Nfld. & Labrador

Hard-of-hearing student files Human Rights complaint against Memorial University

William Sears, the Memorial University student who was forced to drop a course because the professor refused to wear a sound-transmitting device, says he wants disciplinary action to be taken.

MUN student with hearing disability speaks out about professor refusing to wear a sound-transmitting device

7 years ago
Duration 2:04
MUN student, William Sears has a hearing disability. He's upset that one of his professors, Ranee Panjabi refused to wear a sound-transmitting device during a lecture due to religious beliefs.

William Sears, the St. John's university student who was forced to drop a course because the professor refused to wear a sound-transmitting device, has filed a complaint against Memorial University with the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.

Sears filed the complaint Friday afternoon. The university will be served the complaint on Monday.

Once the complaint is served, mediation can begin.

Sears, 20, a third-year history major at Memorial University, told CBC News earlier this week that professor Ranee Panjabi would not wear an FM transmitter system that he needs to hear what's going on in the History of Espionage course he was enrolled in.

Sears said Panjabi cited religious reasons when explaining why she wouldn't accommodate the student. In a similar incident in 1996, Panjabi — who has declined CBC's interview requests this week — said that wearing the device would confict with her Hindu beliefs. 

Once she walks through the doors of Memorial, her religion should not have an effect on the students that she teaches.- Morgan Sears

"I don't really feel that her refusal on religious grounds were genuine, I felt it was more of an excuse to not wear the FM system," Sears said in an interview.

"I really wanted to do that class, it was of personal interest to me and now I can't so it's stressful."

MUN students react to professor not wearing device for hearing impaired student

7 years ago
Duration 1:44
MUN students react to professor, Dr. Ranee Panjabi not wearing device for hearing impaired student

Memorial University revealed Thursday that an agreement struck with Panjabi in 1996 means the professor does not have to wear an FM transmitter to accommodate students with hearing impairments.

However, the university said current officials only learned of the 19-year-old accommodation on Wednesday.

MUN now says it regrets the situation and is examining the original agreement.

"We are exploring a range of accommodations to meet the needs of the student while respecting the rights of the professor teaching the class, including new communications technologies for hearing impaired students, examining alternative ways to deliver the academic content of the course, as well as other options," said deputy provost Cecilia Reynolds in an open letter.

"Considering it has been almost 20 years since the original accommodation agreement with the professor was made, we are examining the agreement," she wrote. 

"We are also taking steps to ensure a student does not undergo a similar experience in the future."

Sears is not satisfied with the university's response and is calling on MUN to discipline Panjabi.

Morgan Sears, his sister and a fellow student at Memorial, said she and her family will do whatever it takes so it doesn't happen again.

"I just want this to be better for him, I want this to be better for any else who comes after him," Morgan Sears told CBC News Thursday.

"Religious rights are a human right as well and I'm not discrediting that at all but once they become a hindrance to someone else's basic human rights such as the ability to obtain an education, then I think they should take a step back.

"This is her job. She is being paid to do this. Once she walks through the doors of Memorial, her religion should not have an effect on the students that she teaches."

Dr. Ranee Panjabi seen here in this file image from 1996, the last time CBC reported on her refusing to wear an assistive device. (CBC)

With files from Meghan McCabe and Todd O'Brien


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