very unprofessional and a total jerk about it. I.e. not working with the student ahead of time, and being rude when they left because they couldn't get anything out of the lecture due to her own issues. If nothing else, that deserves censure.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:41 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Academia is not a job; it's a lifestyle. Your only lifestyle.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 7:42 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hard of hearing is not equivalent to Deaf.

The Kim Davis thing is rather infuriating for me because I have shifted careers for religious reasons, and request reasonable accommodations (no leather clothing). My understanding of American civil rights law is that the distinction rests on performance of essential job duties. And since an essential job duty (defined by statute) of a County Clerk is to certify marriage licenses (along with other legal documents) in accord with state and federal law, Davis's demand isn't a reasonable accommodation.

Most people having religious objections to essential job duties handle the issue by finding a different line of work or a different employer. People who observe the sabbath generally don't take jobs where work on the sabbath is essential. Religious pacifists generally don't take jobs with the armed forces or military contractors and then conduct workplace protests. Because supporting an organization that conflicts with your religious views is still a conflict.

So, in my view at least Davis is claiming a liberty not granted by civil rights law for the purpose of political obstructionism. It's not something I think is generally supported by traditions of conscientious objection.

I don't particularly trust the media coverage on the Canadian case because I've seen news media get the concepts completely wrong when it comes to minority religious practices in the past. Previously, mass media went apeshit over Canada extending bereavement leave to "spirit guides," which the media interpreted as family pets, but the indigenous religions making the request defined as a human person similar to a godparent or counseling sponsor.

Now, granted I'm nearly a complete novice at these things, but in some Dharmic religions it's possible to make a personal vow to abstain from something: sex, alcohol, gambling, different types of food are common. So if a person has made a vow to abstain from the use of personal electronics, then perhaps this is what is in play.

But I think this is an edge case and not typical of the religious liberties. It's not one I'm willing to leap to judgement based on what the CBC has to say.

If she honestly believes that, her failure to investigate the interaction between moral causality and the electromagnetic spectrum is just leaving a Nobel Prize on the table for somebody else to pick up. I'd be annoyed at her if I were her dean.

Questions of moral (or legal) application are not scientific questions. There is a Nobel Prize for moral questions (the Peace Prize) but that's an exception.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:42 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm sure I'll be in the minority here, but I'm skeptical of the notion that employers are obligated to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, and this is a prime example of why. I certainly believe in inclusiveness, and wouldn't tolerate discrimination against an employee due to any inborn trait such as gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. But religion doesn't fall into that category—a person chooses to adhere to a a particular set of religious beliefs (or not). I should not be obligated to accept your religious beliefs (and all they entail) unconditionally, any more than I should be obligated to accept your other beliefs unconditionally.

In junior high school, some of my teachers deliberately gave exams on Jewish holidays and refused to allow make up dates. Take the day off for religious observance, and you would be marked absent rather given the standard religious exemption. Too many absences in the school year and a student would be penalized, or even in extreme cases held back a grade. Religious exemption for missing school did not count as an absence. To correct the record, a student had to file a formal appeal through a guidance counselor. And if the guidance counselor didn't approve, then the complaint had to be dragged through the higher echelons of the administration.

I am somewhat unfamiliar with what living life as a Jew is like in Canada, but I do know that when you are a member of a minority religion in the US, discrimination is pretty damned commonplace. Antisemitic bigotry is ingrained in some regions. The majority religion, Christianity, has concessions given to it by Federal and State governments: Christmas is a federal holiday and Good Friday is a holiday in 12 states. Etc. Members of minority religions have had to fight to protect themselves from discrimination, and yes, that includes fighting to be given even slight allowances for their religious observance.

Having lived in areas of the US that were essentially without protection for minority religions and having dealt with bigotry and discrimination as a result, I invite you to experience that for a while and then see if you still advocate for having said protections eliminated. Because it was and is a deeply shitty experience.

Anyway, reasonable concessions (read: not Kim Davis and her ilk) for religious observance that do not interfere with the rights of others aren't the problem here.

Personally, I'm rather amazed that the professor thinks her karma is being more negatively affected by wearing an FM transmitter than her incredible display of disrespect and rudeness towards a student with a disability whom she has chosen to serve. From my non-Hindu outsider perspective, her religious justification appears flawed.
posted by zarq at 7:44 AM on September 18, 2015 [31 favorites]


. Religious freedom doesn't mean accommodation for beliefs made up to serve ulterior purposes (which is why we need a test). It means the government can't impose a State Religion.

We don't have states; we have provinces. Heck, it's almost like we are a different country.

That out of the way, there has to be some compromise here and it will probably fall on the university to find out. The student's needs are not unreasonable and must be accommodated for his education.
posted by Kitteh at 7:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


duffel, based on that letter, I would be surprised if the lawyers for the university would let that stand. Since that time, the courts have made a number of decisions that would change the likely hood of that decision being legal or enforceable. I'm not a lawyer by any means, but I do have to work within this context (though under a different set of statues), and we do accommodations for people all the time.

Religion is absolutely as important as disability. In practice as an employer or manager in Canada, I would have to have agreement from both parties that they felt accommodated to arrive at a solution. It's not as simple as telling one to sit down, shut up and ignore her rights, even if we think they're unreasonable.
posted by bonehead at 7:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


If she doesn't want to wear a transmitter than let them make her stand at a mic'd up podium. How is this not completely obvious?

As someone who used a FM system for most of my grade school career before my hearing loss progressed, you seem to be under the impression that microphones and FM systems are interchangeable. They are not. The major thing is that the FM system feeds directly to the hearing aids, which provide a better amplification system (they really should costing thousands upon thousands of dollars) than a microphone does. Beyond that, it filters out background noise (something that is absolutely essential - look, I'm almost totally deaf and I can still understand some conversation if we're in an absolutely quiet room) and moves along with the position of the speaker is essential to this, because even if one stands at a podium, even leaning back or turning your head impacts the quality of the transmission. Simple broadcast amplification is not what people are looking for; this is exactly why hard-of-hearing people will request that you speak normally to them instead of yelling, because it distorts the sound.

Microphones and FM systems are not interchangeable. The goal is to make things clearer, not necessarily just louder.
posted by Conspire at 7:46 AM on September 18, 2015 [52 favorites]


I dunno. I have my opinions about the state of her karma right now, and it's not radio waves that are the main risk factor.

But, she doesn't want to be forced to wear some contraption at work. And her employer signed an agreement saying that was fine. Half the responses seem to want to make this about power politics and putting her in her place, which god knows employers do all the time but it's not something to aspire to when there's a dispute.

IMHO at this point alternatives are the university's responsibility. They signed the silly agreement, they provide accommodation--transcripts, translators, whatever it takes.
posted by mark k at 7:47 AM on September 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Microphones and FM systems are not interchangeable.

A dumb question from someone who is ignorant about these things - Can a microphone system be then hooked up to an FM transmitter instead of an amplification system?

I'm not certain if this will solve the accomodation question if her objection is fm transmission period, - but it would help if the issue is wearing the transmitter itself?
posted by Karaage at 7:48 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


> We don't have states; we have provinces.

Slight derail. Canada is a Nation-State even if it doesn't have a federated system. cf. Rise and Decline of the State

Provisions for Freedom of Religion preclude The State (i.e. any level of public government) from imposing an official religion.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 7:51 AM on September 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


The student wants to use an FM receiver. The professor doesn't want to wear a transmitter. Put a microphone near the prof, put the transmitter in a closet.

I used this kind of system for a while, before my hearing got too bad for it to be useful. The problem with this solution is that the professor will move, and no one will notice except for the one student who can't access the class without it - which puts him in the impossible position of having to get her to not move. (That's not assuming malice, btw - it's just the reality of what happens when only one person is relying on the output of an A/V system.)

I don't want to get into the religious angle here. It's not an area where I have useful things to say, or relevant experience. But having been a deaf/hoh student, it is exhausting to deal with every teacher and professor's individual issues with your access needs, whether it's not being cooperative about wearing a microphone, or not wanting an interpreter in class, or speaking rapidly and being impossible to transcribe. It's very possible to spend half your life finding a compromise for every authority figure you interact with, to suit their specific foibles and quirks.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:51 AM on September 18, 2015 [24 favorites]


Religion is absolutely as important as disability.

Can you clarify or expound on this? How is disability "important"? Or do you mean respecting religious accommodations is as important as respecting disability accommodations? And if so, do you mean that in a legal context, or are you advocating a personal preference?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:53 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


A dumb question from someone who is ignorant about these things - Can a microphone system be then hooked up to an FM transmitter instead of an amplification system?


In theory it could, but keep in mind the sound quality degrades over each successive device you link up. And then that STILL doesn't resolve the problem that if the professor decides to look in one direction over another or lean back or look down at her notes and talk, all of a sudden you don't get the content. There's a reason why a FM system clips directly to the speaker's collar or is hung around the neck or whatnot.
posted by Conspire at 7:53 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seriously, y'all. Read the letter.

I still mostly don't get it. The letter seems to imply the phonic ear receiver must be used with its paired transmitter (or at least another 'phonic ear' transmitter, whatever band and signal format that implies) so it sounds like the big problem is that the transmitter doesn't have an input jack.

Kinda sad if that hasn't changed since 1996. An aux in jack doesn't add much cost to a circuit board. Surely there are other professors who would prefer to wear a lavalier mic or stand between a couple boundary mics, for whatever reason, especially in seminar rooms with installed equipment. And is there not some compatible fixed transmitter the school could buy?
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2015


Surely there are other professors who would prefer to wear a lavalier mic

This is a lavalier mike.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:56 AM on September 18, 2015


Thanks for the link duffell, that's an interesting read.

If the professor isn't willing to wear the transmitter, and she is the only one that can teach this course, baring a technical solution being found, there isn't going to be satisfactory outcome for anyone.
posted by papercrane at 8:00 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


People need to just be fired way more often. It's a job, not a lifestyle.

Its a job often with specific clauses and benefits, like its really hard to be fired if you have tenure. This is a feature, not a bug.

That said, the professor is a jerk.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


There's no technical reason why the microphone and the FM transmitter can't be separated by a suitable length of thin cable, keeping the radio wave source sufficiently far away from the prof's karma, and also allowing her some degree of freedom to walk around.
posted by rocket88 at 8:02 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


A dumb question from someone who is ignorant about these things - Can a microphone system be then hooked up to an FM transmitter instead of an amplification system?

In theory it could, but keep in mind the sound quality degrades over each successive device you link up. And then that STILL doesn't resolve the problem that if the professor decides to look in one direction over another or lean back or look down at her notes and talk, all of a sudden you don't get the content. There's a reason why a FM system clips directly to the speaker's collar or is hung around the neck or whatnot.


In law school lecture halls (and I presume the same goes for other cattle call lectures) the profs are in front of a huge audience and wear lavalier lapel mics connected to a PA system that lives offstage in an equipment rack, closet or cabinet. The quality of a lavalier is going to be better than that of a condenser mic worn on a pendant (which were also sometimes used in this setup). Similarly, correctly placed boundary mics give excellent sound.

There's not going to be more meaningful analog signal loss from a simple external mic & preamp than there is with the builtin condenser mic, unless using truly terrible equipment. You're talking about live audio, not degradation from analog copies. The quality may even be better because external live audio gear is probably going to have better specs than whatever's in the phonic ear.

It sounds to me like the real value in the phonic ear system briefly described in the letter is that the student can carry both halves around, and just give the transmitter to the professor to wear without needing the school to have installed equipment ready. But that also explains why it's not meant to work with other equipment. The reference to 1996 makes me think of the old analog 900mhz cordless phones, none of which were compatible with each other.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:03 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's hard for me to comment on the legality in a Canadian classroom. It may be a sincere belief, but not wanting to wear the transmitter makes her a silly git, as far as I'm concerned. And putting that above the needs of a student makes it worse.
posted by theora55 at 8:05 AM on September 18, 2015


Or do you mean respecting religious accommodations is as important as respecting disability accommodations?

Sorry for using shorthand, yes that's exactly what I mean. As an employer, in a case like this, there is no a priori way (that I'm aware of) for the university to say that the student's right for accommodation trumps that of religious accommodation for one of their professors. The courts have very unambiguously said that balancing rights has to be contextual. Given how that isn't done in the 1996 letter, that's why I think the university has backed off. In effect, the contract she signed gives the university prior notice of her required accommodation.

As I've said above, I think this is pretty damn important. It stops nonsense like the Quebec "Civil Charter", it means RCMP officers can wear turbans, it means kids don't get suspended for wearing kirpans. It means I can't sideline someone for wearing a yarmulke or a headscarf from a public-facing position because I think religious garb will upset my customers.

She's got a weird and personal interpretation of her religion, sure, but, in my view, that's why the Charter is important. It lays out classes where preferences must be taken into account, even if we personally think they're foolish or idiotic or lesser people for believing in them.

Equally important however, this doesn't let the university off the hook. They still have to provide the student with an accommodation too, but it equally means that they can't force the professor to break a (serious) religious requirement, even a weird one, because a student needs them to. The University is required to find an accommodation that both can agree to.
posted by bonehead at 8:07 AM on September 18, 2015 [23 favorites]


Can you clarify or expound on this? How is disability "important"? Or do you mean respecting religious accommodations is as important as respecting disability accommodations? And if so, do you mean that in a legal context, or are you advocating a personal preference?

Given liberty to explicitly discriminate, many employers will do so and have done so.

Given liberty to arbitrarily create job requirements and expectations that result in discrimination, many employers will do so and have done so.

I agree that the professor is likely a "git" in this case, but it's not a case that justifies undermining legal protections for religious practice.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:07 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, the letter I linked to above gets slightly more into the details of the religious objection, specifically that the objections were "based not on a universal precept of a particular tradition but on her personal spirituality and commitments." Trying to apply a religious test of whether her religious commitment is "Hindu enough" is not going to be an especially fruitful exercise.

What is the difference between "personal spirituality and commitments" and "deeply held ethical views"? I have a number of deeply held ethical views which are, honestly, somewhat in conflict with some aspects of the work I do. And yet many folks feel that someone's highly personal interpretation of their religion deserves accommodation but my deeply held beliefs of many years' standing and documentable existence (via the political and volunteer work I've engaged in and the writing I've done) do not. It bothers me that someone can deeply believe in religion and we all accept that this must be accommodated because there's an assertion of god/gods/a priori-moral-underpinnings-to-the-universe, but if I deeply believe in something then it's just my opinion because it's just human philosophy that doesn't assert a larger moral meaning in the universe. Citing the Bible/etc is legit; citing a philosopher or a secular belief system is just an opinion.
posted by Frowner at 8:11 AM on September 18, 2015 [29 favorites]


The legalities of all this are frustrating and confusing but what I keep getting stuck on is the (quite possibly misplaced) notion that this professor is essentially saying "My religious beliefs preclude me from helping you." Helping others seems like it should be a big part of a religious belief system, but not being a religious person myself I have a necessarily limited understanding of it all.
posted by tehjoel at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


If this was a herpetology class instead, I'd hope the instructor would remain consistent and refuse to lecture on chameleons.
posted by dr_dank at 8:14 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kinda sad if that hasn't changed since 1996. An aux in jack doesn't add much cost to a circuit board.

I look at it like "built by NASA". No they didn't build it but it's built strong for specific use with specific results. Many other similar solutions really suck, as explained by Conspire above. And it's become a industry standard, built not only into hearing aids but phones and cellphones as well, iirc.

Get the specs, create an alternate reliable system that helps and you've got options. But there's not been a market, afaik, to creating an alternate reliable ecosystem.
posted by tilde at 8:14 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


More on competing human rights in the Canadian legal context:

Ontario Human Rights Commission: Policy on Competing Human Rights

Specifics on employment and human rights legislation in NL:

Employer's Guide to the Human Rights Code (pdf) - Newfoundland and Labrador

Equally important however, this doesn't let the university off the hook. They still have to provide the student with an accommodation too, but it equally means that they can't force the professor to break a (serious) religious requirement, even a weird one, because a student needs them to. The University is required to find an accommodation that both can agree to.

Yeah - my impression here is that the university has made a hash out of how they're handling this.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:17 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole earhole.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:22 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


corb: “I support her religious beliefs being accomodated...”

(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: “Genuine question: why? Or more specifically: why should a person's religious beliefs ever be prioritized over other citizens' non-religious rights?”

