Religious Accommodation: Examination Scheduling – in Canada!

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Discussion by: EnthusiasticAtheist
As I have indicated in other posts (some published some yet to be), I work at a very prominent Canadian University as administrative support staff.  Recently I was informed of the following policy at my institution and I don’t know what to do about it:

Religious Accommodation:
Examination Scheduling


The
University acknowledges that, due to the pluralistic nature of the University
community, some students may, on religious grounds, require alternative times
to write tests and examinations. Accordingly, a student who requires an
alternative test or examination on religious grounds should consult with the
Associate Dean of the Faculty offering the course. Such a request must be made
within one week of the announcement of the test or examination date. For
students in courses taught at the University Colleges, the Dean or Head of the
University College exercises the responsibilities of the Associate Dean in
these procedures in cases where there is no Dean.

The Registrar acts as advocate for students when such
problems come to his attention.

What bothers me about this (aside from the obvious) is a major academic institution, recognized world-wide for Engineering, Science, Nano-technology to name only a few, is the statement that the University Community is pluralistic and exceptions should be made for their beliefs.  As an atheist I will not receive the same benefit if I decide that it’s too cold for me to attend my exam or I’m just too tired to write it at 9 in the morning, but someone who believes in fairy tales can be excused and have their exam not only re-scheduled, but an entirely different exam must be prepared for them so that they don’t get the answers from someone who wrote it before them!

While we may not be considered as secular in Canada as far as our politics are concerned (and I’ve got even some issues with that lately too)  I’ve been noting a trend in our media and educational institutions to head in a less secular direction and I’m afraid!!  Maybe the religious right wing of the U.S. have decided they’ve done their job there and are moving on into my country?

As an employee who needs and enjoys my job, how do I speak out against this and should I?

19 COMMENTS

  1. I really wouldn’t bother on this one. As a life long atheist brought up a cultural christian I wouldn’t want an exam on christmas day when the rest of my family and freinds are enjoying christmas. When a policy denies certain individuals rights I might protest but this policy is only positive. Would you really want to change it just to score a point for atheism.
    I also speak as someone whose birthday falls bang in the middle of the exam period. Through out my teens birthday and celibrate were two words i couldn’t connect.

  2. How many different religions and different cult days are included in these special arrangements? I’m sure there are enough to bring the education system to a halt if they were all claimed by some faith-head, at an enormous cost to the education system – and the public piggy bank.

    Our country is so proud of, and politically compliant to, our Official Multiculturalism that we are unwilling to assert our Canadian National Identity – perhaps because we don’t really have one that we can encourage our immigrants to assimilate into.

    This is exasperated by not being a constitutionally secular nation, along with having a creationist Prime Minister and some other faith-infected politicians, plus we have our never-ending anglophone-francophone provincial divisiveness that was/is mainly sectarian….

    I hope the next pope isn’t that Quebec Cardinal, because then our growing secular population will never hear the end of it – including all the Canadians who have been exiting the crumbling RCC…. Mac.

  3. At my university in Australia you can get a supplementary examination (ie another exam usually three weeks after the main exam) if you are representing the university in sport. That’s because in Australia sport is a religion! We also allow supplementary exams if your exam clashes with a religious or major cultural event.

    As for the entirely new exam we have to write that anyway as there are almost always students with a medical problem or who get a supplementary exam on academic grounds — they get a mark in the rang 45-49 percent, or some general compassionate grounds. So while I understand you concern on the basis of principle if your university works like mine there is no extra work involved except perhaps a few more applications to process.

    Michael

  4. During a final medical exam I was supervising, I escorted a Moslem student out of the exam so he (by arrangement with the university), could pray for about 10 minutes in a quite corner of a corridor. He was not allowed any compensating time for this, but completed the exam anyway. He is probably a junior doctor now.

  5. I wouldn’t ‘speak out’ against this, no. It’s hard enough for students to meet their study deadlines and be confident to take their crucial tests than to have pressure also applied to them through the disruption of their religious observance (which means social and familial pressure). I think the dispensation is a good gesture designed to allow everyone the same chances, and that it shows a sensitivity and understanding attitude on the part of the university. The problem you’re having vis a vis fairy tales is an issue you have with religion per se, and I suspect not a personal issue with your personal awareness of seeing that students can be overtly religious (because that would be discriminatory). I therefore am surprised that you would want to say ‘tough luck welcome to reality’ to them at precisely that moment when they’re trying their absolute best for their future (and that of society).

