Screen shot 2012-02-20 at 8.16.55 PM

Changes to Stony Brook’s Academic Calendar Inevitable

Stony Brook University’s academic calendar will undergo a number of changes next fall, including an end to the tradition of cancelling classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The new calendar, drafted by a committee of four administrators, also schedules finals for weekday classes on Saturday and Sunday, though that is likely to be amended after negotiations with the Undergraduate Student Government Senate, according to Vice Provost Charles Robbins.

The administration is implementing the changes to create a calendar “that is consistent and predictable from year to year with as much equal recognition and respect as possible for our diverse campus community that provides maximum instruction for students in the most efficient and effective manner,” according to a presentation given by Robbins at the February 16 USG meeting.

The committee was concerned with maximizing class time for courses with labs, which are often hurt by class cancellations and make-up days. Under the new calendar, spring break will take place after the seventh week of class during the spring semester, which is more logical than tying it to Easter and Passover much later in the semester, according to Robbins.

“Our goal is to increase the level of respect for everybody,” Robbins said. “We’re trying to be inclusive, not exclusive.”

Robbins said the committee of four administrators had been meeting for approximately the last year and a half to discuss the changes to the calendar. That differed from the traditional calendar-drafting process carried out by a committee of administrators, faculty and representatives of the Interfaith Center every five years. The committee was scheduled to meet next in 2015, when it was to consider altering the calendar in consideration of Muslim holidays.

On February 6, the University Senate passed a resolution urging the administration to create a “shared governance committee” that would include members of the Interfaith Center, the University Senate and students.

The administrators’ changes to the calendar have angered the Jewish community on campus, who fear Jewish students will be unfairly penalized for missing class on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Joseph Topek of Stony Brook’s Interfaith Center said the new calendar will force students to ask to be excused on religious holidays and faculty members may not comply.

“Students are going to have to go begging to their professors, saying ‘I will not be able to come to class,’” said Topek. “It creates an unleveled playing field between students and faculty members.”

“I think there will be a negative effect academically,” said Topek. “Those will end up being empty days because a lot of students and faculty will not show up. It will damage Stony Brook’s image in the community.”

According to Robbins, the population of Jewish students on campus is approximately 8 percent, much lower than it had been decades ago. He said administrators found it difficult to justify cancelling classes for the religious holidays of only one religious group.

USG President Mark Maloof presented the new calendar to the Senate at its February 2 meeting. USG expressed anger at the administration for failing to include student and faculty input in the drafting process, especially when a five-year plan had already been agreed upon.

Maloof and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Adil Hussain, met with Robbins in the weeks following the presentation to discuss a new calendar that would include reading days before finals week and schedule finals only on weekdays. Hussain said he wasn’t pleased with the lack of student input in the drafting process, but he was satisfied that the administration heard their concerns and will do things differently in the future.

USG Senator David Adams proposed a resolution that rejects the process by which the calendar was drafted and demands that the senate be granted “its constitutional right to represent the student body on matters of importance,” and that the changes not be made. The resolution failed, on part due to fear that it would harm USG’s ability to negotiate with the administration in the future, according to Adams.

Robbins said that the newly amended calendar, which has been presented to Provost Dennis Assanis, is likely to be approved. Media Relations officer Lauren Sheprow says the calendar will be released to the students and faculty once all decisions regarding it have been finalized. She also maintained that there will be an updated version next year.

“The 2012-13 academic calendar is still in process of being finalized,” said Sheprow in an email. “A version of it has been presented to the USG Senate and feedback was received and [is] being taken into consideration. When the calendar is final it will be presented to the entire campus community.”