I think maybe you missed the word "accommodated." "Accommodations" are what we make so that we don't have to prioritize freedoms over rights. Virtually the entire point of having a society is so that people can have both rights and freedoms.

I'm totally down with the radical notion that the rights society dictates sometimes have to overrule individual religions, but it's sort of ridiculous to me how much it seems like my fellow liberals really, really seem eager to push this issue. Pushing the issue is not what we should want. Stupid Kim Davis should be allowed to do her stupid county clerking and follow her stupid religious beliefs, as long as it doesn't prevent anybody who wants to get married from getting married. And that's how it worked out! The judge who decided the case had it exactly right: stupid Kim Davis now gets to sit in the corner and brood whenever somebody she deems unfit for marriage walks in, and some other nice person who isn't stupid actually helps them. That's a fair religious accommodation. It lets people have their beliefs – however stupid those beliefs are – and, at the same time, it doesn't restrict anybody else's freedom.

The perfect accommodation in this case would be: another professor teaching the History of Espionage class. Unfortunately that's not as easy as having another clerk issue marriage certificates, but I wonder if Memorial University might find it's the easiest solution at the end of the day. Still, it is a bit of a conundrum. It might take some real effort to work this one out.

But the attempt to accommodate religion and preserve people's rights is a noble one. I prefer a society where people have both rights and freedoms.
posted by koeselitz at 8:22 AM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


The major thing is that the FM system feeds directly to the hearing aids, which provide a better amplification system (they really should costing thousands upon thousands of dollars) than a microphone does.

Just to be clear, the technological fix (if there is one) would be to have the transmitting leg of the phonic ear accept an external mic-level input, just as its own microphone captures. It could then use it's own uniquely designed preamp, if that's desirable, and transmitter, and the receiving phonic ear would feed the user's hearing aids directly as per normal operation.

And from that it follows also that a device designed to take a line-level out feed from a soundboard at an arbitrary live event, adjust the levels if neccessary, and relay it to a receiving phonic ear would be valuable for go-anywhere accessibility as well. Or as a piece of installed equipment in lecture halls etc.

It seems impossible that these things wouldn't have occurred to both makers and users of these devices long ago. Am I missing something?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:24 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]




From my reading the professor was willing to accommodate, the student was not and withdrew.

I'm not sure why this is an issue.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:28 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


It looks like Phonic Ear does make/sell systems that accept external mic and aux level inputs. (The company 'Phonic Ear' seems to be a retailer of various brands of devices, not sure if 'phonic ear' is a generic term.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:29 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


The judge who decided the case had it exactly right: stupid Kim Davis now gets to sit in the corner and brood whenever somebody she deems unfit for marriage walks in, and some other nice person who isn't stupid actually helps them. That's a fair religious accommodation

That's pretty much exactly how it works in Canada too. The Catholic church, for example, isn't required to perform same-sex marriage, because the state will issue a marriage license to any couple that asks for one, regardless of gender or orientation. Also, never forgetting that it was the religious community who lead the charge for same-sex marriage in Canada: the first gay couple was married through a civil-law back door by an Anglican church, and forced the issue on our Catholic PM.
posted by bonehead at 8:29 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If it were me trying to take this class on the History of Espionage and I found out the professor was unwilling to accommodate a simple FM transmitter because it "interferes with her karma," against all scientific realities of FM waves passing through all of us constantly and against all spiritual definitions of karma known to me... I'd have drop the class because there'd be no way for me to differentiate actual history-things to know from the professor's paranoid ravings.
posted by cmoj at 8:30 AM on September 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


I honestly don't see what the problem is here. If the Professor doesn't want to use an FM transmitter, just make him use an AM transmitter. Everyone knows that the AM dial is where you find the best stations - many young people today even have personal compact cassette players which have AM radio reception capability, along with many other amazing functions (such as "rewind" and "fast forward"). We should be making the most of these new technological capabilities!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:32 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


What is the difference between "personal spirituality and commitments" and "deeply held ethical views"?

I don't think it should be different. I've been an imperfect pacifist all my life, and have long held the view that non-religious/non-theistic pacifists deserve the same consideration regarding conscientious objection as members of peace churches.

But many religions allow for different degrees of practice and commitment. Peace churches support pacifism but don't demand pacifism. Most Buddhist sanghas support vegetarianism but do not demand vegetarianism. Many religions support celibacy but do not demand celibacy. Many religions support sobriety but do not demand sobriety.

That a religious practice isn't universal, (especially when looking at Hinduism, which many would argue isn't a single religion at all) doesn't particularly mean much. One question is whether the the same ethics apply even when inconvenient. And of course, the pivotal phrase is still reasonable accommodation.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:32 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm totally down with the radical notion that the rights society dictates sometimes have to overrule individual religions, but it's sort of ridiculous to me how much it seems like my fellow liberals really, really seem eager to push this issue.

I don't think it's pushed nearly enough and I wish people would push it more. I think people believing in moral fairies is stupid and I hate it when those beliefs -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, FSM -- prevent others from exercising a right. If anything, I feel like there are a good number of people who also believe this but don't like saying it out loud because they're worried that calling out minority religions is easily conflated with racism (many times for good reason, but not always).
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:33 AM on September 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think people believing in moral fairies is stupid and I hate it when those beliefs -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, FSM -- prevent others from exercising a right.

Or, say, from protecting children from abuse by their families and closed religious communities.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:38 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also, the letter I linked to above gets slightly more into the details of the religious objection, specifically that the objections were "based not on a universal precept of a particular tradition but on her personal spirituality and commitments."

This statement seems to imply that it's not about religion, which would be a collection of group beliefs, rather than an individual ones, but a question of contact law. The university, stupidly IMO, ENTERED into this contract which prevents them from doing their job educating a certain group of students. I think the professor's personal belief is ludicrous, but the error seems to be on the side of the university for accepting the contract in the first place.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:39 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm amused by this idea that if it's only her belief then it's stupid, but if a bunch of people believe it then that'd be better.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:41 AM on September 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


Or, say, from protecting children from abuse by their families and closed religious communities.

Given a number of cases in the past few years, this isn't true in Canada either.
posted by bonehead at 8:42 AM on September 18, 2015


I don't think it's pushed nearly enough and I wish people would push it more. I think people believing in moral fairies is stupid and I hate it when those beliefs -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, FSM -- prevent others from exercising a right.

I don't see the problem here. If the practice interferes with the rights of others, then it's no longer a reasonable accommodation. This is why Davis and conservative conscience clauses are widely considered to be political obstructionism rather than reasonable accommodation.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:44 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


the error seems to be on the side of the university for accepting the contract in the first place

It does rather reek of a snap decision made to sweep a problem under the rug, "safely" out of sight, twenty years ago. It made the life of an administrator slightly easier at the time, so it was a good idea regardless of the obvious future consequences.
posted by aramaic at 8:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Given a number of cases in the past few years, this isn't true in Canada either.

That's good to hear. It's definitely a problem in the States.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:45 AM on September 18, 2015


If the practice interferes with the rights of others, then it's no longer a reasonable accommodation.

I agree!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:46 AM on September 18, 2015


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: “... I hate it when those beliefs -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, FSM -- prevent others from exercising a right.”

As I said, the way to stop this isn't to take away religious rights entirely, as you seem to be implying. The way to stop it is to make accommodations, and to find solutions where both rights and religious freedoms are preserved.

Since you don't seem interested in preserving both, I gather this isn't really about rights trumping freedoms. This is more about how you think religious freedom is probably a bad idea. And why would that be?

“I think people believing in moral fairies is stupid... ”

Ah. Well then.
posted by koeselitz at 8:48 AM on September 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


> I'm amused by this idea that if it's only her belief then it's stupid, but if a bunch of people believe it then that'd be better.

I supported this idea in a previous comment, and I found myself wondering the same thing. It's not better if a lot of people believe something, but it has different risk characteristics and methods of abuse, and so has to be handled differently.

Acceptance of a belief by many people isn't a good test, but it's better than letting any schizophrenic label their delusions as Religious Commitments.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 8:49 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Provisions for Freedom of Religion preclude The State (i.e. any level of public government) from imposing an official religion.

There is nothing in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms about the state not being able to impose an official religion. Nations are able to make a distinction between freedom of religion and state religions. England, which has freedom of religion, also has a state religion. Different countries, different rules.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:53 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Putting aside whether the professor's objection to wearing a mike is legit...

Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a directional microphone and pay a student employee to sit at the back of the class and point it at the instructor (and beam the feed to the disabled student) than to pay for the lawyers to litigate all of this?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:58 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I gather this isn't really about rights trumping freedoms. This is more about how you think religious freedom is probably a bad idea.

Nope! I support both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. You summed up my stance quite neatly, there -- it's about rights trumping freedoms. So no hand-wringing necessary over the Kim Davis affair, or this one. Others' rights trump her freedoms. If nobody's rights are being threatened, then she should be free to exercise her religion.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:02 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think one reason why we expect religious beliefs to be part of an organized religion is because we want to leave determining what is and is not a Reasonable Religious Commitment to the religions. They are the organizations empowered to make that judgement call.

If you're not part of a religion, then the task of determining Reasonable Religious Commitment is made by whoever happens to have power, and they can make it using their own religious notions as a guide.

That is, unless we can agree on an objective metric (Law) for what is a Reasonable Religious Commitment.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:04 AM on September 18, 2015


Christmas is a federal holiday and Good Friday is a holiday in 12 states. Etc. Members of minority religions have had to fight to protect themselves from discrimination, and yes, that includes fighting to be given even slight allowances for their religious observance.

Interestingly (to me anyway), the way we accommodate this works out better for everyone. We're required to have around-the-clock staffing. With just staff (like me) that take the traditional Canadian holidays, we always had gaps. Now that we've got a number (4+ at last count) of other cultures (nor just religions) represented in our workplace who take their holidays at other times of the year, we can spell each other off. Makes scheduling a little more challenging, but works out better for everyone in the end.
posted by bonehead at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Those laws protect atheists and agnostics as well from discrimination and compelled workplace observance.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:06 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


That is, unless we can agree on an objective metric (Law) for what is a Reasonable Religious Commitment.

Who is 'we'? And are you under the impression that legal standards are uniformly objective? That is very much not so.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:12 AM on September 18, 2015


corb: I support her religious beliefs being accomodated, if sincere, but am genuinely confused as to which aspect of them are being impacted here.

I don't. She's a public servant. Fuck her beliefs; do your job, quit, or be fired.

And that contract should be superceded by basic human rights (and decency).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 AM on September 18, 2015


Interestingly (to me anyway), the way we accommodate this works out better for everyone. We're required to have around-the-clock staffing. With just staff (like me) that take the traditional Canadian holidays, we always had gaps. Now that we've got a number (4+ at last count) of other cultures (nor just religions) represented in our workplace who take their holidays at other times of the year, we can spell each other off. Makes scheduling a little more challenging, but works out better for everyone in the end.

That's good. Obviously not going to be possible in every business setting tho.
posted by zarq at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2015


Religion, shmeligion. It's about whether you agree to do your job as you've contracted to do.

Here, have some hypothetical strawmen. They're easy to find.

* I'm hired as a lecturer. But one week into my job, I decide to take a religious vow of silence. Can I keep my job?

* I'm hired as a butcher. But I decide to join a religion that demands a vegan lifestyle, so I tell you from here on out, I won't actually be touching any of the meat. If you don't make accommodations for me, do I have grounds to sue?

* I'm a man working in an all-male office. But they hired a woman to take over my department. My religion says women should be subservient to men, so I refuse to follow this woman's instructions because that's an abomination to me. Do I have a case?

Do your job. Or don't.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:22 AM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Others' rights trump her freedoms.

I'm not sure what you or others in this thread mean by the distinction between rights and freedoms, but in the Canadian constitutional tradition, a freedom is something that is held to be universal/natural etc. Something akin to "coming from natural law". So you have things like free speech, free association, religious freedom etc. listed under "fundamental freedoms."

RIghts are things that are not universal but are granted by the government: Democratic rights (The right to vote, the right to run for office, etc. -- these aren't universal, it would be kind of absurd to argue that a person living in a nomoadic hunter-gatherer society 30,000 years ago had a right to run for office.), legal rights, minority language educational rights....those aren't freedoms, they're rights that are defined and set out within a particular form of government .

So yeah, I don't know what you all mean, but that's what rights and freedoms are here.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:25 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I support her religious beliefs being accomodated


I don't, I'm almost... religious about it actually... what shall we do?
posted by Cosine at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do your job. Or don't.

You've given a bunch of examples were no reasonable accommodation is possible. That's not really comparable to a situation where reasonable accommodations ARE possible.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:27 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I absolutely have no idea what Hindu stricture disallows people from wearing personal FM transmitters. Hindu preachers/ gurus wear pinned mics all the time, so I have no idea where this is coming from.
posted by the cydonian at 9:33 AM on September 18, 2015


It's about whether you agree to do your job as you've contracted to do.

Absolutely, but that's not what's happening here.

There are three parties that are important:

1) the student, who requires accommodation for an enumerated right: accommodation for a physical disability.

2) the professor, how also has asked for accommodation for another enumerated right: accommodation for religious freedom

And, the one everyone keeps forgetting, 3) the University, a public body mandated to provide education.

It's the student's responsibility to identify his need for accommodation. The University cannot say no to that [and, for instance, refuse admission].

It's the professor's responsibility to identify her need for accommodation. The University cannot refuse her employment solely on the basis of that enumerated right, nor can it require her to entirely set aside that right in the course of her employment.

The University must accommodate both. That likely means neither will get what they would prefer, but what works for both.

This isn't primarily about the conflict between a student and a professor. It's about the University admins not figuring the problem out properly. They're the ones to blame for this situation.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2015 [19 favorites]


Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a directional microphone and pay a student employee to sit at the back of the class and point it at the instructor (and beam the feed to the disabled student) than to pay for the lawyers to litigate all of this?

Right? I imagine that there are already paid student note takers. how cheap would it be to just hire a student to operate one of these for their classmate?

It could probably sit on a stand. there might even be one in the A/V department of the university.
posted by eustatic at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2015


Cool Papa Bell: The answers from the hundred hypothetical monkeys that fly out of my butt, who just happen to have read faqs on civil rights law while taking breaks from writing Shakespeare, are no, no, and no.

Cosine: I don't, I'm almost... religious about it actually... what shall we do?

Since acting on your religious belief would be in violation of the law in most countries, you need to either do your job legally, quit, or be fired.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: “Nope! I support both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. You summed up my stance quite neatly, there -- it's about rights trumping freedoms. So no hand-wringing necessary over the Kim Davis affair, or this one. Others' rights trump her freedoms. If nobody's rights are being threatened, then she should be free to exercise her religion.”

But her freedoms were preserved. In fact, the Kim Davis affair illustrates this nicely; there was never any conflict between religious freedom and marriage rights at all – she just insisted there was, stupidly, and created a whole legal hubbub about it. She stood up and said loudly "I AM NOT GOING TO ALLOW THIS GAY MARRIAGE, IT'S MY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM!" Meanwhile, all the other people in the office went right on quietly issuing gay marriage certificates around her, since that was their job. Kim Davis appeared before a judge, who sighed and said, "look, whatever, just don't do gay marriages, and somebody else in the office can do them." And everybody – everybody – decided to proclaim this a victory for their side, when really it was just a very mundane, very boring instance of just another case where religious freedom and marriage rights don't actually conflict at all.

My point is that there are really very, very few actual cases where religious freedom and personal rights really do come into real conflict that can't easily be resolved. And there ought to be even fewer. What we should be trying to do is find ways to sort out religious accommodations so we don't have to deal with these conflicts – not fighting the battle against religious freedom to eradicate sky-man worship.

Also, there is kind of a technical explanation for this:

“I'm amused by this idea that if it's only her belief then it's stupid, but if a bunch of people believe it then that'd be better.”

This story is about Canada, and I'm not sure how it is in Canada; but in these cases in the United States, yes, we recognize organized religions made up of large numbers of people as religions, but we don't really recognize an individual person saying "these are my unique individual beliefs." Why? Because unfortunately, while religious freedom is a very nice thing, it can't be limitless. This is one of the limits. If there are a million people who have a religion that dictates against writing their names on pieces of paper, then the IRS will have to make some accommodation so they can do their taxes some other way; but if I just call up the IRS and say that's my religion, they aren't really compelled to recognize that.

