Members of the Universities Canada association voted Wednesday in favor of a new criterion for membership related to nondiscrimination.
The new criterion approved by more than two-thirds of members present at the association’s fall meeting states: “With respect to all institutional policies and practices, the institution affirms its commitment to equal treatment of all persons without discrimination, on the basis of race, religious beliefs, color, gender, physical or mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, family status, sex, and sexual orientation, or other grounds identified in applicable human rights law.”
Prospective Universities Canada members must immediately meet the new criterion, while existing members have until 2020 to make any changes necessary to meet it.
Helen Murphy, a spokeswoman for Universities Canada, said the addition of the criterion was not prompted “by any one incident or issue. Rather, the board believes that this new criterion reflects the views and principles of a majority of our members and Canadians. The decision of our membership demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion by Canada’s universities.”
A statement on the association’s website prior to the vote said that, if the criterion were to be adopted, “member institutions could not have policies, processes or codes of conduct that discriminate based on ‘protected grounds’ -- for example, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or color.” It further noted, however, that “the intention is not to restrict member institutions from hiring protocols aligned with their specific university mission. For example, it would not restrict a Francophone institution from hiring French-speaking faculty and staff, or a faith-based institution from hiring faculty and staff who are part of their faith community.”
But what about other policies, such as language in a “community covenant” at Trinity Western University, a Christian university in British Columbia, that stipulates that members of the university community will voluntarily abstain from, among other things, “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”?
Asked about this specific policy, Murphy of Universities Canada deferred to the association's board: “With respect to any specific university policy, it will be the role of our Board of Directors to apply the institutional review policy in any case raised and make a recommendation, if necessary, to the membership. Any recommendation to remove an institution from membership would require approval by two-thirds of members present for a vote,” she said.
In a statement, Trinity Western’s president said he believes the university is in compliance with the new membership criterion. “We’ve been aware of the possibility of a bylaw change for some time,” Bob Kuhn, the president, said in a written statement. “Trinity Western University has always had a clear commitment to complying with all applicable human rights laws. Universities Canada’s new bylaw is informed by these laws, which make allowances for faith-based and other specialized institutions. We believe we comply with the new bylaw, and we will remain a valued member of Universities Canada as we have for more than 32 years.”
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