The influence of religion on University life


I am unashamedly a fan of the separation of Religion and State, as per the US Constitution. In my life at University, I have felt uncomfortable when certain religious practices or traditions are loosely enmeshed with university life. Ironically, I’d prefer to see University as a secular home of enquiry. As a home, it could also provide facilities for its inhabitants. Therefore, a ski group, a soccer club, rooms for worship, a gymnasium and swimming pool, are all extras which are nice, but by no means mandatory.

Just before Xmas, our central office is decked out with Xtian imagery. This is inappropriate. This is a central office. It was not designated as a public manifestation of the celebratory imagery associated with a conspicuous time of the year. Privately, if a staff member wishes to involve the trappings of their beliefs or otherwise in their office, then as long as its their own private property and is not a reasonable cause for students or fellow staff feeling reluctant to enter that office for consultation, I do not object.

Last Friday, our morning tea consisted of hot cross buns. Given most people in our Department are comfortable with that, it of course doesn’t concern me. I obviously didn’t go and for 20+ years have never partaken in morning tea apart from having a cup of tea. Eating Kosher food is my private affair and I don’t expect the University to service my need.

Consider, this development. It disturbs me.

Professor Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, said the selling of alcohol was an issue of “cultural sensitivity” at his institution where a fifth of students are Muslim.

Speaking to a conference of university administrators in Manchester, he said that for many students, drinking alcohol was “an immoral experience”.

“Because there is no majority ethnic group [at London Metropolitan], I think [selling alcohol] is playing to particular parts of our society much more [than to others],” he was reported as saying in the Times Higher Education magazine.

He said he saw little reason for the university to subsidise a student bar on campus when there were “at least half a dozen pubs within 200m”.

He told the Guardian the makeup of his institution had changed considerably over the past few decades. In the past it had been “substantially Anglo Saxon – now 20% of our students are Muslim,” he said.

“We therefore need to rethink how we cater for that 21st-century balance. For many students now, coming to university is not about having a big drinking experience. The university bar is not as used as it used to be.”

Gillies also told the conference that universities needed to be more cautious in their portrayal of sex than in the past.

“We’ve got a younger generation that are often exceedingly conservative, and we need to be much more cautious about sex too,” he said. Many female Muslim students were taken to university by a close male relative. “Their student experience is going to be different from someone who is gorging out in the Chocoholics Society or someone who is there to have a … libidinous time.

If I was a Muslim, and people were drinking at a University event, then I could either choose not to drink, or not attend. There is no reason whatsoever for others not to engage in their normal practices. It is ridiculous to wake up all of a sudden and claim there are pubs 100-200 meters away when that has always been the case. There is a bar at our University which sells cut price bear on Thursday afternoon. We are in the Central Business District. Should it be closed down because people can go across the road?

These are very dangerous moves. They impinge not on the freedom of Muslims to adhere to their own religion, but on the rights of others to act in a way which the law specifically permits and ought to protect.

14 comments

  1. The British Asian Blog · April 16, 2012

    Are there any benefits of ‘not drinking’ on the campus? I can think of many.

    • pitputim · April 16, 2012

      I can think of reasons not to have lots of things at University. Are you advocating that Universities become the moral guardians of their students with a mandate to protect them from themselves? Universities are there to educate according to the programs that are delivered. Various clubs and organisations exist so that students can choose to use them should they wish to network and make friends with fellow students. There are clubs for lesbians and homosexuals. Should they be banned because it might be offensive to students from Mecca and Medina? The bottom line is that we are governed by laws which are formed via democratically elected governments. Those laws should be the only arbiter of what is and is not fair game at a public University. It’s that simple. Would you be happy with a University that decided that because there were so many Australians whose parents had fought in World War 2, that there could not be a Japanese Club on campus as this would ignite old wounds and ferment friction?

      • The British Asian Blog · April 16, 2012

        In all honesty, I couldn’t careless who got offended by what was happening on the campus, be it a Muslim for Alcohol, be it an average person for smoking on premises or be it a Jew for campaigns highlighting the oppression in Palestine – it simply does not bother me.

