UAlbany removes religious holidays from academic calendar
The University at Albany will be removing all religious holiday breaks from its academic calendar beginning next fall.
That means classes will be held on Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and the day following Easter.
The decision, first announced in a mass email from the Office of the Provost on Nov. 19, has had mixed reactions on campus, particularly from UAlbany’s Jewish population.
“I’m in a bit of a shock about it,” said junior Riva Taksir.
“It doesn’t seem like the school took into consideration the student opinion on the matter,” she added. “I feel bad primarily for students who chose SUNY Albany with the holidays in mind.”
The decision, the email said, would allow the university to adopt a five-year calendar plan which would allow for more consistent long-term planning.
“Simply put, this means the University will no longer suspend classes on religious holidays when state government is open for business,” the email read.
The Calendar Committee proposed the holiday removal at the beginning of the academic year.
The University Senate passed the proposal during a Nov. 12 meeting in a 29-7 vote, according to draft minutes, which have not officially been approved.
The new guidelines will incorporate a new fall break on a Monday and Tuesday in October, with dates yet to be determined.
The university consulted with stakeholders, including Interfaith Partners, Shabbos House, and Undergraduate Education prior to the decision.
Concerns were raised, particularly over why a fall recess would make more sense than continuing to have religious holidays off, according to a memo compiled by Karen Chico Hurst, the university’s registrar.
“The new Monday-Tuesday October recess is possible because it would be predictable from year to year and allow the campus to ensure that, combined with the Wednesday-Sunday Thanksgiving break, no single day of the week is disproportionately impacted by class suspensions,” the memo said in response.
Nomi Manon, Rabbi of Hillel, said, “I wasn’t surprised it passed because I know there are a lot of different perspectives that went into account when making this decision, but I know the Jewish students are disappointed. I’m disappointed too.”
Professors like Nancy Roberts, from the Department of Communication and Journalism expect scheduling classes to be easier under the change.
“It’s fine with me…It will affect my syllabus and schedule in a positive way,” Roberts said. “The current system means we start in late August, and then have a series of stop-and-go classes at the start of the fall semester, which has always made for a very fitful start.”
Helen Elam, associate professor in the English Department said, “My view—forego all religious holidays. As a matter of equal respect, if Jewish holidays, and Christian holidays, then I would think Muslim holidays and Indian holidays and Chinese holidays should count, and I am not sure how much time would be left for classes. I think the division of church and state from the foundation of the U.S. should incline academic calendars to secularization. And the new calendar will make for a steadier flow of classes and assignments.”
Andrew Knutson, a junior at UAlbany, said, “I think it’s time we stop all religious breaks. What people choose to do with their time is their own business. It shouldn’t affect anyone’s academic experience.”
But some Jewish students like Riva Taksir feel slighted.
“I’m in a bit of a shock about it. It doesn’t seem like the school took into consideration the student opinion on the matter.” Taskir, a junior, stated. “I feel bad primarily for students who chose SUNY Albany with the holidays in mind.”
“I feel bad for Hillel because they lost way more than we did,” said Reverend of Cornerstone Campus Ministry Sandy Damhof.
Despite the announcement, it appears not all the kinks have been worked out.
UAlbany currently adheres to section 224-A of the New York State Education Law, under Title IX, which states that no student can be expelled or refused admission due to missing days because of their religious beliefs.
But stakeholders have raised concerns over students reporting absences due to religious beliefs, according to the memo.
“Undergraduate and Graduate Education do not have a consistent process for students to report absences if they are not comfortable going directly to faculty or if faculty do not allow for accommodations,” the memo said.
Chico Hurst acknowledged the need for “a conduit for undergraduate and graduate students who are uncomfortable approaching faculty directly,” as well as for “policies for protecting students from individually declaring to professors their religious affiliation.”
A FAQ page the university created about the new calendar raises other concerns.
State law requires any student missing an exam or work assignment due to religious observation an equal opportunity to make it up.
But the webpage also suggests professors missing class for religious reasons “provide for a take home exam or assignment.”
It is not know how the university will handle the issue moving forward.
The university’s decision wasn’t without pushback.
Michelle Massarik, vice president of Hillel, began a petition in October calling on the university to preserve the Jewish holidays. Over 900 signatures have been gathered as of writing.
In light of the calendar change, Rabbi Manon said Hillel will create more robust programming for students who can no longer go home to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.