That's rational as far as it goes. Like I said, religious freedom has to have some real limitations; it can't just be a get-out-of-jail-free card that allows any person to violate the law just because they feel like it. There are some real problems with some of its implementation, though. For example: conscientious objector status. In order to gain conscientious objector status, you still have to belong to some actual organized religion, and the list of religions that allow you to do this is woefully short. There are a lot of people who have become temporary Quakers or whatever just to get objector status, whereas you really ought to be able to say "I am an atheist who doesn't believe in war." Part of the reason for this is that we haven't had a draft since the 1970s, so it's been mostly an academic question; but in the case of people who become new citizens, they are required to swear an oath to fight in defense of the United States, and can only get out of that oath if they gain conscientious objector status. I remember there was a big case of this a few years ago. It is apparent that these rules need to be updated.
posted by koeselitz at 9:41 AM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was raised Hindu in India, and can attest that there is nothing whatsoever in the religion that prohibits or discourages wearing an FM transmitter.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:42 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was raised Hindu in India, and can attest that there is nothing whatsoever in the religion that prohibits or discourages wearing an FM transmitter.

Exactly, and that is the problem.

There should be no accommodations made for any religion, when your religious affiliation allows you to do things that others who are not a member of that religion cannot that is state supported inequality.
posted by Cosine at 9:49 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


'We' is a distributed belief network (society) defined by communication patterns between nodes (people), and no, I don't actually believe in objective reality, but it makes a useful abstraction sometimes.

What i really meant was that the process of making these decisions needs to be transparent to the entire belief network.

I think the reason it's easier to handle organized religions is because then the decision making process is distributed across multiple subgroups, like specialized nerve bundles. This allows the size of the belief network to scale beyond what any individual member is able to make judgements on.

We instead make judgements about segments of the network and defer certain decisions to segments we have judged trustworthy. This is why film critics have a place in society, but also explains structural racism, and organized religion.

Organized religion is expected to judge the small-scale structure (individual beliefs), and then those results can be reintegrated into the whole based on how much trust is assigned to that religion by each node in contact with it.

Or something like that. TL;DU I think the courts have it handled and the university fucked up.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2015


In fact, the Kim Davis affair illustrates this nicely; there was never any conflict between religious freedom and marriage rights at all – she just insisted there was, stupidly, and created a whole legal hubbub about it. She stood up and said loudly "I AM NOT GOING TO ALLOW THIS GAY MARRIAGE, IT'S MY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM!"

Further, she keeps appealing the decision, and losing, because the law is actually pretty clear: by law she's not allowed to discriminate against people who meet the marriage eligibility requirements.
posted by zarq at 9:55 AM on September 18, 2015


. while, all the other people in the office went right on quietly issuing gay marriage certificates around her, since that was their job.

I thought that nobody in the office issued them, because she was the manager and said they couldn't, and that's why anyone had grounds to sue - because they couldn't get married.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:02 AM on September 18, 2015


My little Grade Oner is going to be testing an FM device this year. She is HoH thanks to chemo, but it's only moderate loss so she had been getting along with hearing aids alone. Apart from all the excellent points made by Conspire and others, I'd also note some of these technical solutions are really not in the students interest. Would you want to sit in the classroom beside a minder who was pointing a parabolic dish wherever the teacher wandered? I'd be furious if they singled my child out like that for no good reason.

The best solution here (and speaking as a Canadian university prof) would be for the contract to be challenged in court. I don't see a way the student can take this class now, and they need a serious apology from the University. But if it means in the future the Prof can't teach her classes then so be it. Pay her to stay home. It's the lesser of the evils and can be done unilaterally with effect start of next semester.
posted by Rumple at 10:04 AM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have two observations:

1) I was a hard-of-hearing student. My work-study was recording lectures for tele-commuters, distance learning, and to accommodate various students (transcription, signing, etc.). There were many professors who refused to allow their classes to be recorded *in any form*. This was their right (as I understood it). In other words, they could just say "No, you cannot record or transmit my class" and we never did. No reasons had to be given for refusal, but permission *did* had to be given!

2) Is it specifically an "FM" transmitter that is objected to? Or just any RF? How about bluetooth? Microwave? WiFi? Could the lecture be recorded with a camera and directional microphone (I saw this many times too...)?

Note: there was a cartoon in my office of a professor looking flustered coming home carrying books etc. and explaining in the caption, "I've been replaced by a videotape of me teaching!" I surmise that fear drove many to refuse any kind of recording/transmission of their teaching/lectures....
posted by CrowGoat at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


There should be no accommodations made for any religion, when your religious affiliation allows you to do things that others who are not a member of that religion cannot that is state supported inequality.

Like not wearing a part of a police uniform, but wear your religiously mandated headgear instead?

Like being allowed to come to school, because you are carrying a (dulled) knife as you are required to do?

Like being allowed to wear a headscarf to play soccer as a teenage girl, as you are required to do?

Like being allowed to be to testify in court, veiled, as you are required to be?

All of these have been specifically allowed in Canada, some by the highest courts we have. It's who we are, and the Charter, brought into law in 1982, reflects that. This is what multiculturalism means, and it's a core Canadian value.
posted by bonehead at 10:06 AM on September 18, 2015 [21 favorites]


[I get referencing Kim Davis on the general front of the intersection of religious and government operation, but let's not get into re-navigating all the details of that; there's a thread for it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


There should be no accommodations made for any religion, when your religious affiliation allows you to do things that others who are not a member of that religion cannot that is state supported inequality.

I've had requests for religious reasons to reschedule exams from Wiccans because they fell on certain days. Religion isn't always that neat and tidy, and as a professor I've learned there's a remarkable number of them all with different rules and regulations and some people interpret them in different ways. I do think it bears repeating: the rules about religion being accommodated in Canada are there to protect students and minorities as well as professors and major religions. As an instructor I default to believing the student as it doesn't seem my place to judge whether this is sincere faith or not or really required. Their responsibility is not to prove their faith or their way of practising it, just to tell me in the first 2 weeks of class as per the university's regulations.

You might not agree - it's your right not to and to work to change the laws, but they are the laws. If a Jewish student can't take an exam on Yom Kippur, what would you suggest doing? Other students might see it as them potentially getting extra time to study and thus them being
disadvantaged.

This is entirely different from people not being willing to discuss with or deal with topics in class in a respectful way because of their religion.

On preview: I don't like being recorded because any comment can be cut and taken out of context. So if I'm lecturing on slavery it would be possible to cut lines that made it sound like I thought this was a great thing. If you don't think that's a thing, there was a point where conservative groups were sending out students to record their professors so they could be posted as evidence of their unAmerican attitudes. If it's necessary for a student, I'll agree as long as it is documented, but not for other students.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


bonehead: I have no issue with those items, as long as I can take part in them too.
posted by Cosine at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


bonehead: I have no issue with those items, as long as I can take part in them too.

You can! If you adopt a religious belief system with any one of those requirements, you too can receive those accommodations!

What? Religion can only be changed at great personal cost? You don't say.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:17 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would find it ironic if a person had a directional mike, esp. with a parabolic dish, in a class on espionage.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:18 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


There should be no accommodations made for any religion, when your religious affiliation allows you to do things that others who are not a member of that religion cannot that is state supported inequality.

In most cases, it's not. The same job must be done regardless.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:18 AM on September 18, 2015


CBrachyrhynchos: It's not about the job, it is about equality, I have brought this up on the blue before and received zero agreement, there is a stunning lack of realization that if you feel it is ok for people to be granted freedoms because of their religion that others do not get then BY DEFINITION it means you are against equality.
posted by Cosine at 10:21 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm sure I'll be in the minority here, but I'm skeptical of the notion that employers are obligated to accommodate a person's religious beliefs, and this is a prime example of why.

Bear in mind, when these laws were written, it wasn't all that long after a millennia-long clusterfuck based around the idea that religious beliefs should not be accommodated. The makers of these laws were well aware of the demonstrable effects of failure to accommodate.
posted by happyroach at 10:26 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


if you feel it is ok for people to be granted freedoms because of their religion that others do not get then BY DEFINITION it means you are against equality.

...or you are against all people being treated as identical. Since different people have different deeply-felt systems of belief, and the law allows this, different people are accommodated differently, when possible. Sometimes peoples' different needs (and honoring your feelings and beliefs is a need - think about something you love and cherish being taken away because a committee voted to do so) conflict, and then an individual judgment has to be made.
posted by amtho at 10:27 AM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think you're thinking of this as "the freedom to wear a turban" rather than "the freedom to dress as mandated by one's religion." EVERYONE has the freedom to dress as mandated by one's religion (in situations where this does not endanger anyone else). That is absolutely equal. That your religion mandates one thing and someone else's mandates something else isn't the state's doing.

This is no different than any other kind of accommodation. Everyone has the right to the accommodations they need, but the accommodations needed will vary. For example, everyone has the right to write their final exams under conditions that will allow their knowledge of the material to be validly and accurately measured. For some people, this means writing in a test centre and typing instead of hand writing, or getting additional time. For a student without a learning disability to say "why don't I have the right that accommodation? that's not equal!" is kind of ridiculous. They are writing the exams under conditions that allow their knowledge of the amterial to be validly and accurately measured, just like the student at the test centre getting extra time. It's no different.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:28 AM on September 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Please note that I am not siding with either party. I don't know enough about this. It is awful that the student could not take this class.
posted by amtho at 10:28 AM on September 18, 2015


I think you're thinking of this as "the freedom to wear a turban" rather than "the freedom to dress as mandated by one's religion." EVERYONE has the freedom to dress as mandated by one's religion (in situations where this does not endanger anyone else). That is absolutely equal.

And my freedom to wear a dress as I want as an atheist? As a Pastafarian? As a Jedi? Who decides what is religion or what is lack of.

Again, if you don't have to wear a helmet because of your religion and I have to because of my lack of religion... there really isn't any way to read that other than inequality.

I don't lose sleep over it or anything, but yeah, I think accommodations are a bad precedent to set.
posted by Cosine at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


ll of these have been specifically allowed in Canada, some by the highest courts we have. It's who we are, and the Charter, brought into law in 1982, reflects that. This is what multiculturalism means, and it's a core Canadian value.

This is why I was passionately against and angry about the Charter of Rights that had been attempted in QC when I was living there not too long ago. I've been here nearly seven years as a PR and am applying for citizenship in 2016 because Canada, for its own flaws, feels more like a multi-cultural society than my home country does. The QC charter wanted to prevent government employees from wearing any sign of their faith, but it was pretty clear that it didn't want to see any religious garb that was from Muslim citizens. For a secular province, they were totally fine with keeping the massive crucifix in legislature because that was about "tradition."

To loop back around to the topic at hand, accommodations IMO are better than drawing hard lines with a "pfffft, you'll get over it" attitude. I absolutely do not agree with the professor's belief system in her not accommodating the student, but if this needs to be taken up in court for the student to have his rights recognized then so be it. The university fucked up.
posted by Kitteh at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


So what? There are many other rights for which this is true as well, including disability (e.g. accommodation for student exam writing above is very common), visible minority status and gender. If there are systematic inequalities that disadvantage anyone, particularly those with specifically delineated rights, there are consequent supports that have to be offered. That's what accommodation is.
posted by bonehead at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


CBrachyrhynchos: It's not about the job, it is about equality, I have brought this up on the blue before and received zero agreement, there is a stunning lack of realization that if you feel it is ok for people to be granted freedoms because of their religion that others do not get then BY DEFINITION it means you are against equality.

The same laws protect atheists and agnostics as well.

Equality is defined by the job. My Jewish colleague puts in the same weekly hours under the same workload regardless of whether sabbath starts at 9:00 pm or 5:00 pm. When we order in catering, anyone can brown-bag or request vegetarian or hallal. My religious observance days come from vacation time I earned. I have to make certain that the work is covered on those days. I wear the same business casual, with minor modifications to replace leather. My meditation breaks are accounted for along with coffee and smoke breaks.

And as long as essential job duties get done, why not? The reason why we have accommodation laws is because, as a historical and legal reality, employers have and will invent arbitrary standards for discrimination.

And my freedom to wear a dress as I want as an atheist? As a Pastafarian? As a Jedi?

Yes, yes, and yes. As long as your religious clothing choices don't interfere with essential job duties.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


And my freedom to wear a dress as I want as an atheist? As a Pastafarian? As a Jedi?

Yes, yes, and yes. As long as your religious clothing choices don't interfere with essential job duties.


No, I cannot wear a Pastafarian colander on my head on my driver's license photo, I cannot ride a motorcycle without a helmet, these are not my job.
posted by Cosine at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


there is a stunning lack of realization that if you feel it is ok for people to be granted freedoms because of their religion that others do not get then BY DEFINITION it means you are against equality.

I don't think people are against equality just because of that, just that there are reasonable limits. That would be like saying I'm against free speech because I don't think it's a good idea to yell "fire!!" in a crowded room.
posted by FJT at 10:42 AM on September 18, 2015


I work as an in-class transcriber at the college level (though I don't do real-time captioning; I'm trained on a variant called TypeWell that allows condensing and paraphrasing of speech). I really hope people take Conspire's thoughtful comments in this thread to heart: the process of seeking out and using accommodations can be exhausting, even when the instructor isn't being combative.

There are just so many points of failure in the system that a student has to contend with. I'd liken it to the concept of "microaggressions," actually. The instructor may happily agree to wear the FM system, but then clip it onto their clothes in a place where the cloth rubs against it, creating interference. The student has to ask them to move it--and this may happen many times over the course of a term. The same instructor may turn the mic off during a break, then forget to turn it back on once class starts again--and the student has to remind them every time it happens. The battery in the transmitter might die mid-class, and then the student has to decide whether to ask the instructor to halt class to deal with the issue, or wait until a break, meaning they'll miss a lot of material.

And that's just the FM system! There are similar points of failure involving full-class discussions, small group work, uncaptioned videos, and the work of in-class personnel like me. I like to think I'm good at my job, but there have been times when I've been the point of failure: my equipment is still booting up when the instructor starts talking, or there's a technical term that I end up misspelling, or even just situations where I'm on my sixth class of the day and my typing/processing speed has ebbed. I've worked with students who were very comfortable advocating for themselves and were fully informed of their rights, and even they often let certain things slide, because it was too exhausting to continually speak up and direct attention to themselves.

With all that in mind, it's infuriating but absolutely unsurprising to learn that the student decided to just drop the class. The promised "alternative accommodation" wouldn't make up for the class time he already missed, and he knew he'd be dealing with an instructor whose basic mindset toward him was hostile, not helpful.
posted by brookedel at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2015 [33 favorites]


And my freedom to wear a dress as I want as an atheist? As a Pastafarian? As a Jedi? Who decides what is religion or what is lack of.

I'm a little confused. Don't you have the right to wear a dress regardless? I mean maybe if you're skydiving you might be required to wear a jumpsuit over your dress, I guess. But other than that, I can't think of any situation where you wouldn't be allowed to wear a dress but someone else is allowed to wear a dress.

And yes, as a Pastafarian and Jedi you would be allowed to do whatever those required, so long as there was reason to believe that you real and sincerely believe in FSM or the Force and that FSM or the Force required you to dress a certain way. An atheist would be harder, since that's not a belief itself, per se, so it would be hard to argue that it had any religious requirements.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, I cannot wear a Pastafarian colander on my head on my driver's license photo, I cannot ride a motorcycle without a helmet, these are not my job.

Hypothetical strawman is made of hypothetical straw.
posted by zarq at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


zarq: not hypothetical at all, actual real concrete cases.
posted by Cosine at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


No, I cannot wear a Pastafarian colander on my head on my driver's license photo,

I think that if you really for reals deep in your heart believed that your belief in FSM requires that you wear that colandar (not just that you wear it because you believe in FSM), that the courts would rule you could wear the colandar. The reason no one has yet done it is that no one actually believes in FSM.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


And you definitely can ride your motorcycle without a helmet. All you have to do is convert to sikhism first.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2015


And you definitely can ride your motorcycle without a helmet. All you have to do is convert to sikhism first.


Are you actually saying that is a valid option? Really?

The reason no one has yet done it is that no one actually believes in FSM.

That is a very frighting idea, who gets to decide?
posted by Cosine at 10:47 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Are you actually saying that is a valid option? Really?

