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Campus News

Tripathi endorses religiously neutral academic calendar

By SUE WUETCHER

Published May 23, 2013

President Satish K. Tripathi has promulgated 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 calendar revision will take effect in the 2014-15 academic year.

“This calendar revision reflects the Faculty Senate Executive Committee’s recommendation that no religious holidays shall be designated as no-class days,” Tripathi said in an email sent today to vice presidents, deans and other campus leaders. “Further, these modifications of the fall calendar are intended to ensure greater continuity in the academic schedule and minimize course disruptions for students. The changes are consistent with practice at many of UB’s fellow public institutions, including many SUNY campuses. 

“It is important to note,” he added, “that under both university policy and New York State law, reasonable accommodation must be made for any student who is unable to attend a regularly scheduled class or exam because of religious observance, as well as for all employees in the workplace.”

Tripathi said that the 2014-15 academic calendars posted on the Office of the Registrar’s website will be updated this summer to reflect these changes. Moreover, the Office of the Provost will send to the academic units later this summer more detailed information regarding the campus community’s obligation to honor religious accommodation laws and policies.

READER COMMENTS

Does President Tripathi think that we are stupid? The UB academic calendar is not "religiously neutral" because it purposely has no classes on Sundays, Christmas and Easter. These are religious days recognized by Christianity, a religion, and not by Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other world religions. The reason UB has not had classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur has nothing directly to do with religion, but rather with the disruption -- missed classes, makeup exams -- having classes on these two Jewish religious holidays will cause for the 3,000 Jewish students and faculty at UB. By eliminating these holidays from the UB academic calendar, President Tripathi is causing great difficulty for registered students and faculty, and discouraging Jewish students from applying to UB when they can attend SUNY Binghamton, which continues to recognizes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as non-class days. If UB had thousands of Muslim students it would make perfect sense to accommodate the religious restrictions of such students, just as it makes sense not to have classes on Sundays, Christmas and Easter -- not because they are religious holidays, but because of the disruption this would cause many Christian students and faculty.  President Tripathi's decision represents a great setback for UB. The State of New York has by far the largest Jewish population of any state in the United States. Not only will it cause great disruption, it is insulting to Jewish students and faculty to pretend that the UB calender is "religiously neutral."  Actually, it is insulting to all students, faculty and alumni. I can only hope that President Tripathi will come to his senses. The executive committee of the Faculty Senate only makes recommendations to the president; the decision is his and his alone. A very sad decision for UB.

Richard Cohen

I guess now I have to put my money where my mouth is. Finally, somebody at UB had the courage to stand up to a small, elitist-thinking group within the Jewish community at UB.

 

I would like to support the University at Buffalo Foundation, but I cannot bring myself to donate money to a school that continues to actively favor one religious group, namely Jews, over all other religious groups. This bias continues to get promoted through days off from school and through advertisement on the school's official student calendar -- two luxuries that no other religious group currently enjoys.

 

I have complained about this bias to University at Buffalo administrators in the past, but the response I received only generated more questions. I was told that "only days that affect the school's calendar" are included on the actual calendar. Since "Christmas Day" is not on the school's calendar, for example, this shows that UB students do not get Dec. 25 off because of Christmas, but instead get Dec. 25 off because it falls under a "winter break" (as advertised on the school's calendar). If winter break is given because of Christmas, then the word "Christmas Day" (or "Christmas Break") needs to be written on the student calendar just like it is for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (they actually get advertised twice each). If, however, winter break has nothing to do with Christmas, then the question begs: Why are UB students being given Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off in the first place? 

 

This is especially bizarre when such a small percentage of UB students are Jewish, and even more bizarre when an even smaller percentage of Jewish students require a full day off to properly "celebrate" these two days.  Many Jewish people do not do much out of the ordinary on Rosh Hashanah, but even if Jewish students feel they need a full day off, they can tell their professors they will not be in that day just like other students who practice other religions do when they have a religious day they need to take off. Forcing all non-Jewish students at UB, as well as Jewish students who do not celebrate these two days, to take the day off is ridiculous and irresponsible. These two groups probably account for slightly over 90 percent of the student body.

