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Editorial: Bad karma

An incident between a hearing-impaired student and a professor that arose out of Memorial University this week had many people voicing their complaints and opinions on human rights and religious freedoms.

But while the case certainly has its share of contentious issues, what it really comes down to is policy and money.

William Sears, a 20-year-old student, was set to take a history course taught by Ranee Panjabi. But when Sears asked Panjabi to wear a sound-transmitting device that would allow him to hear better, the professor refused, citing religious reasons.

Apparently Panjabi made the same refusal to a student nearly two decades ago, and disability advocates are shocked that it’s surfaced again.

The CBC reported Thursday the university forgot about an agreement it reached with the professor in 1996 accommodating her request not to wear the electronic device until this case cropped up. Leon Mills, executive director of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association Newfoundland and Labrador, said during the 1996 incident Panjabi said something to the effect that the electronic signal from the device interfered with her personal karma.

Sears ended up dropping Panjabi’s class in what MUN called an “accommodation” for the student.

We certainly won’t claim to be educated enough about religious beliefs to know whether Panjabi’s objections to wearing the device are valid. A professor should no more be denied what they deem to be a personal religious practice any more than a student should be discriminated against because of a disability.

So where is the line drawn?

That’s where the money and the policy come in. Sears is paying money to attend the classes he wants to attend, whereas Panjabi is being paid to teach.

It was Mills who said it best — the professor isn’t doing their job and the paying student is the one who suffers for it.

Remove both the religious and disability aspects from the equation and, any way you look at it, that’s wrong.

Let’s hope officials at Memorial University recognize the quandary this has created and bring policies out of the dark ages.  

The university is allowing its employees to trump the needs of the students who help pay their salaries. That’s bad karma, and bad news.

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