I think changing religions would have an unacceptably high personal cost, which is exactly why religious freedom is protected.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:48 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


There should be no accommodations made for any religion, when your religious affiliation allows you to do things that others who are not a member of that religion cannot that is state supported inequality.
We already have state-supported inequality. For instance, my office is closed on Christmas. No Christian will ever be obligated to work on Christmas, and they do not have to petition for the day off. My work will never schedule an important event on Christmas or Easter. Because Christianity is the dominant religion, it is automatically accommodated in ways that are generally totally invisible to members of the majority.

I'm a member of a minority religion. Therefore, when I ask for the things that Christians take for granted, it looks like I'm asking for special treatment. Things are scheduled on my religion's most-important holidays, which means that I might have to miss something important. I have to ask for a special vacation day, and I'll probably get it, and that makes people mad. But they never need to ask for a special vacation day, because the whole world is designed to accommodate them without them ever needing to ask for it.

I really realize that this stuff gets tricky at the margins and that there's a need to take into account other rights than just religious ones. But I have huge issues with the idea that religious freedom should not be accommodated, because that idea totally reinforces structural inequality.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:50 AM on September 18, 2015 [27 favorites]


No, I cannot wear a Pastafarian colander on my head on my driver's license photo

That's not necessarily true.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really realize that this stuff gets tricky at the margins and that there's a need to take into account other rights than just religious ones. But I have huge issues with the idea that religious freedom should not be accommodated, because that idea totally reinforces structural inequality.

Exactly. Thank you.
posted by zarq at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Arb: You make my point perfectly, as a member of a minority religion are you expected to work on the christian holiday? Nope.

That is exactly what I am saying.
posted by Cosine at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2015


Are you actually saying that is a valid option? Really?

Not in Ontario, at least. Was turned down by the courts previously, then legislated against last year. No right is absolute.
posted by bonehead at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2015


That is a very frighting idea, who gets to decide?

Yeah, that is the sticking point. Not with FSM so much, but with A) Personally held but not part of an organized religion like this (if it's part of an organized religion, you can show religious texts and provide evidence of your participation in the community. If it's not, then how do you produce evidence of a belief?) B) Situations where there is an organized religion but one's membership/participation is a gray area (e.g. you become a mennonite the day conscription is announced despite never having shown any signs of interest in mennoniteism before).

The fact that it's difficult to decide and to figure out how to decide doesn't mean we just throw the baby out, too.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2015


I don't think I'm following you, Cosine. It sort of sounds like what you're saying is that, as long as non-Christians and Christians are given the same right to practice Christianity, then everyone is equal. Is that what you're saying? Because if so, I think we're just not going to see eye to eye.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:54 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess they need to hire somebody to wear the transmitter and repeat everything she says on a five-second delay.

I can't tell you how much this pisses me off. Back when I was in college, our department chair (who also taught core classes nobody could avoid taking) was notorious for refusing any accommodations. And because of her status, it was nearly impossible to get any action against her. (Of course, this was back in the '90's, and I think things have generally gotten better since then. If she's still teaching, the university is probably doing a lot better at not letting her get away with it by now.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:54 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


In online arguments, the ratio of increasingly specific and unlikely hypothetical scenarios to anything resembling reality approaches infinity over time.
posted by duffell at 10:54 AM on September 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


That is a very frighting idea, who gets to decide?

The provincial human rights board first, followed by the courts if necessary, who would have to decide if this is a legitimate requirement by the prof or not. As Rumple says above, this may be best served by going that way if only for the benefit of other students. That probably would just be a straight up negative, in terms of time, education and energy for the student though. But it may be that that's the least-worst result following a set of blunders by the University.
posted by bonehead at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2015


What I am saying is that you don't expect non-Christians to work on Christmas yet you expect me to wear a motorcycle helmet when Sikhs don't have to.

One is doing it equally and the other is not.
posted by Cosine at 10:59 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't work on Christmas. My office is closed. In my perfect world, I would be happy to work on Christmas in exchange for having a day off that is meaningful to me. As it stands, I have to take a vacation day on my religion's holidays.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:01 AM on September 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


As I think about this, it starts to seem to me that public discourse is unclear about why we have religious accommodations, and thus I think we end up with straw people, etc. I think that the idea of religious accommodations also leans on the idea that almost everyone is religious, and that almost all religions align relatively closely with majority values. (So there's a tension produced when atheists have beliefs, or when someone's religious beliefs are extremely contrary to majority values, like believing that men can't work with women, etc.) There's also a set of unspoken assumptions that race, nation and religion all map neatly onto each other, and biases against non-majority people inform attitudes toward religious accommodations.

What I am saying is that you don't expect non-Christians to work on Christmas yet you expect me to wear a motorcycle helmet when Sikhs don't have to.

So it seems like you're saying that some religious people can get out of things that no one wants to do because their religion forbids them to do those things, and that this isn't fair. Lots of people don't want to wear helmets, but we only accept a religious rationale for not wearing helmets.

This actually does seem like an all but irresolvable tension, because it seems like when we're talking about personal practices outside of work, there isn't a really clear single standard for desired outcomes. If we were saying "everyone must wear motorcycle helmets when working for Motorcycle Tours Inc on the 'Falling Rocks' tour" there would be a really clear group interest in helmet wearing, but when it's about smashing up your own personal head, it pretty much seems to boil down to "society has an interest in people not smashing their heads, but society also has an interest in not fighting with religious people about every single personal thing they want to do, so we're just going to let this one go".

This is actually making me a lot more sympathetic to religious exemptions - not that I've ever really been opposed, but I didn't have much feeling about it - because now I can see that they're based on public health/aggregate calculations, and I support those. (Like the very counterintuitive conclusion that bike helmet laws are a bad idea, since they discourage people from riding and the net gain to public health is greater if a few people have head injuries but lots of people bike a lot.)
posted by Frowner at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Non-practicing Hindu here. Jesus fucking christ this is bullshit.
posted by orangutan at 11:16 AM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think that the idea of religious accommodations also leans on the idea that almost everyone is religious

This is an assumption that, fortunately, will have to change in the fairly near future. According to Pew, non-religious folk are past 22% of the US population, outnumbering Catholics and "Mainline Protestants" to say nothing of Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, or a number of others.

It'd be nice if there were a reasonably well-understood and condensed mechanism for people to address their specific needs and practices without having to rely so much on the concept of "religion".
posted by aramaic at 11:18 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know why the bureaucratic ugliness of the DMV is at issue here in a conversation about workplace accommodation. But I'll take it a bit further and say that if your personal and cultural identity mandates a colander, to the point where you're never seen in public without one, and can produce documentation to that effect, then by all means, I have no problem with you wearing a colander on your driver's license.

With regard to Sikhs and police or military service, I think the determination was that permitting some flexibility in headwear was a better choice than a policy that prevented thousands of otherwise qualified and willing applicants from serving. The same is generally true of headscarves for women. Small acts of flexibility prevent mass acts of discrimination on the one hand, and allow for employers to get the best people for the job.

I don't (officially) work on Christmas because the entire campus is locked and alarmed on that day. I don't have access to the office, and I don't have access to any of the people I need to work with. The same is true for national holidays, which are never used as "gotchas" against citizens of other countries in my office.

But I sometimes work on Christmas from home, and in previous jobs I usually worked to help my co-workers schedule their family time.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:38 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't lose sleep over it or anything, but yeah, I think accommodations are a bad precedent to set.

The thing is Canada, the US, and most countries have a dominant religion. And for the most part, the entire fucking society is wrapped around the religious convictions of that dominant religion. Accommodations for that dominant religion are so intertwined with the daily life of that religion that nobody even notices.

The two days a week that most people get off from work - those are for religious observance. A significant percentage of the State mandated holidays - also for religious observance. The dress codes in many schools (women can't show certain body parts that they sure as hell are legally allowed to show on the streets) - religiously inspired/dictated. Crosses that everyone wears around their necks to show their religion - obviously religious in nature. States that don't allow booze to be sold on Sunday - that's Christianity. Counties that don't allow booze to be sold at all - Christianity. There is certainly a history of religious observance in schools (prayer), in congress (again praying all the time), etc... All of these are in service to the dominant religion. Hell, the currency itself acknowledges a Christian god.

So the protections in law are so that people who aren't a member of the dominant religion don't get fired or overtly discriminated against when they want to take their holy day off, when they want to wear something on their head that shows religious observance (instead of a cross, which isn't even mandated by Christianity, but more like a bumper sticker around the neck).

Without protections, the overt discrimination that the US and Canada has a history of would have continued.

And yeah, there are some edge cases where people lose out - as an Atheist my sincerely held pacifist beliefs and my vegetarianism aren't accommodated by law; that kind of sucks. And this person that apparently has a sincere belief religious belief that isn't recognizable to anyone else of her faith is protected.

But for the most part these accommodations are crucial for a multicultural society (which Canada has a proud history of) of not being dominated by the majority religion; or at least having formal protections in law for those that don't belong to the dominant religion.

If this was an actual problem, stories like the one were reading about wouldn't be so strange - they'd be commonplace (I certainly blame the university for contractually agreeing to a clause that interfered with the rights of the deaf community).

I don't mean to diminish the harm that this 'edge case' has done to the student in question. I thought I had clever technical solutions to the problem, but members of the deaf community in this thread have educated me on how the clever solution is the FM transmitter on the speakers body that the professor in question won't wear (even that is imperfect, but other solutions are less perfect).

But even with this edge case that is problematic, I certainly don't see the problem to be religious accommodations. Religious accommodations are the tool that helps prevent the majority religion from completely trampling on the rights of the minority religions; as the majority religion has accommodations built into the very fabric of society.
posted by el io at 11:44 AM on September 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


One of the problems with this edge case is that we have click-bait journalism, one set of parties in this conflict choosing to go loud early, and other parties bound by confidentiality laws and practices to "no comment."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:51 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that the idea of religious accommodations also leans on the idea that almost everyone is religious, and that almost all religions align relatively closely with majority values.
Not really. The same laws that protect religious minorities also protect non-believers. I know that might not seem like an issue in your social and employment circles, but it's a pretty big one for those of us who live in more-religious communities.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:00 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't lose sleep over it or anything, but yeah, I think accommodations are a bad precedent to set.

So I take it you would be happy if the school cafeteria offered only pork-based meals, or no vegetarian options. Everybody gets treated equally, no accommodations.
posted by happyroach at 12:14 PM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Defending colander-wearing pastafarians is a bit risky since their point is entirely ethnocentric. They say that deviating from contemporary American fashion regarding the lack of hats is ridiculous and beyond respect. (Hatless fashion dates back to the 1950s, but who's counting.)

But I have a side bet when it comes to trans and gender-nonconforming people getting needed documentation, so if your public face includes a colander, I think you should get that on your ID.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:19 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's gotta come a point where one can say, in situations like this, "nope, that's not religion; that's just you being kooky."
posted by uberchet at 12:19 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Folks, you can't just switch out that particular FM transmitter with any other set-up. The mic/transmitter is only going to transmit at certain frequencies which the guy's hearing aids are capable of picking up. The frequencies are more or less proprietary, so if you have Phonak hearing aids (which I'm guessing he does, since he's a kid and nearly the entire school FM market is dominated by them), you can't just use any old mic set-up.

In order for the hearing aids to pick up the FM, they have to either have FM boots or he has to wear a streamer. These intermediary devices are really, really expensive. A set of Phonak boots runs you about $2000. So if they set-up the teacher with some wired system and he wants to get the signal in his aids, he's got to purchase a streamer or boots that match the transmitter.

The other options are induction loop, which is unlikely since looping a room is crazy expensive, or infrared. But I'm guessing that if this professor isn't cool with FM (does he know about the radio?), he's not going to be big on electromagnetism or infrared.

Poor kid. Trying to deal with ALDs your whole life is hard enough. Shame on that professor and being a dick is going to hurt his karma way more than radio waves.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:23 PM on September 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


I can't decide whether I should say something about the professor or whether it's a useful way to tell who has and hasn't RTFA.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


I just have to hope for her sake that Karma isn't a real thing. If it is, the next life won't treat this behavior well.
posted by el io at 12:33 PM on September 18, 2015


So I take it you would be happy if the school cafeteria offered only pork-based meals, or no vegetarian options. Everybody gets treated equally, no accommodations.

No, again that is exactly the opposite of what I am saying, if one group gets a non-pork meal because they believe in god then anyone else should be able to enjoy the same meal.

I may be right or I may be wrong but I really don't think it's a complicated idea.
posted by Cosine at 12:40 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


if your public face includes a colander, I think you should get that on your ID.

What if your religion says you must wear a colander in ID photos?

I don't have perfect answers but I don't think it needs to be as messy as it is.
posted by Cosine at 12:42 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


other parties bound by confidentiality laws and practices to "no comment."

i've come to the conclusion that the real purpose of confidentiality laws is to protect the institutions from being questioned publicly and having to answer
posted by pyramid termite at 12:48 PM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


bonehead: Not in Ontario, at least. Was turned down by the courts previously, then legislated against last year. No right is absolute.

I'd add to bonehead's comment that, since TFA is actually about an instance in Canada, it's useful to look at another real instance of religious accommodation (which was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court of Canada), and since people are talking about religious accommodation for driver's licenses, this is relevant:

Hutterites need driver's licence photos: top court

The full SCOC decision can be found here. However, one of the dissenting justices to the majority opinion argued the following:

[200] As to the outcome of this case, I agree with the reasons of Justice Abella and with the substance of her views on the lack of justification for the regulation under s. 1. Religious rights are certainly not unlimited. They may have to be restricted in the context of broader social values. But they are fundamental rights protected by the Constitution. The Government of Alberta had to prove that the limitations on the religious right were justified. Like Justice Abella, I believe that the Government of Alberta has failed to demonstrate that the regulation is a proportionate response to the identified societal problem of identity theft.


[201] Moreover, the driver’s licence that it denies is not a privilege. It is not granted at the discretion of governments. Every would-be driver is entitled to a licence provided that he or she meets the required conditions and qualifications. Such a licence, as we know, is often of critical importance in daily life and is certainly so in rural Alberta. Other approaches to identity fraud might be devised that would fall within a reasonable range of options and that could establish a proper balance between the social and constitutional interests at stake. This balance cannot be obtained by belittling the impact of the measures on the beliefs and religious practices of the Hutterites and by asking them to rely on taxi drivers and truck rental services to operate their farms and to preserve their way of life. Absolute safety is probably impossible in a democratic society. A limited restriction on the Province’s objective of minimizing identity theft would not unduly compromise this aspect of the security of Alberta residents and might lie within the range of reasonable and constitutional alternatives. Indeed, the Province’s stated purpose is not set in stone and does not need to be achieved at all costs. The infringing measure was implemented in order to reach a hypothetical objective of minimizing identity theft, by requiring driver’s licences with photos. But a small number of people carrying a driver’s licence without a photo will not significantly compromise the safety of the residents of Alberta. On the other hand, under the impugned regulation, a small group of people is being made to carry a heavy burden. The photo requirement was not a proportionate limitation of the religious rights at stake.


tl;dr: religious accommodation is a fine balancing act from a legal perspective.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:48 PM on September 18, 2015


No, again that is exactly the opposite of what I am saying, if one group gets a non-pork meal because they believe in god then anyone else should be able to enjoy the same meal.

I may be right or I may be wrong but I really don't think it's a complicated idea.
posted by Cosine at 3:40 PM on September 18 [+] [!]


I mean, if you follow this line of thinking all the way, you'll end up advocating that every athlete in the Olympics should get a gold medal, regardless of how they performed. If one group gets gold medals, anyone else should be able to enjoy a gold medal.

I postulate that you're wrong. You can absolutely still hold your opinion, but I think you're wrong.
posted by cooker girl at 12:50 PM on September 18, 2015


I mean, if you follow this line of thinking all the way, you'll end up advocating that every athlete in the Olympics should get a gold medal, regardless of how they performed. If one group gets gold medals, anyone else should be able to enjoy a gold medal.

No, I don't think that's where this is going. I think the issue is whether or not one believes that religion is a special kind of thing different from any other kind of philosophy, or if religion is just one among many equal frameworks.

