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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2008

York Agrees to Mediation over Class Cancellations

A professor’s 2006 complaint about York University’s practice of cancelling classes on Jewish holidays will proceed to mediation in mid-September, but the case may be more-or-less moot by that point.

David Noble, an outspoken pro­fessor in York’s Division of Social Science, filed his complaint against the university with the Ontario Hu­­man Rights Commission after pro­­testing for years that cancelling classes for Jewish holidays discri­minates against students of other faiths.

An investigator with the commis­sion found in March 2008 that the practice “clearly results in differen­tial treatment on the basis of creed.” The complaint was eventually re­ferred to hearing in front of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the first step in that pro­cess being mediation.

Somewhat ironically, although the parties to the complaint agreed by conference call on July 10 to the fall mediation date, York’s senate committee on curriculum and aca­de­mic standards had already in­de­pen­dent­ly recommended ending the prac­tice at a future date.

In a “proposed revision of senate policy on sessional dates and scheduling of examination,” dated June 26, and posted on the univer­sity web site, the committee summarily recommends that “only sta­tutory holidays will be recognized in setting class and exam schedules.”

The committee’s proposal will be reviewed by the senate this month.

York’s vice-president academic Sheila Embleton said she felt the proposal will likely be accepted after debate by the senate, but that any changes would not be made before September 2009 at the earliest.

The rationale for the proposed changes enumerated in the document makes no mention of Noble’s complaint, and Embleton said the committee’s reasons for proposing the changes had nothing to do with his case, but stemmed from a growing recognition of the di­versity of their students.

“We want to pay more attention to the student experience,” Em­ble­ton said, “which will mean a continuing policy of accommodating individuals with religious or medical needs, for example.”

Noble said he couldn’t be more pleased the case is proceeding to mediation, even in light of the proposed changes.

“We’ve won, but the case has two parts, the discrimination, and the issue of reprisals, which still needs to be addressed,” Noble said, adding that he intends to hold “classes as usual on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur” in the fall term.