As reported in our last issue, Stony Brook University is planning to implement a new academic calendar next fall that schedules classes on religious holidays that have traditionally been days off, an earlier spring break and, possibly, days off for studying before finals week. As the debate over the changes to the calendar continues, students, faculty and religious leaders on campus have reacted.
Specific religious holidays that will be affected include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Easter holidays. Vice Provost Charles Robbins maintains that students can ask to be excused in regards to their faith. He said the calendar is not meant to discourage people’s beliefs, but to organize scheduling, promote equal respect for all students and increase learning efficiency.
“The goal of the committee is to present an academic calendar that is consistent from year to year, provides equal respect to all faiths in our diverse campus community and maximizes classroom instruction for students in an efficient and effective manner,” said Robbins in an email. “Students will not be penalized for observing religious holidays and there will be no exams or assignments due on those dates.”
According to President Mark Maloof of the Undergraduate Student Government, students will have off Monday and Tuesday of Labor Day week and the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Thanksgiving weekend. Spring break will be held earlier and traditional reading days, in which students will have no class so that they can study for finals, might be incorporated, in spite of early proposals under which they were eliminated.
“There seems to be a miscommunication by the administration whenever changes are made,” Maloof said.
Students, faculty and religious leaders are divided on the issue. Those against the new calendar said it discourages religion, and that student input was not considered when it was first proposed.
“I really feel they should have given students the opportunity to discuss it with them,” said Protestant Reverend Brenda D. Ford. “It allows people to have their voice be heard, and the student voice is apparently missing here.”
Sociology professor Norman Goodman, who practices Judaism, said the administration was wrong for not including student and faculty opinion when the proposal was first drawn up, and that people’s religious beliefs are more important than an organized calendar.
“One consensus that everyone shares is that the process [by which] it was done was atrocious,” said Goodman. “Students, as well as faculty and staff, will be hurt when administrators take unilateral action without consulting those groups [on] issues that affect them. Respect for faculty and students and staff should be more important than the goal of efficiency.”
Journalism major Michelle Okma, an atheist, said that students’ beliefs are important and should be respected, even by those who do not agree with them.
“I think it’s harmful to enforce on someone who grew up with these beliefs,” she said. “You have to be respectful of what they believe even if you’re not personally connected to those beliefs.”
Those who support the changes do so on the grounds that they promote equality among all students and their religious beliefs. Although a retraction from earlier calendar amending proposals, many also believe that reading days are important and will be more efficient for students during finals week.
“I absolutely encourage religious holidays being dismissed because reading days are more beneficiary,” said Julienna Magrid, an English and American studies student and a Christian.
Some feel that students should respect the school’s decision because the school is secular and should not follow a religious calendar.
“I feel like in terms of being a state school, [it] makes sense not to have a religious calendar,” said music major Kyle Manley, a Catholic. “It is a problem, but at the same time, I’m not sure if that’s the school’s problem.
“It’s fair because it’s a public school,” said a Muslim student who asked to remain anonymous.
“Obviously, if [students or faculty] wanted to take the days off the school would accommodate their religious commitments.”
The original calendar committee was set to meet in 2015 and was expected to address previously unconsidered Muslim holidays. Chaplain Sanaa Nadim of the Interfaith Center said she was hurt that Muslim holidays were not considered earlier, but that she and the Interfaith Center would continue to work with the administration for the betterment of student life.
“For me, it was disappointing because my dream was, after 23 years of service, that the Muslim holidays would finally be observed on the calendar,” she said. “I believe the administration is well intended. I believe that we should have had, maybe, more conversation. More conversation and more consensuses [incorporating] people who are more involved in religious life on campus.”
The date when the calendar will be finalized is still unknown. In regards to the administration incorporating student input, Maloof said he believes both sides need to discuss how they feel in order to compromise.
“In general, I think there needs to be a chance for both groups to air their observations,” he said, “and then see how we can meet those from opposite ends.”