Basically, religion in this case is more like being allergic to pork than it is like having a dietary preference. You don't get a pork-free meal because you have a philosophical preference not to eat pork; you get a pork-free meal because eating pork is understood to do you some kind of harm, because religious practice is considered to be almost a kind of health. If I'm vegetarian and I get the sauce with the pork in it, that's generally considered lamentable, but if I am a Muslim and I get that sauce, I have suffered a kind of harm to my moral health, just as I would suffer harm to my physical health if I were allergic to pork.

As long as you either accept this line of reasoning or feel like it's the best of an incoherent set of assumptions, this isn't a problem. But if you sincerely feel that a religion is more like a dietary preference than it is an allergy, you're going to feel like religious accommodations don't make sense unless those same accommodations are available to all.

In short, we don't feel good about telling people to suck it up about their religious beliefs, but we - as a society - generally feel that vegans are whiny and too fussy and should just suck it up in certain situations so as not to be rude. So I feel guilty if I insist on vegetarian or vegan meals when I'm visiting somewhere, but I would never feel that a Muslim should feel guilty for requesting a pork-free meal. Basically, we feel that a harm to your religious nature is a harm to your being in a way that a harm to your non-religious deeply-held beliefs is not.

It's not about "if one group can access something everyone should be able to"; it's about how you define a group and its needs.
posted by Frowner at 1:16 PM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


"Spiritual health", in short, is assumed to have a social status that "ethical health" doesn't.
posted by Frowner at 1:18 PM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Cosine: No, again that is exactly the opposite of what I am saying, if one group gets a non-pork meal because they believe in god then anyone else should be able to enjoy the same meal.

Which is exactly how it works 90% of the time.

Cosine: What if your religion says you must wear a colander in ID photos?

Since the purpose of ID photos is to document everyday appearance in the event of emergencies, traffic stops, or buying a beer, that would be defeating the purpose of an ID photo.

Cosine: I don't have perfect answers but I don't think it needs to be as messy as it is.

It's not if you keep the strawmen, trolls, and ridiculous hypotheticals out of the picture. But since these principles have been law for 50-odd years, I think the burden of proof is on you to explain exactly it would be a good idea to have a legal environment in which we both would face discrimination and compulsory religious observance as a condition of employment.

pyramid termite: So, you're completely cool with institutions selectively selling your information to the highest bidder, creating blacklists, or smearing you in the court of public opinion?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:19 PM on September 18, 2015


No, again that is exactly the opposite of what I am saying, if one group gets a non-pork meal because they believe in god then anyone else should be able to enjoy the same meal.

Yeah, you can do this.

So, as a vegetarian, I've always been able to eat meals that were only prepared because of religious accommodations. I'm pretty sure that anyone could choose a Haalal or Kosher meal if they preferred (and it was offered). I've chosen Kosher meals on airplanes, even though I'm not Jewish.

I really don't know what your point is, or what you think secular people are being denied (I say this as a agnostic with a strong belief in separation of church and state).
posted by el io at 1:20 PM on September 18, 2015


he knew he'd be dealing with an instructor whose basic mindset toward him was hostile, not helpful.

She may well be 100% sincere in her belief. In that case, she's not necessarily hostile to the student.
posted by amtho at 1:21 PM on September 18, 2015


...but painting her into a corner by making light of her beliefs, which you don't understand, is going to make it more likely that she feels hostile -- just out of self-defense.
posted by amtho at 1:22 PM on September 18, 2015


I'm all for reasonable religious accommodation because in essence we're trying to lessen the intrusion of the state into people's lives. If you also have strong anti-discrimination, human rights, and safety laws, then you can find a good balance.
posted by beau jackson at 1:23 PM on September 18, 2015


She may well be 100% sincere in her belief. In that case, she's not necessarily hostile to the student.
Come on, I don't know that many 100% sincere beliefs that are not hostile to SOMEBODY.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:26 PM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


In short, we don't feel good about telling people to suck it up about their religious beliefs, but we - as a society - generally feel that vegans are whiny and too fussy and should just suck it up in certain situations so as not to be rude. So I feel guilty if I insist on vegetarian or vegan meals when I'm visiting somewhere, but I would never feel that a Muslim should feel guilty for requesting a pork-free meal.

Your guilt is your issue. You are far more likely to find a restaurant that has vegetarian options (hell, I don't have a problem eating a fucking STEAK HOUSES) than has kosher or halal options.

I'm really have no idea where you are coming from. Do you find eateries cater to Muslims and Jewish people more than vegetarians (and I'll grant you, vegans have less options, but probably have better choices of eateries than people with halal or kosher diets).

And halal options are better now than they were twenty years ago in north america, but they're still not great. Vegetarians on the other hand almost always have an entree available to them (I eat side dishes when going to steak houses).

I assume that if you had friends with religious eating requirements you'd find them just as 'whiny' as your vegetarian/vegan friends (oh, that place is out too? oh, we can only go to this place?).
posted by el io at 1:28 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


What if your religion says you must wear a colander in ID photos?

If you were to apply for a religious exemption from your state and have it granted, you'd be able to wear a colander. Just as other religious groups have done. For example, in most (perhaps all?) states, Sikh men can wear a turban while having their license photo taken.

Generally speaking, government issued identification cards are supposed to allow the person pictured to be identified. As long as one's headgear or hat doesn't prevent identification from taking place, then there's probably no justification to ban it in driver's license photos.
posted by zarq at 1:36 PM on September 18, 2015


In order for the hearing aids to pick up the FM, they have to either have FM boots or he has to wear a streamer. These intermediary devices are really, really expensive. A set of Phonak boots runs you about $2000. So if they set-up the teacher with some wired system and he wants to get the signal in his aids, he's got to purchase a streamer or boots that match the transmitter.

Aha! Thank you very much for the explanation Lutoslawski!

Now, it seems like the obvious pragmatic solution is for the school to cough up the $2K for the boots so they can accommodate the student without wasting even more money on the legal aspects of bringing the prof to heel given the dumb contract's unfortunate existence. (How much is a student note-taker paid over the course of a semester?) Or buy the streaming device and Phonak-compatible transmitter as an investment in better equipping their on-campus A/V inventory to serve hard of hearing students (presumably it's portable and could be attached to any given lecture hall or seminar room's A/V system).

It might ultimately be worth the cost and trouble to get the contract invalidated, if Canadian law will do that, but it wouldn't be nearly as expedient in producing the desired outcome for this individual student.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a semi-observant sometimes practicing Hindu (take that for whatever it is) but I've never heard of this kind of religious observance. "

A week ago, I was hanging out with an Indian dude just back from a trip home to flog a movie, and he's working on a new project trying to update the Mahabharata stories into modern comedy scripts. He considers himself devoutly religious, but rejects the idea that "Hindu" is a religion at all, or at least a religious label with any coherent internal meaning, like trying to guess what someone's personal beliefs and practice were if you just knew they practiced an Abrahamic religion.

And frankly, all this skepticism of whether it's a sincere belief? It's pretty darn racist. Beliefs are wide and varied, and deserving of respect even if you think they're silly. Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't make it made up.

No, sorry, that's bullshit. It's bullshit to assume that skepticism of silly beliefs is racist, it's bullshit to assert that all religious beliefs are deserving of respect, and it's bullshit to assert that this professor's religious beliefs should trump her student's beliefs. Ultimately, it's hard to argue that all beliefs aren't just made up, no matter the length of tradition, and even if imbued with metaphysical significance that doesn't mean they aren't silly. If you want to ring the racism bell, have a little bit more than that as your argument.

Also, can I quickly note that the term "hearing impaired" is considered highly offensive, and as someone who is Deaf, I'd really, really, really, really appreciate it if people would stop using it?

I'm fine with not using it, but that doesn't seem to be a position consistently held by institutions in the Deaf community.

In order for the hearing aids to pick up the FM, they have to either have FM boots or he has to wear a streamer. These intermediary devices are really, really expensive. A set of Phonak boots runs you about $2000. So if they set-up the teacher with some wired system and he wants to get the signal in his aids, he's got to purchase a streamer or boots that match the transmitter.

Honestly, if this is coming up enough that the University is dealing with it again, wouldn't it cost them more in goodwill and legal costs to go through this than simply buying a couple boots that they could sign out to students? Like, if you've got deaf students and faculty that have even a semi-legitimate claim against wearing a lav, it would seem like a decent service to drop the couple grand to make this go away and then hit up alumni to cover it.
posted by klangklangston at 1:55 PM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Ha, on preview, what snuffs just said.
posted by klangklangston at 1:55 PM on September 18, 2015


Frowner: So I feel guilty if I insist on vegetarian or vegan meals when I'm visiting somewhere, but I would never feel that a Muslim should feel guilty for requesting a pork-free meal. Basically, we feel that a harm to your religious nature is a harm to your being in a way that a harm to your non-religious deeply-held beliefs is not.

A few things.

Jews who ask for kosher meals generally only do so when we know that they are available to us. We usually don't make a stink when kosher meals aren't available, either. If we keep kosher outside our homes and must eat at a non-kosher restaurant, then we will probably order a vegetarian meal, if we eat at all.

We make do. We adapt. We're used to not being accommodated for in a Christian world. And we generally don't make demands that other people accommodate us if doing so would be unreasonable.

There are websites that track which airlines or trains offer kosher meals. In theory, if an airline doesn't serve kosher meals, some may lobby them to start. But that would be based on industry precedent. Offering special meals to Jews is really no different than airlines offering vegetarian meals. Which is probably a far more common practice.

Vegetarians have far more options for dining in and food shopping throughout the US than say, meat-eating Jews who keep kosher. There are large sections of the US where I, as a Jew, cannot order a kosher meal in a restaurant or buy kosher meat in a market. The reason for that is there are large sections of the US where Jews don't live in numbers that could possibly justify having a kosher supermarket, butcher or even a kosher section in an existing supermarket. Most restaurants aren't going to cater to Jews who keep kosher: a small population. And even here in NYC, the city with the most Jews in the US, at least two supermarket chains here in NYC only rarely carry kosher meat, if at all: Key Food and C-Town.

I can't speak to your feelings of guilt. But they don't apply to me.
posted by zarq at 1:59 PM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


She may well be 100% sincere in her belief. In that case, she's not necessarily hostile to the student.

She may well be sincere in her belief, but her actions speak for themselves. She's been doing this job for over twenty years, and has already been through a complaint process regarding this exact issue. She is well-aware that students who use FM systems are going to need alternate accommodations if they take her class. Yet she had no contingency plan in place for this situation, beyond refusing to wear the device when approached on the first day of class. She was comfortable with the possibility that her student would miss one (or more) classes' worth of information while other accommodations were arranged. To a student in need of accommodations, this attitude of "can't be bothered" is absolutely a sign of hostility.
posted by brookedel at 2:21 PM on September 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


$2,000 is nothing for a university, and they are the ones on the line to work out the compromise between the student and the prof. I'm surprised that they haven't bought one already just to stay out of the news.
posted by Canageek at 2:39 PM on September 18, 2015


No, again that is exactly the opposite of what I am saying, if one group gets a non-pork meal because they believe in god then anyone else should be able to enjoy the same meal.

No, you said specifically, no accommodation. That means no making allowances for people who have different needs or beliefs. That means simply, the cafeteria serves only a meat dish for everyone, shut up and do your job.

The anti-accommodation argument has at it's base the idea that those who differ should be forced to confirm to the mean. So one can't really argue in favour of "they have a right so I want it to". It's denying options, not granting them.
posted by happyroach at 2:46 PM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not at all, it means no allowances that are not available to everyone.

I said, specifically, that different meals are fine, you have to make them available to everyone though. You are literally saying that I said the exact opposite of what I said.

It's not about getting anyone to conform, that would be horrible, it is about not giving some people rights that others do not have.

Equal rights means that a non-believer is not stopped from doing things a believer can do.
posted by Cosine at 3:03 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


if one group gets a non-pork meal because they believe in god then anyone else should be able to enjoy the same meal.

You are beginning with the assumption that all people begin on an equal footing, and this leads you to believe that special accommodations are unequal.

The basis of accommodation is that people who are subjects of systematized prejudice, disabilities, or reasonable cultural differences begin at an inherent disadvantage due to their deviation from the norms to which society is optimized. A person without legs has fewer opportunities than someone with legs, and is therefore not equal by default. With this view as a basis, then it becomes necessary to offer these people handicaps (like in chess) in order to create equality.

The question here is entirely in what the standard is for reasonable cultural differences. First of all, it should be necessary to show that there is harm, and second, that this is a type of deviation that is acceptable to society at large.

And that last part is where all the trouble is. It is the role of courts to mediate such disputes where laws alone aren't sufficient, or have failed to strike a fair bargain.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:10 PM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Frowner: No, I don't think that's where this is going. I think the issue is whether or not one believes that religion is a special kind of thing different from any other kind of philosophy, or if religion is just one among many equal frameworks.

I don't think it should be culturally or legally the case. But, we don't live in a utopia and not all religious and philosophical perspectives are created equal. My objection to the no accommodation argument is that civil rights law is the only legal fireblock we have against open discrimination against both atheists and religious minorities. We already do have open discrimination, and civil rights laws just provide one of the few tools available for hitting back.

On the other hand, one of my deep frustrations when I was on team atheist was how thoroughly antitheism had come to dominate the discussion since 9/11. That included both the rejection of non-creedal moral groups and interfaith collaboration. It might not be fair, but it's much easier to say that your moral commitments are not just improvisational and opportunistic if you're actually working with an activist group on them.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:19 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Elaborating on the chess analogy, if a chess master plays against a novice, it would be fair for the master to play without a piece or two. It would not make sense for the master to demand that because the novice gets a special accomodation due to his low skill, the master should get the same accommodation so that everything is equal. The board did not start equal.

Likewise, it's fair for someone without sight to be allowed to take a dog where sighted people are not allowed. This is a handicap granted because the person without sight is inherently disadvantaged, just like the novice chess player.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:22 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've read the whole thread and the articles and I've thought about what I think the moral and right thing to do is, not necessarily the legal thing. There are 3 components:

1) The student's physical accommodation.
2) The instructor's religious accommodation.
3) The University's responsibility to both parties.

If the second part, the religious accommodation, was cut and dried I would agree that the University should come up with a workaround. However, I don't believe this is a real religious belief on the part of the instructor, rather a personal idiosyncrasy. Therefore I believe the University should take the professor to court in order to break the contract. In the mean time they should accommodate the student by assisting him in some other, compensatory way.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:35 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


No university is going to want to initiate a lawsuit over religious expression by one of their professors. It would be a pr nightmare.
posted by zarq at 3:40 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The student has filed a complaint against the university with the Human Rights Commission because the university hasn't punished the prof for not accommodating him.
posted by peppermind at 4:12 PM on September 18, 2015


But Zarq, there has not been one person in this thread who believes it is a real religious belief or practice. Unless I hear differently, I'm going with personal idiosyncrasy which does not need to be accommodated. If the University is scared of pursuing a lawsuit just because she claims it is a religious expression that sends a very bad precedent. It leaves the door open to any professor who wants to practice his or her own brand of religion.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:43 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now, it seems like the obvious pragmatic solution is for the school to cough up the $2K for the boots so they can accommodate the student without wasting even more money on the legal aspects of bringing the prof to heel given the dumb contract's unfortunate existence. (How much is a student note-taker paid over the course of a semester?) Or buy the streaming device and Phonak-compatible transmitter as an investment in better equipping their on-campus A/V inventory to serve hard of hearing students (presumably it's portable and could be attached to any given lecture hall or seminar room's A/V system).

If I were in this student's shoes, I still wouldn't take this class with this accommodation because the professor has demonstrated herself to be incredibly ableist. I'm not going to feel safe going to her office hours if I need help. If I miss something because of a technical difficulty, I'm sure as hell not putting up my hand to ask her to check the system in class. And this isn't the first time I'm going to need to ask her for accommodations in class, formal or not. What if I need accommodations on the exam in case the TA announces something? What if I need to ask her for a video she's showing ahead so my captionist can close caption it? I'm sure as hell not repeating this process.

So it's easier for to drop the class. It's lucky that this guy relies upon an FM system and not an interpreter/captionist for his classes, because that would even further limit his options - I've had classes that absolutely did not match my requirements, but I couldn't drop them and take another class because the interpreter and captionist schedules were set and not very flexible due to commitments for other students.