        But, much the same way smoking has been banned on the campus (this actually has happened in case you missed it) on the grounds of ‘student health’, drinking alcohol ‘can’ be considered the same way.

        A fellow student, during my first year at the University, died due to a deadly cocktail of spirits he drank at the campus to celebrate another friends birthday. Yes, admittedly this is an extreme case but let’s face it, taking aside the offending issues, there are serious concerns around students and their drinking habits.

        • pitputim · April 16, 2012

          Let me make it simpler for you. It’s not illegal to drink. Point 1.
          Point 2. Re-read the article. It’s about Islam not health.

          • The British Asian Blog · April 16, 2012

            Indeed, and neither is it about lesbians, homosexuals, Mecca, Medina, Australians, World War 2, or about Japanese as you so clearly highlighted in your comments.

            • pitputim · April 16, 2012

              So you agree it is misplaced then

            • The British Asian Blog · April 16, 2012

              What is misplaced is that the Muslims requested such action to be take place. I see you shake your head, well I’d like you to read the following:

              http://loonwatch.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/another-fake-story-about-muslims-demanding-special-treatment/

              We can then continue.

            • pitputim · April 16, 2012

              Again you have chosen to read things into my post as opposed to reading my post. Were you read it carefully, you would see that the story precipitated a view that I held and still hold. You will notice I also gave examples from Xtianity.

              However, so that you don’t labour under the misapprehension that all is well and good and that everything critical of Islam is a lie (as per that blog you cross posted) allow me to tell you something I experienced in my own University.

              Our University purposely built a new multifaith room. It was designed to be bookable by anyone who wanted to pray as a group or otherwise, or meditate etc. Muslim students would not accept this. They demanded their own room, such that other faiths would never be able to book that room. After 3 months of protests, where the Muslim students prayed in the lane running through the University, the University relented. This was a most unfortunate capitulation.

              It’s as laughable as the so called ‘prayer room’ at Singapore airport. Try and walk in there and you will notice that it is just a small mosque. I end up praying in the nearby non enclosed “spot” reserved for meditation where all and sundry observe me in my phylacteries and prayer shawl.

              By the way, I have been critical of my University for over-servicing Xtians in their clergical spiritual staff. It was I who argued that they needed to also have a swami and Buddhist on hand so that there was equanimity of access for other faiths. Don’t fall into the trap of populist agendas, but equally don’t fall for propagandist apologetics.

            • The British Asian Blog · April 16, 2012

              I don’t defend or criticise any religion, but I respect the truth and the truth must always be told irrelevant of its consequences. I often find, people are very quick to make their opinion based on information that is available to them, and let’s face it – we hardly check the information to determine its authenticity. I actually did write a post about this very subject, but decided not to post it on my blog. I have my reasons. I also recognise that extremism doesn’t always exist in one particular religion or in those who originate from one part of the world.
              Zones where alcohol is banned is a social argument, one which puts the wellbeing and health of individual first. If a religion has similar understanding of this intoxicant then trying to connect the dots and spread dis-information is extremism of another form.
              We talk about Mosques and what happens inside them, but worst is said in local pubs and clubs about coloured people, about Jew’s or Pakistanis. Muslims may not go into pubs they have their reasons, and this is the same for Jew’s and for those people who faith or morals are of similar nature.

            • pitputim · April 16, 2012

              We are going around in circles. The point is not to deny there are those who don’t approve of drinking for SOCIAL reasons. The point is that a University does not make rules designed for social reasons for their student bodies and organisations UNLESS those decisions are illegal. Think about it.

  2. Ben · April 16, 2012

    Quite a few muslims, “frei out” after arriving in places such as UK, Australia etc. Kol sheken those born there.
    So although there may be 20% muslems, there would probably be alot less non drinking ones.

  3. Pingback: An open letter to Professor Malcolm Gillies – the Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University. Posted on April 24, 2012 by succo | BattlePage
  4. Gert · April 16, 2012

    What is your problem with davening in the prayer room at Singapore Airport? I found it quite parev, and the green arrow on the ceiling and the luach zmanim on the back wall were actually useful. It may not differ functionally from a mosque, but that doesn’t make it one; it makes sense that it should be laid out to cater to its most frequent users.

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