In 2015, William Sears, a Memorial University student with a hearing disability, encountered a conflict with Professor Ranee Panjabi after she refused to wear an FM-transmitting microphone, citing religious beliefs. Sears then dropped the course and challenged the university’s handling of the case at the NL Human Rights Commission (HRC). In a recent update, Sears won the case and received $10,000 in damages.
While the HRC affirmed that the university should have foreseen this conflict and ensured that Sears received his accommodations, this decision came seven years after the incident. Sears has since graduated, and Dr. Panjabi has retired. The university is also appealing the HRC’s decision and the fine.
Due to her religious beliefs, Dr. Panjabi signed an agreement with the university in 1996 following a similar student discrimination complaint that allowed her not to wear an FM-transmitting device, protecting her from such conflicts. According to CBC, the Blundon Centre failed to inform Dr. Panjabi of Sears’ accommodation requirement.
MUNSU Students With Disabilities Representative Colby Squire commented on the recent developments in this case. “The time it took to resolve this case – seven years – is way too long. There has to be a better way to resolve this issue. Giving students accommodations is their right. Taking away their accommodations is taking away their right to education.” Squire said, “It is understandable that in 1996 there was some confusion about disabilities. That was over 25 years ago, and we’ve come a long way since. The Blundon Centre process to apply for accommodations is much more straightforward.”
According to Squire, the university appealing the $10,000 fine is “out of pure greed.” “With all the tuition hikes, it is very frustrating for many students to see their tuition being increased and MUN using this money to hire lawyers and go to court. We believe the money can be used in much better ways—the $10,000 paid in fines could have been easily used to cover the accommodations of many students.”
Squire said, “The university should be ashamed of appealing the decision, because I, for one, don’t believe it should have to go to court in the first place. These [accommodations] are quite simply the rights of the student, and they should honour them. It is disheartening to see that the university seemingly doesn’t care about students with disabilities.”
Squire also detailed the process for students with disabilities to request accommodations today, using the MUN Students Union as support. “If you request accommodations and contact the Blundon Centre, they set them up. If a professor does not allow these accommodations (like in this case), the director of advocacy, contact Jawad Chowdhury. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The Student Union’s Memorial Disability Information Support Centre (MUN DISC) at the University Centre is also a resource for students with disabilities to discuss their issues. If students have any requests for accommodations or suggestions to make the campus more accessible, they can contact Colby Squire at email@example.com.