The problem is not the FM system. The problem is the ableism. And as I go through this FPP and see how so many people fixate on technical solutions, it becomes increasingly apparent to me that people simply don't see or regard as important the systematic and institutional oppression against disabled people here.
posted by Conspire at 5:06 PM on September 18, 2015 [19 favorites]


Gah, this thread. Religious accommodations exist to protect minority religions, because that's who needs protecting. And the difference between religious discrimination and ethnic/racial discrimination is pretty fucking subtle when it comes to groups like Muslims, Jews, Baha'is, Sikhs, and on. What do you think those anti-hijab laws were all about? I would suggest that if you regard religion as a "preference" and accommodations as trivial, this may be because you benefit from being part of the dominant culture in this regard. And now I'm going to take a walk around the block, because this hypothetical-Pastafarian-colander bullshit is pissing my Jewish ass off.

As for the original post, I'm still not clear on what the professor's no-FM caveat was about in the first place, nor why it should trump the student's right to accommodation.
posted by thetortoise at 5:15 PM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm fine with not using it, but that doesn't seem to be a position consistently held by institutions in the Deaf community.

I find it really interesting that you link to Gallaudet here (actually, that page doesn't even have the word "hearing impaired" anywhere on it, so I'm wondering what your point is even), because one of the things that you'll note is that on pages where "hearing impaired" is used as a historical term, they'll have a disclaimer at the bottom stating something like:

This website contains documents with terms that may be considered by today's reader as outdated and even offensive. For example, the term "hearing impairment" is sometimes used as a category for levels of hearing loss, such as hard of hearing and deaf. Some people now see cultural identification and communication preference as defining characteristics behind terms such as hard of hearing and deaf, and they do not favor terms conveying medical distinctions and loss. Yet we recognize that removing and changing terms may alter the precise meaning of the scientific author. A solution may be found by expanding the scope of future research to include non-medical perspectives.

Just because "hearing impaired" was a term of choice several decades ago, doesn't mean that communities have realized that terms, especially those forcibly defined by oppressive systems to label marginalized people, may reinforce systematic oppression. Doubly so as a community grows, redefines itself, and gains more visibility in larger culture. Given your involvement in queer institutions, I'm surprised that you aren't aware of this.

And secondly, even if there are Deaf people out there saying they're okay with the term "hearing impaired", that doesn't negate the issue that a shitton of people are saying "this is not a phrase I'm okay with, and I find it hurtful." If the goal is to minimize hurt - which I sure hope it is - it doesn't make sense to raise the point "well, other people who identify like you say it doesn't hurt" when people say "this hurts me."
posted by Conspire at 5:17 PM on September 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is ludicrous. If this was a professor who claimed that he had a religious objection to being in the same room with a woman whose head wasn't covered, nobody here would be brainstorming ways to improvise head coverings from cardigans or talking about the university providing mantillas, they would be rightly excoriating the professor for being a misogynist ass and pointing out that his attitudes alone constituted a barrier towards participation by female students. So why when the discrimination is ableist rather than sexist is everyone suddenly so sure that the solution is in engineering a way for the student to participate in class without offending the teacher, rather than addressing the teacher's bigotry?
posted by KathrynT at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


Ranee Panjabi has given a TV interview to a Canadian news network (no captions on the online video, natch). She says the agreement between her and the university from 20 years ago spells out agreed-upon alternate accommodations for occasions such as this, and that she offered to give the student a copy of the agreement and to work with him on enacting those accommodations, but he rejected it and left the class. If that's true, then I was mistaken in my earlier comment that she didn't have a plan in place to deal with this kind of situation if it arose.

However, I'm not inclined to take her characterization of the situation entirely at face value, because she makes several remarks that I recognize from previous interactions with uncooperative instructors, particularly her statement that the class is comprised mostly of discussion and video and therefore she "may not even say that much." (As if there's a certain informational threshold below which it's fine to deny a student access?) If she was framing her refusal in terms of "you wouldn't need this type of accommodation anyway" (as opposed to "I can't provide this accommodation on religious grounds, but I'm aware of how important it is"), I wouldn't blame the student for reacting negatively.
posted by brookedel at 5:57 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


So why when the discrimination is ableist rather than sexist is everyone suddenly so sure that the solution is in engineering a way for the student to participate in class without offending the teacher, rather than addressing the teacher's bigotry?

Because the teacher is objecting to a technology, rather than the presence of the student. That's why this situation is not equivalent to objecting to the presence of women in the class, and potentially has a technological solution rather than a social one.
posted by FishBike at 6:10 PM on September 18, 2015


never forgetting that it was the religious community who lead the charge for same-sex marriage in Canada: the first gay couple was married through a civil-law back door by an Anglican church, and forced the issue on our Catholic PM.

actually - it was an MCC Church, and the minister was the Rev Brent Hawkes. And it wasn't a civil backdoor - it was a MEDIEVAL RELIGIOUS backdoor: they called the banns, just like happened for centuries before marriage licenses were invented. (I was so excited: equality and reviving obscure pre-modern English law!)

I don't know where the Anglicans stand on same-sex marriage - they are very inclusive, but maybe don't perform marriages.
posted by jb at 6:14 PM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


It was a common-law backdoor. And it still exists, obviously (hence the ability to use it). The Catholic church I went to growing up announced and published wedding banns every week.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:28 PM on September 18, 2015


And halal options are better now than they were twenty years ago in north america, but they're still not great. Vegetarians on the other hand almost always have an entree available to them (I eat side dishes when going to steak houses).

You totally mistake me!

I support religious accommodations and I'm vegan at the same time, and I certainly want everyone to have meals they can eat. I just think that there's some non-resolvable tension in the way this issue gets thought through, and I'm interested in figuring out the different rhetorics that are in play. On the level of actual practice, I think that the only thing that makes sense and generates social cohesion is to give everyone meals that are in line with their beliefs as much as possible, paying particular attention to very strongly held beliefs. (I'm vegan but honestly I would often rather eat what's on offer than make a fuss when I'm a guest, so it's not exactly the world's greatest tragedy if I end up eating something with butter.)

I do think that in argument religion is accorded far more standing than deeply held non-religious beliefs, and that people generally understand that someone is harmed by being pushed to violate the tenets of their religion ("spiritual health") but in general we as a society don't take it very seriously when someone has to violate a non-religious deeply held belief. I do not think that this means that religious beliefs should a priori be dismissed. I think that given the history of Anglophone Protestant-dominated areas, our beliefs - allegedly secular - about "civil society" are actually premised on a religious (mainly Christian) belief system.

Those things don't bother me - I'm not really that type of atheist and in general, I am much more interested in equal quality of life for everyone than making a great deal of fuss about atheism in the public sphere. I am interested in how public discourse handles this stuff, and what the underlying assumptions embedded in the conversation tend to be.

I feel like this type of argument can't be resolved at the level of winning-an-argument-with-reason, because I think there's non-compatible understandings of the world in play, but I think it gets argued all the time as though it can be resolved at that level. That's what I'm trying to think through.

Again, I support religious accommodations, I do not think that it's easier to find halal food than vegetarian (although I live near a bunch of halal places, so if you literally mean "on my street" it actually is easier to find halal options than vegetarian) and I do not feel unfairly treated when I, as a non[religion] person have to wear a motorcycle helmet or work on Rosh Hashanah or whatever.
posted by Frowner at 6:30 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm with brookedel on this one. That professor does not appear to be someone who is remotely interested in having a Deaf student in her classroom. She was dismissive and callous about his needs, she stopped short of saying outright that this class isn't appropriate for Deaf students but she certainly implied it pretty heavily. In fact she seems pretty incredulous that he doesn't understand that she knows what his needs are and what accommodations are appropriate for him better than he does.
posted by KathrynT at 6:35 PM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Transcription of the interview, for those who are unable to access the audio:
"Now, the problem here was, that first the Blundon center did not apprise the student about the fact that in a discussion video-oriented course, the professor may not even say that much, or the professor may be a discussion leader at some point, and so it was important to find technologies -- and these do exist, by the way -- where he or she could be accommodated so that the course became a meaningful learning experience. Now the problem was that this student seemed, regrettably, to have a 'my way or the highway' attitude, did not allow me to even explain what all of this was, and since the Blundon center apparently had not told him anything -- at least, I'm surmising there -- what happened was, even though I offered him the settlement accord wherein a process is laid out for exactly step-by-step what is to be done, he just, ah, left me halfway and just went off, and said that it didn't suit him and off he went. I thought that this was regrettable, that if he was as keen on that History of Espionage as he has subsequently stated all over the media, I would have thought that he would have been far more interested in hearing what I *could* do for him, rather than in focusing on what, you know, would not have worked in any event."

On her religious objection:

"Well, I have. . . certain spiritual beliefs, garnered over a lifetime of travel with my diplomat parents and intense study of many religious and spiritual sources. And yes. . . I do find that there is a spiritual issue about it. But there are many ways of accommodating people, and I myself, being legally qualified and having published a great deal in the field of human rights, know that when there are two competing forms of human rights, accommodation is a middle ground, and the settlement accord that binds the university -- and me, incidentally -- provides that middle ground. So what I cannot for the life of me understand is why, A, the student was not informed about the settlement accord, and why it was that he did not even want to look at it or read it."
posted by KathrynT at 6:36 PM on September 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


And just to clarify - my point wasn't that because people tend to tell vegans to just deal with non-vegan food options therefore people who keep kosher or halal should also just deal. I was trying - obviously badly - both to understand the distinction that is drawn in popular discourse between religious beliefs and serious secular beliefs and to suggest that serious secular beliefs are more like religious beliefs than not. "More accommodation for seriously held beliefs" is what I'd aim for, not because veganism is the equivalent of, say, Judaism (it's totally not! that would be wildly inappropriate to suggest!) but because it's good to accommodate seriously held beliefs when possible.

I'm sorry that I seem to have conveyed the opposite of what I meant.
posted by Frowner at 6:37 PM on September 18, 2015


Because the teacher is objecting to a technology, rather than the presence of the student.

What she seems mostly to object to is that the student had his own ideas about what would work for him, rather than trusting her extensive knowledge and experience.
posted by KathrynT at 6:39 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks for transcribing that, KathrynT.
posted by brookedel at 6:48 PM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Or she's objecting to the student leaving her attempts to accommodate him halfway, according to her, rather than working with her to find a solution that worked for them both. Though even more than that she seems surprised the university didn't warn him that such an accommodation would need to be made.

I often find it interesting in cases of intersectionality such as this one seeing how people's beliefs about what is right and wrong shake out. So people are filtering the article and information through their own biases.

Considering religion is unimportant to my life, my initial reaction was to think this wasn't a reasonable religious request and that the student was being hard done by. But of course what is 'reasonable' is hardly to be based only on my metric. I can envisage intransigent religion being unaccommodating, after all. The Kim Davis thing being so recent and so public, even if in a different country from this case, helps that.

But I can also envisage an established, if not particularly widespread, belief that prevents the lecturer from allowing herself to wear the transmitter could still be something she's come up with a reasonable contingency for, but the student was not willing to compromise, possibly even entertain any alternative to what they wanted, and was then happy to declare to all and sundry that this is ableism only and how dare she behave so uncaringly, even though that's not the case.

Either party could be unreasonable. Both or neither, even. I'm not sure there's much to go on yet to make a judgement call outside of pre-existing biases, though. After all, I'm inclined to think she should just wear the damned transmitter, but that's only coming from my anti-religious position.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:00 PM on September 18, 2015


Well, I have. . . certain spiritual beliefs, garnered over a lifetime of travel with my diplomat parents and intense study of many religious and spiritual sources. And yes. . . I do find that there is a spiritual issue about it.

I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around how a religious accommodation was granted due to a professed "spiritual belief, garnered over a lifetime of travel." One could use such a defense to easily describe pretty much any behavior or thought.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:01 PM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


but the student was not willing to compromise, possibly even entertain any alternative to what they wanted

Perhaps the student is well versed in his specific needs and what is available in the world of assistive technology, and knows what works best for him, given that he is the one who is actually living with his needs. I mean, what are the chances that this professor has access to some amazing technological solution that this student has never heard of? Close to zero. So yeah, I can understand why he wouldn't want to sit there and listen to bullshit "alternatives" that won't work for him, and have to explain yet again to yet another set of hostile faces who really wish that he would just not have these needs why they won't work, starting from ground zero.
posted by KathrynT at 7:08 PM on September 18, 2015 [20 favorites]


I mean she talks incredulously about how he wasn't even willing to consider any other alternatives, but she clearly didn't spend any time or energy learning why an FM loop might be the only good option for him.
posted by KathrynT at 7:09 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know where the Anglicans stand on same-sex marriage - they are very inclusive, but maybe don't perform marriages.

In short, they're split on the issues. It really depends on the particular congregation, but some definitely do marry same-sex couples.
posted by beau jackson at 7:15 PM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


but she clearly didn't spend any time or energy learning why an FM loop might be the only good option for him

It's not clear to me that she didn't, but it is clear where, exactly, your allegiances lie in this matter.

What are the chances it wouldn't require an amazing technological solution that the student had never heard of to make his presences in the class work, but through talking to each other they could have found something they both agreed on? Not nearly so close to zero. But if you pre-suppose her personal belief has little merit and she's a bigot against the disabled, then of course you'd think there's no compromise available and that looking for one is foolhardy, insulting even.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:30 PM on September 18, 2015


If group discussion was an important component of the class, then maybe an alternative would have made sense.

What if the professor were a particular (hypothetical) flavor of Amish or Mennonite? Perhaps in which (hypothetically) technology _around_ a believer were tolerated, but technology being personally activated or worn by the believer were regarded as a spiritual distraction? How would such a situation, where the believer was instructing a group of students, one of whom was Deaf, be handled? Would we dismiss this person's beliefs as imaginary and histrionic?

If not, then what if another person learned about these (hypothetical) beliefs, and found that they resonated deeply with her own feelings and spirituality? What if this person adopted this relationship with technology as her own, and perhaps also incorporated a habit of prayer, but didn't officially join any church? What if her beliefs were just as deep, but didn't include some aspects -- like women's traditional homemaker roles? What if breaking with these beliefs would make this person feel she was betraying her life's purpose and creating an unhealable rift between herself and the only feelings that make her life worth living?

What if this professor's beliefs are sincere, deeply held, and of no small inconvenience to her? How can you possibly know for sure that they are not?
posted by amtho at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


If accommodating others' beliefs was easy, there wouldn't need to be laws about it.
posted by amtho at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around how a religious accommodation was granted due to a professed "spiritual belief, garnered over a lifetime of travel."

I have no idea how to judge the "validity" or "seriousness" of any religious belief, but I'm pretty certain that a Human Rights tribunal, which are usually private, but I'm not sure about NL&L, or, worse, an open court is not the place to do it. Mostly because I don't want, for example, 13-year-old girls on the stand being asked if they're really serious enough about Islam to be wearing headscarves or not.

Some girls do and some women don't, in even the same family. It's a personal matter, yet because it is a matter of belief and personal conscience, it's been discounted by many Canadian politicians in the last couple of years as being optional or not required. Indeed, our PM today, was campaigning on a platform to force women to remove niqabs.

Letting a civil authority, our government define what is an allowable belief or not, what religious strictures can be followed and which cannot, seems really dangerous to me.
posted by bonehead at 7:33 PM on September 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Because the teacher is objecting to a technology, rather than the presence of the student. That's why this situation is not equivalent to objecting to the presence of women in the class, and potentially has a technological solution rather than a social one.

Right, it isn't that I object to blind students, I just object to dogs. I don't object to women, I just object to visible hair.

I mean, I think her beliefs need to be accommodated in general, but in this case, it should take a back seat to accommodating the student's needs. (Though I wonder HOW they would do this, if they wanted to require her to wear the FM transmitter and she wanted to fight it. She certainly could screw up the course for him. I don't think it is right, or she is right, but I also don't see what they do -- send down the dean who puts the transmitter on her neck every class and during office hours?)
posted by jeather at 8:28 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have no idea how to judge the "validity" or "seriousness" of any religious belief

This is truly excellent news for my attempts to restart Dionysiac frenzies (we practitioners prefer the term "frenzy" as we consider the more pedestrian "orgy" to be really quite a rude insult so I'll thank you for not using the term) in downtown Toronto!
posted by aramaic at 9:01 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you sincerely, deeply believed that Dionysiac frenzies were important, and if they absolutely had to be in a public place to fulfil your spiritual needs, that would represent a difficult conflict of personal freedoms - yours vs. the people who were much more comfortable with a frenzy-free downtown. There would be no way for everyone to have everything they truly believed was right, proper, and necessary. Just as in any conflict of rights, it would be best if it could be handled on a sensitive, respectful, case-by-case basis.