    As you can see there’s a clear liberal remedy for your worry – focus on critiquing religion, but don’t focus on using your influence to discriminate against the religious.

  6. I have to agree with jjbircham. Many holidays have a religious basis but have become widely observed and valued cultural holidays. As an agnostic-y atheist, I love celebrating Christmas. I enjoy giving gifts, having a Christmas tree. I wouldn’t care for an atheist to decide that I had to go to school or to work on Christmas Day. If a university denies one group their holiday, why should it permit any historically religious holiday observances whatsoever? I find, listening to debates and arguments, that attempts to eradicate all references to cultural things with a religious history makes theists more defensive and dedicated to their positions. Progress will be made by making reasoned points without trying to deny anyone their right to observe their holidays and other non-harmful traditions.

  7. The thing is that they won’t even show up for the exam if it’s on their holy day. Do you think a traditionalist Muslim family would allow their 20 year old daughter to go to the university that day ? Religion can ruin a student’s life on a stroke of bad luck like that, but your university is smarter than that.

  8. I happen to be an atheist growing up in a religious home. If there were no such accommodations, I would have no hopes of taking any standardized tests.
    You should also keep in mind that, incidentally, atheists are a minority of the world population. Common sense dictates the religious guys should get accommodations.

  9. I’m guessing that jjbircham has never been involved in teaching at a university, so s/he isn’t aware of the considerable time and effort involved in writing an examination paper and a set of model answers, getting them checked by a colleague, then sending them to the external examiner — another colleague, but at a different university — whose job is to both check for errors and to confirm that the exam maintains the academic standards of your university. And all of these checks and double-checks are repeated during the marking and grading of the answer papers.

    Why is this an issue? Because if you allow a student to sit the exam on a different day to the rest of the class, then you CANNOT re-use the same exam. You must write two separate papers, and both must go through this rigorous and time-consuming process to ensure fairness to all of the students.

    Now imagine that a student asks for an exemption for all of his/her exams, because they coincide with an extended religious or cultural festival such as Christmas or Ramadan or (and this actually happened to me) Orthodox Easter. You and your colleagues may have to write two papers for every class that student is taking. That could be six or eight exams, which makes a lot of extra work for you and a dozen or more of your already-busy colleagues.

    • In reply to #10 by DavidHarper:

      I’m guessing that jjbircham has never been involved in teaching at a university, so s/he isn’t aware of the considerable time and effort involved in writing an examination paper and a set of model answers, getting them checked by a colleague, then sending them to the external examiner — another colleague, but at a different university — whose job is to both check for errors and to confirm that the exam maintains the academic standards of your university. And all of these checks and double-checks are repeated during the marking and grading of the answer papers.

      How much of this you do depends a bit on the particular country. In Australia we do all the above but not the external check.

      Why is this an issue? Because if you allow a student to sit the exam on a different day to the rest of the class, then you CANNOT re-use the same exam. You must write two separate papers, and both must go through this rigorous and time-consuming process to ensure fairness to all of the students.

      Again whether this is a problem depends on how you run things. In Australia we do a “supplementary” exam anyway for people who have non-religious reasons for not being able to do the primary exam. That includes: medical conditions, compassionate reasons, sporting and cultural events, academic reasons (anyone in the range 45-49 gets another go) etc. So we have already written the second exam and adding religious people to the list (which we do) is no big deal.

      Now imagine that a student asks for an exemption for all of his/her exams, because they coincide with an extended religious or cultural festival such as Christmas or Ramadan or (and this actually happened to me) Orthodox Easter. You and your colleagues may have to write two papers for every class that student is taking. That could be six or eight exams, which makes a lot of extra work for you and a dozen or more of your already-busy colleagues.

      Like I said above it depends. I’m not sure what the routine is in Canada.

      Michael

      • In reply to #11 by mmurray:

        Again whether this is a problem depends on how you run things. In Australia we do a “supplementary” exam anyway for people who have non-religious reasons for not being able to do the primary exam. That includes: medical conditions, compassionate reasons, sporting and cultural events, academic reasons (anyone in the range 45-49 gets another go) etc. So we have already written the second exam and adding religious people to the list (which we do) is no big deal.