 

Moreover, other days like Ramadan (the primary Muslim holiday) and Easter Sunday are not advertised on the calendar. The only fair way to handle this situation is the following: advertise every single religious day of every single religion on the school's calendar (not realistic), or do not advertise any religious holidays at all. If UB is going to continue to give students these two Jewish holidays off each year, the calendar -- to be religiously-neutral --  should just advertise "Fall Day: No Classes" with no mention of religion on these two days, just as it does for Dec. 25.  

 

Lastly, failing to recognize or even include on the calendar the three federal holidays of Columbus Day, Veteran's Day and President's Day is borderline un-American in my personal opinion. But failing to do this, while at the same time recognizing two Jewish religious holidays, shows a strong bias by a public school and is beyond anything responsible. Christmas is also a federal holiday. The school could very easily advertise these three federal holidays as "Columbus Day: Normal Class Schedule," for example.

 

As an active duty member of the U.S. Navy, the fact that UB won't even recognize Veteran's Day is something I find truly disturbing.

 

Many people I have discussed this issue with have a major problem but have told me they choose not to speak up due to a fear of being called anti-Semitic. As soon as the calendar changes, I will start donating money to UB Dental. Until then, I cannot! 

 

William Holzman, DDS

Mr. Cohen's arguments are massively flawed. To put Jews in this larger group of "persecuted" religions opposite Christians is totally deceptive on his part.  Let me explain: 

 

No religious group at UB has any of its holy days recognized on the student calendar or has days off except for Judaism. He needs to cut and paste the word Judaism out of that sentence and insert it with the word Christianity.  Jews are the only group that is afforded these two privileges at this state-run school. There are no days off for Hindus. There are no days off for Muslims. There are no days off for Christians -- Christians do not get Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday or the day after Easter Sunday off. We all know this. Do Christians get Christmas off? No, they actually do not.

 

Christians do not get Dec. 25 off as Christmas because the school's calendar policy is specific in that it does not advertise any days on the student calendar that do not directly affect the student calendar. I received this information directly from the school when I complained about this blatantly pro-Jewish, anti-non-Jewish discriminatory policy that has been going on for years at UB. Thus, not mentioning Christmas by name on the calendar confirms UB students do not get Dec. 25 off because it is Christmas.  No religion gets days off or an advertisement of their special days on the calendar except Jews. I will debate anyone on this subject because the school's policy cannot be refuted.

 

Moreover, nearly all universities have a policy that professors must reasonably accommodate religious days. So if a Muslim wants to take the first day of Ramadan off, he will be accommodated. If a Christian wants to take Ash Wednesday or Good Friday off, he will be accommodated. If a Jew wants to take off Sukkot or Shmini Atzeret, he will be accommodated. To attempt to argue that there will be "disruption" if school is held on these two Jewish days is an excessive irresponsible exaggeration.

 

If you think there are 3,000 Jews that go to UB, let's consider a few facts.  That would mean 15 percent of UB is Jewish. How you would know this is beyond me. Everyone knows that New York City has the most Jews, as far as a percentage of the population, at about 15 percent. If you think that UB has the same percentage of Jews as New York City (3,000 Jewish students divided by 20,000 overall students at UB equals 15 percent), you are crazy.

 

Probably half of all Jews don't celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  I got this information from two Jewish friends. Maybe a quarter of Jews will do something that will still not require taking the whole day off, and maybe a quarter will require the whole day off. They can easily take the day off and have their professors accommodate them. So why do non-Jews, non-practicing Jews and those Jews who don't need to take the entire day off need to stay home because a fraction of an already tiny fraction of students need the day off?  It makes no sense and is blatantly unfair.

 

Walter Dornison