I don't get the feeling that you are sincere about the frenzies, though.
posted by amtho at 10:22 PM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


What if the professor were a particular (hypothetical) flavor of Amish or Mennonite?

That actually occurs, on occasion, at our little neighborhood college here. When it does, the local order's bishop grants the instructor an exception so as to allow him to perform his job. It's never been an issue, so far as I know.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:11 AM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Amish have strong beliefs, but they're not against technology for no reason- they don't like the effect advanced technologies have on us as a species in terms of our culture and relationships. In recent years a number of Amish communities have started permitting cellphones because being out of contact with buyers for one's products and crops while out in the field is simply not feasible anymore. It's something you or I might disagree with, but they're not doing it to be jerks or justifying it by claiming that EMF and morality interact.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:08 AM on September 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


In fact, I've known at least three Amish people in passing that used high tech assistive devices: a powered wheel chair, an oxygen tank, and hearing aids.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:16 AM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is ludicrous. If this was a professor who claimed that he had a religious objection to being in the same room with a woman whose head wasn't covered, nobody here would be brainstorming ways to improvise head coverings from cardigans or talking about the university providing mantillas, they would be rightly excoriating the professor for being a misogynist ass and pointing out that his attitudes alone constituted a barrier towards participation by female students. So why when the discrimination is ableist rather than sexist is everyone suddenly so sure that the solution is in engineering a way for the student to participate in class without offending the teacher, rather than addressing the teacher's bigotry?

It seems pretty clear the professor herself is ableist. The urge to find a technical fix comes (I think) from the immediate presentation of the conflict as centered around equipment on bodies, because of this asinine contract. And if the prof is really just trying to avoid accommodating deaf students by cynically playing on religious belief through handwavey RF bullshittery, it's sort of satisfying to undermine her reliance on the stupid contract to refuse to comply by rearranging the equipment such that her basic employment contract and the rules on accommodation would again disallow her refusal.

That said, Conspire's point about not wanting to be in the prof's class at all given her attitude, comments and conduct is well taken.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:52 AM on September 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


And if the prof is really just trying to avoid accommodating deaf students by cynically playing on religious belief through handwavey RF bullshittery, it's sort of satisfying to undermine her reliance on the stupid contract to refuse to comply by rearranging the equipment such that her basic employment contract and the rules on accommodation would again disallow her refusal.

No HRC tribunal will attempt to assess whether her beliefs are valid or not. That would mean that there are state sanctioned religions with allowed and disallowed practices.

What they can do is examine if her belief is genuine or, as you say, frivolous. The student has now registered a complaint, so it looks like this is what will happen.
posted by bonehead at 9:07 AM on September 19, 2015


And if she, a Hindu of the Brahmin class, believes that deaf students are in the Untouchable class? How does accomodation work out in that case?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 AM on September 19, 2015


it is clear where, exactly, your allegiances lie in this matter.

Yes. My allegiances lie with the student, who has no power here and no ability to take this course without this accommodation, rather than with the professor, who has all the power and all the responsibility to accommodate students. You may now proceed with your gasps of indignation.
posted by KathrynT at 9:37 AM on September 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


And if she, a Hindu of the Brahmin class, believes that deaf students are in the Untouchable class? How does accomodation work out in that case?

I would argue that's a somewhat different scenario, because I think there would be no reasonable way to accommodate that belief while still carrying out the duties of the job (which include NOT discriminating against protected classes of people). So the teacher would need to find another job.

The difference, in the case that we're talking about in this post, is that I think a reasonable accommodation is likely possible, but the parties involved have failed to find and agree on it. And by reasonable, I mean to the student as well as the teacher, and to some extent the school (e.g. it can't be something that costs $1 billion).
posted by FishBike at 10:12 AM on September 19, 2015



And if she, a Hindu of the Brahmin class, believes that deaf students are in the Untouchable class? How does accomodation work out in that case?


Already asked and answered. Throwing additional hypotheticals of unreasonable accommodation in the hopes of a silver bullet against legal protection isn't the most productive.

I'm leaning toward unreasonable accommodation here but do not see this as a case study in why civil rights are bad.

I read reconstructionists who worship Dionysus. They are probably better read on historical practices than any one here, and are aware of the challenges in creating that religion as a contemporary one.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:21 AM on September 19, 2015


The difference, in the case that we're talking about in this post, is that I think a reasonable accommodation is likely possible, but the parties involved have failed to find and agree on it.

The thing most folks seem to be missing here is that when we talk about "reasonable accommodations" alternative to the FM system, all of the concrete ones raised in thid thread involve more work on behalf of the student or socially isolating and stigmatizing the student or reducing the quality of accommodation for the student. Although the FM system is not a perfect solution, it is the best one that works for the student - and I trust his experiences that other solutions would result in a lower educational quality for him. You cannot just throw whatever wonky alternative solutions you brainstorm in 30 seconds at him and expect it to work.

Seriously, this mentality is why we have people going "oh, we can't find an interpreter but we'll caption it for you" to Deaf people not fluent in English. Or "here's an interpreter" to hard of hearing people who can barely fingerspell ABCs. Or in many cases - "we can't find an interpreter but can you just sit there and lipread at a distance of 50 meters in poor lighting" to me, constantly.

I suspect the goal of people, when they talk about "reasonable accommodations" is not to actually have Deaf and hard of hearing people involved on a level where they can fully participate, but just to do the minimal show of shuffling feet so that we all shut up about not having access.
posted by Conspire at 10:26 AM on September 19, 2015 [17 favorites]


Yes, there's a big difference between "accommodations that a hearing person feels like should work well enough" and "accommodations that actually provide the most meaningful level of access to the material for the person requesting them." The student is an expert in what he needs, and there's no reason to believe he is ill-informed or unreasonable.
posted by KathrynT at 10:38 AM on September 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I should clarify that my last post was about religious accommodation. Access to education includes fm transmitters to telepresence. Objectors need to consider that as a part of the job going forward.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:02 AM on September 19, 2015


Yes, there's a big difference between "accommodations that a hearing person feels like should work well enough" and "accommodations that actually provide the most meaningful level of access to the material for the person requesting them." The student is an expert in what he needs, and there's no reason to believe he is ill-informed or unreasonable.

I agree completely. To me, reasonable accommodation in this case means something the student would agree is equally as good as his preferred solution. The role of the school should be to listen to him first as to what will work for him, and if necessary, engage with some appropriate technology experts as well.
posted by FishBike at 11:05 AM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


How much effort, time, and resources should the student be expected to go through to demonstrate that the solutions being advanced by the school will not work as well for him as the solution he is proposing? How many class days should he be expected to miss while all this is being sorted out?
posted by KathrynT at 11:09 AM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


To me, reasonable accommodation in this case means something the student would agree is equally as good as his preferred solution. The role of the school should be to listen to him first as to what will work for him, and if necessary, engage with some appropriate technology experts as well.

And given the particular and variable nature of individual hearing disabilities, this would invariably involve weeks of the student going in for consultations with medical experts and technicians, tweaking the set up, and testing it out in class, while the class is still ongoing and he is still responsible for the content.

Seriously, if your "reasonable" solution involves dumping a bunch of emotional and physical labor on the disabled person, I really don't want to hear it.
posted by Conspire at 11:11 AM on September 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


How much effort, time, and resources should the student be expected to go through to demonstrate that the solutions being advanced by the school will not work as well for him as the solution he is proposing?

Well, I think that most of the time, effort, and resources should come from the school. But in any case, accommodation does require time, effort, and resources, otherwise we wouldn't need laws mandating it.

Should no effort be put into accommodating a religious belief? That's certainly a valid point of view, but isn't how things currently work in Canada.
posted by FishBike at 11:20 AM on September 19, 2015


Well, I think that most of the time, effort, and resources should come from the school.

Read Conspire's comment for why that is impossible. How many appointments should this student go to in order to document that the solution he's advancing is the best one? Should he have to do this for every class?
posted by KathrynT at 11:32 AM on September 19, 2015


Should no effort be put into accommodating a religious belief? That's certainly a valid point of view, but isn't how things currently work in Canada.

The student shouldn't be putting any effort into accommodating the prof's religious belief. The school needs to put effort into accommodating both the prof and the student, and the prof needs to put effort into accommodating the student.

Sometimes the answer is that a specific religious belief cannot be accommodated.
posted by jeather at 11:34 AM on September 19, 2015


This should all have been sorted out LONG before the first day of class - the professor is quite right to point that out.

She may also be right that if the class is mostly group discussion based, her using an fm loop may not be of much use to the student - certainly when I have taken part in group discussions with HOH students using induction loops it didn't work particularly well (we passed the microphone part between ourselves but they had a lot of difficulty joining in due to the time delay).

The class could be reformulated to take account of this, but that would take time and as a teacher you wouldn't want that sprung on you on the first day of class.

So yeah, I blame Student Services for this. They seem to have assumed that this poor guy could just rock up on the first day and hope for the best.
posted by tinkletown at 11:44 AM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also think that we're being swayed a bit by the fact that this seems like a frivolous belief on the face of it. So we're all making sweeping statements about how the tutor should woman up and wear the microphone in spite of her religious beliefs, and the student and university shouldn't have to compromise or try to work with her to find a solution.

It's not good to make religious accommodation laws based on edge cases like this one. To take a more mainstream example, if she was muslim and wore a niqab, would we really suggest that she should unveil to allow lipreading, or would we say "let's find a work-around" (hopefully most people who are not dicks would say let's find a work-around). But that is because most of us respect widely-held islamic beliefs but don't respect this woman's apparently sincerely-held religious belief because it's unusual. That is not really on. Or legal, in Canada.

Or (for those who are anti-muslim bigots), if she had an implantable cardiac device in situ and was concerned about radiowaves from the microphone triggering it, causing incapacitation at best and death at worst (you are told to keep at least 12 inches from radio transmitters), presumably we wouldn't tell her to risk it or face the sack because student accommodations outrank all other considerations? Wouldn't most people try to look for a compromise?

That would mean the student working with the university and tutor to find a compromise that works for everyone, and that might indeed take time (which is why it should have been done months ago), but that is the nature of competing needs unfortunately. The solution might well end up being "somebody else who can wear the microphone teaches this class" if there is no technical solution that would work equally as well for the student, and again that would have been much easier to arrange with a few months' notice.

What has happened in this case (student can't take the class, teacher is being pilloried far and wide for her beliefs) is really the complete worst possible outcome, and the university have handled it really badly. The student should not even know the details of why the lecturer cannot wear the microphone, student services should have maintained her confidentiality and just said "look she can't wear it, how do you feel about options A, B or C?"
posted by tinkletown at 12:55 PM on September 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Actually, I would not agree with -- for instance -- language teachers or early childhood educators covering their face while teaching, because watching the mouth is an important part of learning a language (it isn't absolutely necessary, so I'm willing to be convinced otherwise about post-secondary language teaching). I do not think I'd accept it in the case of a student who needs to lipread either (though in this case, other accommodations could possibly be made).

The difference between "this will literally kill me if I do it" and "I have religious beliefs that make me not want to do it" is huge, and obviously the calculus of competing accommodations would differ when one of them ends in death.
posted by jeather at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


You may now proceed with your gasps of indignation.

Not gasps of indignation, just that it means I don't expect you to find any of the lecturer's actions reasonable, no matter what. Which is frankly unsurprising considering this is an internet outrage where we get to fill the gaps in the facts with our own presumptions.

Again, I know where I stand in regards to her wearing the device. But for example, for some people, questioning whether the FM device is the only way the student can participate in the class is something that invites scrutiny, as does her account that she tried to reach a compromise but he blew her off and, evidently (though she doesn't say this, it did stand out a little to me) instead went to the media. For others, that it's a religious practice they don't know about doesn't automatically rule it frivolous and easily overridden. Also, just because other people are deaf/hard of hearing doesn't mean they know how this student is deaf/hard of hearing, both in terms of finding solutions (don't presume he knows sign language) and hearing opinions (don't necessarily accept other people with hearing difficulties' statements on what he can and cannot use successfully, as their deafness may not match with his).

Or that, considering this has only come up once before in over twenty years, then it seems she has a very good record for it not interfering with her work if only two students in that entire time have been inconvenienced, and I don't know that we have any idea if that previous situation was resolved to the student's satisfaction. He knows the best way to handle his deafness, but she also knows the way her course is going to go and so knows better than him what might not work in that environment.

I think she should wear the device. But I also think it's not nearly so clear-cut that she's this bigot towards a disabled student as is being stated just because you think her reasoning/religion is invalid.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:26 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with the hypothesis that she's prejudiced against the hard of hearing student is that it seems like an absurd and self-defeating way to act out that prejudice. One of the documents said that because of her belief she could not/did not use a walkman, for example, and that she inconvenienced herself in her daily life to uphold this belief. Presumably now she doesn't use a cell phone or carry an MP3 player or anything like that. Maybe she doesn't even use cordless landlines. It's ridiculous, sure, but it must be a giant pain in the ass for her. The theory that she's doing this just so that every 20 years she can make life difficult for a deaf or hard of hearing student seems implausible, at best.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:38 PM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


What has happened in this case (student can't take the class, teacher is being pilloried far and wide for her beliefs) is really the complete worst possible outcome, and the university have handled it really badly.

In the past few years I've become more comfortable with imputing intent to things like this. I can't believe that the university couldn't have found a good solution if it wanted to. Why did it not want to? I have no idea.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:13 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with the hypothesis that she's prejudiced against the hard of hearing student is that it seems like an absurd and self-defeating way to act out that prejudice. One of the documents said that because of her belief she could not/did not use a walkman, for example, and that she inconvenienced herself in her daily life to uphold this belief. Presumably now she doesn't use a cell phone or carry an MP3 player or anything like that. Maybe she doesn't even use cordless landlines. It's ridiculous, sure, but it must be a giant pain in the ass for her. The theory that she's doing this just so that every 20 years she can make life difficult for a deaf or hard of hearing student seems implausible, at best.

Just because there's no conscious animus driving the discrimination here doesn't mean that her actions aren't pretty damn ableist - and that's what all we really care about here, really. Look, to reiterate KathrynT's point above, if a professor considered menstruating women filthy, that professor might very sincerely hold that belief on religious grounds. That doesn't mean he isn't likely creating active barriers to and a hostile space for the participation of women in his classroom. Maybe he too has been inconvenienced by the fact that he hasn't interacted with women in the past twenty years because he's terrified of being contaminated by them, but it feels asinine to say to a woman "well, you should be sympathetic towards his struggles" in the face of the systematic barriers that he and his ilk are creating for them.

As a Deaf person, where I stand is that I'm the first Deaf person to enter my entire graduate department in literally all of fifty years. This has not been an easy struggle for me. I know in my undergraduate, I had to spend three times the amount of time as the other students to learn the content, because I was getting virtually nothing from my classes that I had to go over the syllabus point-by-point, research every single point, and then learn it myself. And then I'd still get docked marks, because the professor would have mentioned something in passing that he found important and then put it on the exam. My grades were subpar; the only reason why I even got into graduate school was because I took a full year off my studies to work in a research lab to pump out publications, otherwise I wouldn't have even been up for consideration - and not many Deaf people would have known to navigate the system like that. I only applied for two universities, both of which I chose on elimination by the metric of accessibility. My peers were applying to dozens.

My education was not a full one at all. I had no access to captionists or interpreters for any extracurricular activities or social events. I didn't get to attend any lectures or seminars outside of my core ones where I had a captionist booked. At the end of my fourth year, I went to a undergraduate research conference where almost every other student in my program was presenting research that they had sought out independently. Me? I couldn't even book an interpreter to go in to talk to a professor who might be interested in having me volunteer in their lab. I spent four years at that institution, sitting alone, working through the syllabuses I was handed in painstaking detail, trying to piece together my knowledge bit by bit. And trying to ignore how every other student was freely joining clubs, associating with professors, going to conferences, building networks along themselves, while I was stuck doing that. I have no contacts from that university at all.

