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.