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Proposed calendars would hold classes on Labor Day and Jewish holy days, institute a fall break

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Proposed changes to the academic calendar would make Labor Day and the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur regular class days.

By SUE WUETCHER

Published March 28, 2013

Classes would be held on Labor Day and the Jewish holy days with a full-week fall recess during Thanksgiving week if proposed changes to the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic calendar are approved.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee will vote on two separate proposals at its April 3 meeting: to hold classes on Labor Day and provide a full week of class recess during Thanksgiving week, and to hold classes on the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. 

The Faculty Senate had been scheduled to vote on the proposals at its March 5 meeting, but lack of a quorum brought the matter back to the FSEC. If approved by the FSEC, the proposals then would go to President Satish K. Tripathi for his approval and promulgation.

The 2013-14 and 2014-15 calendars, which were approved by the FSEC on Feb. 13 and promulgated by Tripathi on March 15, include a January Winter Session that sets the opening of each spring semester to the last Monday in January and moves commencement Sunday to the third Sunday in May. The proposals currently before the FSEC would modify those calendars.

An open debate on the proposed calendar changes was held during the senate’s March 5 meeting. A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs, and Richard Lipsitz, president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, spoke on the Labor Day and fall break proposal; William H. Baumer, professor of philosophy and a member of the senate’s ad hoc Calendar Committee, and Bernard Weinstein, professor of physics, addressed the proposal regarding the Jewish holy days.

Baumer and Ezra Zubrow, professor of anthropology and chair of the Faculty Senate, outlined for the UB Reporter the arguments for and against the proposed calendar changes.

Among the arguments for holding classes on these holidays:

  • Partial weeks of instruction are disruptive to academic instruction, particularly for recitations, laboratory classes and lectures that are scheduled only once a week.
  • Other colleges and universities, including some AAU members and some SUNY institutions, schedule classes on Labor Day, and most SUNY campuses do not cancel classes on the Jewish holy days.
  • Labor Day results in a three-day weekend the first weekend of the fall semester, breaking academic momentum, delaying active engagement in student academic life and contributing to negative student conduct issues. 
  • There are many other “official” holidays not observed in the basic academic calendar, such as Veteran’s Day, President’s Day and Election Day. Staff members who work on Labor Day can take another day off as they do now for other holidays.
  • Classes on the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week often are poorly attended and sometimes cancelled.
  • As a public institution with increasing religious and ethnic diversity, UB must be careful not to favor one religion over another.
  • New York State law requires that students, staff and faculty who are absent to observe religious holy days can do so with no negative consequences. UB recognizes and values the significant role of religion and faith in the lives of students, faculty and staff, and will ensure that no members of the university community are compelled to work, teach or attend classes in a way that impacts their ability to practice their faith.
  • The fall semester would be entirely parallel to the spring semester, with all weeks having full weeks of instruction and a one-week break.

 Arguments for maintaining no classes on these holidays include:

  • Labor Day is a major observance of the labor movement and students, staff and faculty should have the opportunity to participate in its observance.
  • Students, staff and faculty with child care responsibilities would have to make alternative arrangements on Labor Day.
  • UB has a sizable population of Jews, most of whom celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Many Jewish students from New York City travel home to observe the holy days. It would pose a hardship for them to eliminate observance of those days.
  • UB has a long history of including these Jewish holy days in its academic calendars and should continue the practice.
  • There will be instructors who do not provide for holy day observances as the law directs and this abuse will not be able to be prevented.

Zubrow noted that the calendar proposals have garnered a lot of attention, not only at UB but in the broader community. He said has received more than 50 telephone calls, letters and emails regarding the issues.

“I find it a little surprising,” he said. “I thought this was an internal issue. I hadn’t realized so many people were out there watching UB.”

Zubrow added that he was impressed by the arguments made both for and against the calendar changes during the senate debate. “They were not emotional harangues; they were absolutely clear to the issues, to what is best for the university,” he said.

READER COMMENT

As a UB alumna, I am shocked that the administration would consider holding classes on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. These are holy days for Jewish people that require full-time attendance in the synagogue. This is no different from not holding classes on Christmas, which would not happen, even if it were not during winter break.  The university should respect the needs of its students and faculty, and not take this discriminatory step.

Valerie Rosenhoch