A story on whether tertiary students should have a "right" to wear the burqa.
This is always a tricky one. I don't support the ban on face-obscuring clothing, which includes and is obviously aimed at the burqa, recently introduced in France. I don't generally think that governments should have the power to tell us what we can and cannot wear in ordinary public places. In that limited sense, yes, I do support the right to wear a burqa.
But should educational institutions be in the same position as the government? I don't think so. I think that it should be open to educational institutions at least to set some basic standards for dress in class - standards that I would not want governments to set for the public streets.
E.g., some students turn up in rather skimpy clothing on hot days in the summer, and I've never had a problem with it as a teacher, but surely common sense tells us that there is some limit before a class is disrupted. It's going to very difficult conducting a class if, let's say, someone turns up completely naked. It's fair enough for a teacher or an institution not to accept it ... not on any puritanical grounds but simply for the practical reason that it will, in the real world, be disruptive.
Turning up in a burqa may not be quite so disruptive, but it's going to be difficult holding a conversation with someone whose face is totally covered, making communication through her facial expressions impossible. We do this with telephone calls, of course (unless we use Skype), so it's not totally impossible to talk to someone whose face is covered. But nor is it totally impossible talking to someone who happens to be naked. Not totally impossible, but not optimal in the context of, say, a tutorial on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
It seems to me that institutions get to make discretionary judgments about what, under current circumstances, is going to cause undue difficulties in the classroom. Perhaps they should err on the side of being inclusive, if they can ... allowing, say, dental floss bikinis, Nazi uniforms, motorbike helmets, and burqas.
Perhaps. But not necessarily.
It's their decision to make. It's not a matter of political rights.