        I would seem to me that anyone wishing to opt out of a university exam for religious reasons, or other extenuating circumstances, should simply do the re-sit a few weeks later – along with those who had medical reasons, or failed in their first attempt!

        • In reply to #12 by Alan4discussion:

          In reply to #11 by mmurray:

          Again whether this is a problem depends on how you run things. In Australia we do a “supplementary” exam anyway for people who have non-religious reasons for not being able to do the primary exam. That includes: medical conditions, compassionate reasons, sporting and cultural events, academic reasons (anyone in the range 45-49 gets another go) etc. So we have already written the second exam and adding religious people to the list (which we do) is no big deal.

          I would seem to me that anyone wishing to opt out of a university exam for religious reasons, or other extenuating circumstances, should simply do the re-sit a few weeks later – along with those who had medical reasons, or failed in their first attempt!

          That’s how we work it except fails not good enough it has to be fail greater than 44.

    • // Now imagine that a student asks for an exemption for all of his/her exams, because they coincide with an extended religious or cultural festival such as Christmas or Ramadan or (and this actually happened to me) Orthodox Easter. You and your colleagues may have to write two papers for every class that student is taking. That could be six or eight exams, which makes a lot of extra work for you and a dozen or more of your already-busy colleagues.//

      Now, imagine if a student lost his father, mother, sister, child, wife on different days, in which out of sheer misfortune just so happens during all of his exam dates for the semester. You and your colleagues may have to write two papers for every class that student is taking. That could be six or eight exams, which makes a lot of extra work for you and a dozen or more of your already-busy colleagues! I mean the dude’s family members are dead already, and they’re over there wasting all their time with ridiculous rituals and pageantries, and making us poor teachers work so hard out here in the coal mines, in the cold of winter.

      It could happen, and that’s exactly why it’s requested that we imagine it, though it’s highly unlikely, as the fictive scenario you wrote about above. If you faced such a dilemma it would be one thing, but to confront us with these ridiculous and unlikely hypothetical scenarios is silly.

      • In reply to #15 by the mouse:

        Now, imagine if a student lost his father, mother, sister, child, wife on different days, in which out of sheer misfortune just so happens during all of his exam dates for the semester. You and your colleagues may have to write two papers for every class that student is taking. That could be six or eight exams, which makes a lot of extra work for you and a dozen or more of your already-busy colleagues! I mean the dude’s family members are dead already, and they’re over there wasting all their time with ridiculous rituals and pageantries, and making us poor teachers work so hard out here in the coal mines, in the cold of winter.

        It could happen, and that’s exactly why it’s requested that we imagine it, though it’s highly unlikely, as the fictive scenario you wrote about above. If you faced such a dilemma it would be one thing, but to confront us with these ridiculous and unlikely hypothetical scenarios is silly.

        Actually far more likely in a large class is they just get sick for a week.

        Michael

  10. As for speaking up, I would only point out the room for abusing this new “right”. I mean there are so many ways to be dishonest within this set up (I know, I know, religious folks are NEVER dishonest because their book tells them not to lie).

    Anyway, the way administration functions in my experience is that they take the path of least resistance. Whatever decision impacts them the least. So, unless there is a big outcry, your lone voice will do nothing other than possibly make you enemies that you do not need in places that can impact you.

  11. I’m sure that Enthusiastic Atheist feels very strongly about this, but it really boils down to a “storm-in-a-teacup” type of situation. Try not to sweat the small stuff EA. I agree that, being a Canadian, a lot of stuff in government gives me pause to be concerned about the future of my country, but the signs are encouraging that democracy will outlive our present harpocratic regime.

  12. There is a simple solution for this problem… Give everybody a few possibillitys, everybody. Not only the religious ones. When I was a christian teenager, it was for me a problem that the theacher asked: ‘Everybody have to be silence for a moment, because she want to pray. I asked the teacher to stop this. I didn’t like it. So: not every religious person want special rights!

  13. Does the university have data on the students’ religion? They could use to inform them on religious festivals. I’d be upset if someone arranged an exam on Christmas day but common sense dictates that this would never happen. I do understand your point, but why arrange an exam during Eid if there are a lot of Muslim students?
    It seems to make sense to arrange the exam on a date this doesn’t fall in the first place, rather than recreating another exam. Of course mistakes happen and this might not always be possible, so I think the university did the right thing in posting this, just to cover their own backs.

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