Stony Brook University has long been one of only three schools in the Association of American Universities to cancel classes for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, along with SUNY Buffalo and Brandeis University. Next year, that tradition is likely to end.
A committee of four administrators has adopted a new academic calendar with an assortment of significant changes that are meant to maximize instruction time, equally respect students of all religions and provide more consistency from year to year, according to Vice Provost Charles Robbins. The committee met over the last year and a half, and possibly earlier, to discuss the changes, but did so in complete isolation. Though the changes may be supported with well-founded reasoning on the part of the committee, the secretive process by which the committee drafted the new calendar stripped students and faculty of their right to weigh in on such an important matter.
In the past, a committee that included representatives from the University Senate and the Interfaith Center met every five years to draft the academic calendar. It wasn’t scheduled to meet again until 2015. By drafting a calendar with significant changes that overrode the previously adopted calendar, the administration abused its power and assumed authority without seeking proper input about the impact it would have on faculty and students.
The University Senate did well in passing a resolution February 6 urging the administration to establish a “shared governance committee” that would include members of the University Senate and the Interfaith Center in drafting an academic calendar, as had been done for many years.
So long as professors are required to excuse students for religious holidays and arrange their syllabi so that major exams or assignments aren’t scheduled those days, it seems disadvantageous to cancel classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. More concerning was the committee’s plan to schedule finals on Saturday and Sunday. However, administrators in the Provost’s office proved willing to negotiate on that matter after discussions with Undergraduate Student Government President Mark Maloof and Vice President of Academic Affairs Adil Hussein. Robbins said that the provost was likely to finalize a new calendar that added reading days before finals began and limited finals to weekdays, but classes will be held on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur without negotiation.
Though the administration has admitted no wrongdoing in the process by which it drafted the calendar and it hasn’t indicated that it would attempt to gather sufficient input from the campus community before making changes in the future, the fact that it was willing to negotiate on some changes to the calendar is a sign that it does consider student and faculty input important.
However, the fact that the administration did not consider any outside input on its decision to hold classes on Jewish holidays is unacceptable. USG Senator David Adams drafted a resolution rejecting the process by which the new calendar was created and demanded that the changes not be implemented. Without the “appropriate or adequate input,” the resolution says, the new calendar is illegitimate. But the USG Senate voted it down, and in doing so failed to send a message to the administration that it would not tolerate such a front on its right to represent the student body.
According to the minutes of the February 9 USG meeting, there was concern that such a demanding resolution would damage USG’s ability to negotiate with the administration on issues in the future. So long as the governing body that is meant to represent the students panders to the administration rather than demanding a say on important issues, it is a far cry from effective. This most recent breach of trust sets a particularly sorry precedent of cowardly appeasement in place of legitimate representation.