Published May 2, 2013
More than 150 members of the UB and broader Western New York communities have weighed in on a proposed academic calendar revision recommended by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee that would include the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as recognized class days.
The UB administration had sought the input before making a decision on the proposal.
Faculty, staff, students and members of the broader community provided their questions, concerns and observations via online comment forms in the UB Reporter and My UB.
Many of those offering feedback noted that holding classes on the Jewish holy days would reflect negatively on the university and pose a severe hardship for Jewish students, faculty and staff—many of whom travel to observe the days with their families—and force them to choose between religion and academic success. Many students and faculty chose to attend and work at UB because the university has not held classes on these days, and it may affect recruitment of Jewish faculty and students, they said.
“If you choose to change the academic calendar and disregard these two major holidays, you will give prospective students and professors a reason to go elsewhere,” said a UB alumnus.
A second-year occupational therapy student noted that in making the final decision on a college, “UB stood out because of its large Jewish population. Having a strong Jewish background, this aspect attracted me because of the observance of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.”
Others said that not holding classes on the Jewish holy days is disruptive to academic instruction, particularly for recitations, studios, laboratory classes and lectures that are scheduled only once a week.
“I fully support holding classes on the Jewish holy days. The current schedule is disruptive to the academic week and promotes a sense of favoring a religion,” one respondent said.
But another pointed out that the number of faculty and students who are absent to observe the holy days “are sure to be nearly as ‘disruptive’ to class continuity as not holding classes at all.”
Other respondents said that holding classes on these holy days would be disrespectful of and discriminate against the Jewish population.
“If you make this change, I consider [it] a tacit endorsement by UB of Christianity, unless you plan on holding class on Christmas and Easter as well,” an alumnus said.
A former student added: “It would send a message to current and potential Jewish students (as well as the Jewish community in Western New York) that UB is not a welcoming place for them.”
Many noted that at a public institution such as UB, there should be a clear separation between church and state.
“Our academic calendar should not formally cancel classes on religious holidays unless those holidays are also national holidays (such as Christmas),” a respondent said.
Another added: “UB is a state school, and as such should not observe any religious holidays. If they choose to observe some, they should observe all.”
Others said that UB must put into place clear accommodation policies so that, in keeping with New York State law, students, staff and faculty who are absent to observe religious holy days can do so with no negative consequences.
“It is too much to ask the university to suspend classes for all these Jewish holidays, but the university must adopt a clear, explicit policy that requires all professors and teachers to accommodate the religious holidays of students,” a respondent said.
A final decision on the calendar is expected to be made by the end of the month by President Satish K. Tripathi, in consultation with Provost Charles F. Zukoski.
Any change to the calendar would apply only to the undergraduate and graduate calendars; the law, medical and dental schools follow their own approved calendars.
I firmly believe that this change will negatively impact the university's ability to attract and retain Jewish faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students. This issue speaks to the overall climate and degree of felt support that members of the UB Jewish community can expect. I appreciate the concerns for equity, but religious parity will never be obtained unless the winter break is scheduled to not accommodate Christmas. I hope that the administration will realize the potential hardship and harm this change will create for members of the UB Jewish community.