The late Mary Daly, a militant feminist, was a long-time academic at Jesuit-run Boston College. She was a revered icon in the feminist movement, but largely unknown to the general public until, in the 1990s, a male student initiated a lawsuit against Boston for Daly’s attempt to exclude males from a Womens Studies course. Daly would not back down, the plaintiff was successful in his suit, and Daly “retired” as a result.
This was of course the correct outcome to that case. How can any tax-funded institution of higher learning exclude any student from a course on the basis of his sex? But if we can agree on that – and I am sure all reasonable people do – then how is it that in 2014, 20 years on and, one would assume 20 years more enlightened on equality issues, a Canadian college finds it acceptable that a professor is excluding a student on the basis of his religion?
Here is the back story as told to me in an interview with Moray Watson.
On Dec 27th, Watson was browsing the website of a London mosque – Watson, an atheist of Christian background, is a candid worrier about what he perceives as a growing threat of Islamism in London – and he saw an advertisement for a course, designed and to be taught by Huron’s Chair of Islamic Studies, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, “The Muslim Voice: Islamic Preaching, Public Speaking and Worship.” The course was open to the public, the only prerequisite being an undergraduate degree.
Watson immediately signed up to audit the course (the course was open for credit or audit at that time), because he was curious to know how “dawa” – preaching of Islam – would be practiced in London. He was the first person to sign up, and was accepted in an email from the Dean of Theology (the course was being offered under the auspices of the Faculty of Theology, not Islamic Studies).
On January 6, Watson showed up for the first session. There were seven students present, all but for him, it seemed apparent from appearance and class discussion, Muslim, and known to Dr. Mattson. Watson declared himself willing as an auditor to participate in all assignments except essays and exams. He did not dissemble regarding his motivation for auditing the course. He felt in fact that his presence would be valuable in that Islamic preachers would be speaking to non-Muslims like himself and his feedback to them would be helpful to their education.
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On Jan. 8 Watson received an email from Dr. Mattson, telling him the course was no longer open to auditing students, as more credit students had signed up, and that he was no longer welcome. She suggested he take another course she was teaching, “Islam and Politics,” which did not interest him.
On Jan. 9 Watson spoke to the Dean of Theology, who was sympathetic but declined to intervene. We must linger over this refusal, since the dean – Rev. Canon Todd Townsend – himself teaches a course in pastoral theology and welcomes non-Christians as students.
Moray Watson has a strong case for his accusation of discrimination against Huron College
Watson then appealed to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) who is charged with equity issues and offering help to students filing complaints. There he met a frosty reception. Not only, according to Watson, did the CAO support the exclusion, he told Watson that they were changing the course syllabus “because of me.” On Jan. 6, as handed out in the first class, the syllabus stated that it aimed to improve the skills and knowledge of those “engaging in public speaking about Islam.” But that was being changed – and by Jan. 30 was changed – to “engaging in public speaking about Islam on behalf of Muslim communities” (emphasis mine). Naturally, the changed syllabus automatically excluded Watson and all non-Muslims.
It should be noted that UWO’s own code of ethics precludes any inquiries into a student’s religion during interactions. So it would seem that, prima facie, 54-year old accountant Moray Watson has a strong case for his accusation of discrimination against Huron College.
Nobody, including Watson, has a problem with a course in public speaking about Islam being offered at a college if it is inclusive. He also has no problem with it being exclusive, but offered in a venue such as a mosque or a community centre or a seminary that is not tax-funded. It’s really quite a simple issue. Open up the course or shut it down.