In the city where I did my undergraduate, the community college there was just subject to a massive organized protest movement from the Deaf community regarding their treatment by the community college. My captionist was personally involved in that, transcribing all of the grievances at the subsequent meetings. Primarily, what the college was doing was that it was providing minimal resources for Deaf students to succeed, and they were basically being churned in and failing out by the masses. The college claimed it had given a fair amount of access to each student, but I knew exactly what was happening here. The college was providing the bare minimum to avoid culpability, and then any lost content that the student would miss would be seen as a failing on the student's part. So eventually, the student would lag further and further and further behind, until someone would suggest, "well, maybe you're just not smart enough for post-secondary education." Then they'd drop out. I knew this was exactly what was going on because this happened to me in high school. It happened to me again in university. I was stubborn and I worked myself to the bone because I knew I was smart, I knew I was deserving, I knew I was diligent. I was not willing to let the school system tell me that their refusal to give me full access meant I wasn't. It's too bad that this is the message so many Deaf people end up internalizing as they work through the system. Hell - most don't even aim for post-secondary education, because high school had already defeated them with the same reinforced messages.

You can't even complain. Have you seen the look an elementary school teacher will give you if you interrupt the class, disrupt their authority, to tell them that the microphone on their FM system is being muffled by their collar? I was a solid D student all throughout elementary school, until I discovered the internet and google. And then I jumped right to getting a literal 100% in math in my first year of high school. That's part of the reason why I'm in Computer Science. Have you felt the exasperation that all of your dormmates in first year will launch at you if you ask "sorry, I didn't hear that, can you repeat that" even once too much for their taste - even though they told you right at the start of the year, "we love you, and we'll do anything to include you?" I went through university practically a hermit. I'm still so isolated.

I cut myself smaller and smaller and smaller, my voice growing fainter, until I no longer know how to say the words "I can't hear you." I nod brightly, I bluff, I go "no, it's okay, I'll try my hardest without the interpreter", I compromise. Because I have to - the social punishments for me if I say "I can't hear you" are too great. They say you have to be exceptional to succeed as a Deaf student. And it is true you have to be exceptional; but you also have to entirely lack any self-worth.

This university has been here for almost two hundred years. There's been one Deaf graduate student before me, but in linguistics. There's never been a single Deaf graduate student from STEM at all. And I can see why - looking back at the past few years, I've sacrificed so, so much of myself, constantly paring myself down and making myself unheard, that I don't know who else would have soldiered on through this many years of indignity. If I fail, that won't be evidence that our system is severely lacking. Rather, if I fail, that will be evidence that I wasn't suited to research, to academia, to higher education. That Deaf people aren't suited. If I succeed, that means that there really isn't an access problem here at all, and maybe Deaf people just aren't applying and being admitted to these programs for some - magical, I don't know what reason. You can't win.

Whether this professor likes it or not, she is part of a systematic oppression that takes Deaf and hard of hearing students, steadily grinds them down, sets the bar impossibly high, and then tells them it was their fault they failed. I'm so, so proud of this student for taking a stand. I too have known what it's like to have accommodations cut from me, snip by snip by snip, and then been held accountable for the consequences, and it's good that someone spoke out - even if it was at great social cost to himself - and said, "this isn't just."
posted by Conspire at 9:40 PM on September 19, 2015 [48 favorites]


Thanks for adding so much of your experience to this thread, Conspire. It's easy to regard this situation as a conflict between two competing abstractions of accommodation and forget how high the stakes are for the student.
posted by thetortoise at 10:05 PM on September 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


If it really were the case that the Professor could accommodate the student in no other way than by wearing a microphone, I'd probably say that wearing a microphone is an essential part of her job; that the university was wrong to say otherwise; and that it needs to buy out her contract or whatever.

I don't think that premise is true, though; I think there must be other ways to accommodate the student, even if it's a bit more expensive for the university or troublesome for the professor.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:38 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


And given the particular and variable nature of individual hearing disabilities, this would invariably involve weeks of the student going in for consultations with medical experts and technicians, tweaking the set up, and testing it out in class, while the class is still ongoing and he is still responsible for the content.

Seriously, if your "reasonable" solution involves dumping a bunch of emotional and physical labor on the disabled person, I really don't want to hear it.


It should take two appointments, maybe 15 minutes each. (I say should, because clearly that aim was blown out of the water ages ago, in reality.)

(1) Student reports the problem.

{interim} School realizes it has a problem, because of a contract it never should have made is going to interfere with the straightforward compliance with accessibility policies it itself would prefer. School, although it would prefer to be rid of this troublesome contract, quickly discerns the way to minimize the detriment to the student is to spend $2K.

(2) Student receives an invitation to pick up a pair of boots from the A/V department, checked out for the semester, the classroom having been mic'd up to capture lecture and discussion.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:26 PM on September 19, 2015


The student has responded to the video interview mentioned upthread:

Sears said Panjabi's retelling of the incident differs from his own.

"I can honestly say that I have no recollection of her offering to give me a copy of this agreement or go through this agreement with me. She [told] me that she can't because of religious reasons," he said.

"She [said] there was an instance 20 years ago where an agreement was signed between her and the Blunden Centre that protects her refusal on religion reasons."

While Sears said the professor did offer to lay the device on a nearby table, he believes the suggestion was "unacceptable."

posted by brookedel at 2:36 PM on September 20, 2015


I think it's funny how "religious beliefs" are always get-out-of-jail-free cards for people who want to act like assholes.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:49 PM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


While Sears said the professor did offer to lay the device on a nearby table, he believes the suggestion was "unacceptable."

I would think anyone who's ever listened to a conference call coming from a speakerphone in a large room would realize why that would be a poor alternative.
posted by FishBike at 3:58 PM on September 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


No need to reinvent the wheel. The student most likely had a proprietary FM transmitter and receiver. No need to wear an FM transmitter supplied by the student. Here is a lecture hall FM transmitter for Phonak. You plug a couple of microphones into the remote transmitter and attach them to the podium and you are done. You can have more than one mic input if you need to cover more space. Or you can have a wired mic attached to the lapel, equivalent to the FM lavalier supplied by the student. No FM transmitter needs to be attached to the lecturer. It may be that the lecturer only objects to wearing an electronic device supplied by the student. Wearing a wired microphone may be a reasonable accommodation.

The other option is to use the universal telecoil built into hearing aids. The telecoil picks up an audio signal from an induction coil. This is how hearing aids work with a telephone receiver. In fact, a telecoil is also how the FM connections work. The FM only carries the signal from the transmitter to the receiver. The audio signal then gets into the hearing aid through the telecoil. A universal induction loop system eliminates the need for the FM link. The audio is transmitted directly from the microphone and amplifier to the telecoil in the hearing aid, thereby eliminating a complicated FM link.

Induction loops are a universal standard in Europe. Meeting rooms, lecture halls, ticket counters, taxis all have induction loops. Any hearing aid can receive the signal. It is exactly the same audio signal received using the FM system, that then connects to the telecoil in the hearing aid, but without the FM.
posted by JackFlash at 6:19 PM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, and here is a little device that you attach to the wall at the entrance that automatically tunes the hearing aid user's FM receiver to match the remote FM transmitter in the lecture hall. There is no need for the lecturer to wear a FM transmitter supplied by the student.
posted by JackFlash at 6:26 PM on September 20, 2015


That doesn't help if the audio signal isn't good enough, and we don't know whether the teacher offered to cooperate by staying within range of a stationary microphone or whatever. I'm sure something could be done, but you probably shouldn't assume anything about the student's demands or the teacher's response.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:43 PM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, I'm not assuming anything since none of us were a party to the discussion. I'm only suggesting that there were viable alternatives other than hanging a device supplied by the student around her neck. It doesn't have to be a stationary microphone. It could be a wired lavalier microphone worn just like the one supplied by the student but without the FM transmitter.

Somebody walks into a room and says "Put this thing I've got around your neck", I could imagine some people balking and saying "Let's see if there is another way."
posted by JackFlash at 6:55 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suspect the goal of people, when they talk about "reasonable accommodations" is not to actually have Deaf and hard of hearing people involved on a level where they can fully participate, but just to do the minimal show of shuffling feet so that we all shut up about not having access.

Yes, even using the word "reasonable" seems to point that the priority is to do the least possible without looking openly ableist; as if there were a history of deaf people being so unreasonable in their demands that they have to add a disclaimer to the policy.

I mean if any adjective belongs there, I feel like "sufficient accommodation" would be a much better one. The focus should be on doing enough for the students to have reliable access to the class content, not on warning staff about doing "too much."
posted by Tarumba at 6:28 AM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Reasonable accommodation" is the term used in Canadian law. It's not optional or open for debate in this particular case. It's what has to happen, according to our Supreme Court.

If the law is ablest, it equally has to be anti-religious. There are several examples, upthread, where religious requirements have been found to be over-ridden by needs of competing rights or the public interest.

The point is we don't get to pick and choose which rights we like, and which ones we don't. The law requires that both be taken into account to find a solution.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 AM on September 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


The president of the university has released a statement on the matter.

More interestingly, they include a link to the actual 1996 Settlement Accord everyone keeps referring to (warning: PDF). The professor's TV interview led me to believe the accord actually named and described the alternate technology the student would be offered, but it doesn't. It just says the technology exists and it is "superior" to the FM system in a discussion-heavy course.
posted by brookedel at 4:21 PM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is hilarious. Canada's a democracy. The charter of rights was created by parliament, and the Canadian people voted for parliament. Canada isn't a part of the states, and the opinions of foreigners on what the Canadian constitution should or should not be means... Not very much.
If you have a problem with the Canadian constitution, take it up with Democracy, the last bastion against skepticism.

Anyway, the 1982 charter reflects the values of the Canadian people. Uniquely. Canada's wellbeing relies on immigration. Scrap freedom of religion and charter protection of different races, which is a huge part of the SPIRIT of the constitution, and immigrants will steer away from Canada.

Same goes for the American constitution. Water down civil rights and civil rights minded people will immigrate to some other country. Democracy.

Different countries, different boats, different constitutions. And my money says that, were this to go to the Supreme Court, the 20 year old contract would be enough proof that her stance qualifies for freedom of religion.

In regards to this being woo vs institution certified religion (whatever that means), I had a Canadian Punjabi roommate who wore a dulled knife at all times. In the kitchen, everywhere. I admired him for his strength of conviction as well as character, though I could have easily jumped on the bandwagon to Mockingville.
posted by kinoeye at 10:32 PM on September 21, 2015


My experience is a lot like Conspire's.

Two things I want to pull from their comment: This has not been an easy struggle for me. I know in my undergraduate, I had to spend three times the amount of time as the other students to learn the content, because I was getting virtually nothing from my classes that I had to go over the syllabus point-by-point, research every single point, and then learn it myself. And then I'd still get docked marks, because the professor would have mentioned something in passing that he found important and then put it on the exam.

and:

I cut myself smaller and smaller and smaller, my voice growing fainter, until I no longer know how to say the words "I can't hear you." I nod brightly, I bluff, I go "no, it's okay, I'll try my hardest without the interpreter", I compromise. Because I have to - the social punishments for me if I say "I can't hear you" are too great. They say you have to be exceptional to succeed as a Deaf student. And it is true you have to be exceptional; but you also have to entirely lack any self-worth.

Truth. This is how it is. It's just like that. I smiled when I read this, because yes, this is true and it was just ... true. It's truth. Couldn't have put it better myself. You have to work so, so, so terribly hard and give so, so terribly much and be so, so very small in the midst of all that effort and be so, so tired, and the best part, the funny part, is that they always ask for more.

My favourite, actually, is when they want me to be bigger for half a minute, big enough to listen to their 'just' suggestions -- they always start with 'just', 'just do' -- but it's not what they want, really, because the bigness of a person that does what they want me to just do is the same bigness of the sort of person that asks them to repeat their wonderful, kindhearted advice until I understand. They don't really want that. They never do. It would be inconvenient, right?

It's funny, the comparisons to colanders at the DMV. I would love to only have to deal with wearing a colander. I would trade, actually. I'm sitting here thinking about what it would take for me not to trade. Big awkward metal thing? I'd trade. Have to wear it all the time, forever? I'd trade. Even if it was spiked and barbed on the inside, even if it tore up my scalp for years on end, even if I had to wear it to bed and wake up with a pillow full of blood every morning, even if I had to sleep sitting up? Actually, I'd trade. I would still love to trade being born deaf for the colander. You know why? It sounds like it would hurt so much less.

Please, sign me up. Please can you? Please let me just have the colander to deal with. Please let that be the subject under discussion. Please let me have that problem instead. Please. No? Oh.

Hey, Conspire? HEART-YOU.

More broadly: I think this thread in general is underestimating just how telling her account of it is. Like, the professor is giving this account, right, of how she thinks the meeting went, and it's so favourable to her, right, but I would've walked out that meeting too. Oh, it's primarily discussion? Okay. Oh, videos. Right. Video discussion? Right. Okay.

I'm reading that, right, and I'm thinking -- you're going to bother making sure all the videos have captions or transcripts or both, right? Every time? You're going to do all that, right? Okay? Right? Right? Unprompted? I won't have to remind you or ask for help on every single video, every single question, every single answer? You and everyone in the room? For every class? Right? I won't? Right? You won't do that to me, right? You won't establish a culture where I'm the rude, selfish prick speaking up all the time, right? You won't roll your eyes at me, right? You'll take the initiative to actually work with me, right? Riiiiiight? You'll lead the class discussion, right? You'll moderate it, right? You'll have a class culture of people understanding each other and bothering to extend the discussion to everybody, right?

Oh, you won't wear a FM? Oh. Okay. So, even if you do bother repeating all the questions and answers, even if you do summarise the discussion every few minutes, even if you do provide transcripts and captions, even if you do your job, I can't hear you do your job?

Oh, but wait! Here's the best part! You won't be talking much anyway!

hahahah lol bye
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:38 PM on September 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


(Yep. I'm bitter. Please don't match my bitterness against the strongest coffee in the world, because I'll win. Not even a contest.)
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:39 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


CBC has released a statement by the professor. She says that she is supposed to be notified 2 weeks in advance of the class, and blames student services for not contacting her ahead of time, and says she offered to work with him and the universities technical department on the issue. However, the student has produced emails that were sent to her and unanswered 2 weeks before the class. She also says that it is a video heavy class, and her wearing a transmitter would be problematic, since the student would still miss all the video content.
posted by Canageek at 8:42 AM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was about to link her statement (the CBC didn't attach it), which is impressively self-serving and hard to believe -- ignoring the lies about not being informed, she keeps wavering between "It's my religion!" and "What you want wouldn't work anyhow, I know better than you do! How could someone be able to have a face to face conversation but not able to hear someone lecturing from much farther away? It's a mystery!"
posted by jeather at 8:53 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow. I think this is a textbook example of "Better to keep your mouth shut and have plenty of people think you're an asshole, then open your mouth and prove it."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:26 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


God, the way every sentence of Panjabi's statement and interview is designed to portray her as serene and righteous and just and merciful and Sears as mendacious and ungracious and abrupt and rigid is just so awful. It's a perfect example of what I was taught to call "rhetorical violence," where you use the structures of your statements and phrasing as a way to damage your opponent in a debate. The fact that she even casts him as an opponent is pretty strong evidence that she's being very heavily ableist here.

I mean, what, she's surprised that someone with a hearing impairment could have a face-to-face conversation in a quiet room from a distance of a few feet, but would need accommodation for a lecture or discussion from 10 or 20 feet away with significant background noise? And she wants to trumpet that ignorance as proof of how GOOD she is? Faugh.
posted by KathrynT at 1:27 PM on September 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


"I cannot imagine why he walked out of the room!"

[provides proof as to exactly why]

"It's a MYSTERY!"

There is a hell of a lot of rhetorical violence going on there in that statement of hers. My favourite for how tired and trite it is: While Mr. Sears rebuffed any discussion with me - discussion that would have resolved this matter satisfactorily - he proceeded to provide his version - which regretfully displayed flashes of selective amnesia - to every media source that he could garner.

I can't imagine how anyone would be able to see that her classroom would have been a violently microaggressive environment and protect themselves by walking out on her and dropping it instead of choosing to work with such a gracious, giving individual. I just cannot fathom. It's beyond me. I must be having a flash of selective amnesia.
posted by E. Whitehall at 6:25 PM on September 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


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