University Message to the Campus Community:
Redesigning the Academic Calendar at Stony Brook University, effective 2012-13 Academic Year
This week there has been some media coverage related to a decision that was made a few months ago to revise the Stony Brook University academic calendar for 2012-13. This message and the frequently asked questions document that follows is to provide the facts and details behind the calendar change.
Through the history of Stony Brook’s academic calendar, classes have always been cancelled for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and spring break would often fall during the Passover and the Christian holy week, but not uniformly so, and since these holidays do not fall on the same date every year, spring break was unpredictable. Last spring, students complained that they did not have enough time to prepare for exams because spring break fell so close to the end of the semester.
Student complaints about insufficient study time prompted us to look into an alternative academic calendar. As we did so, we concluded that the academic calendar, as it was, failed to serve the academic needs of our students, so at their request we changed our calendar. The majority of students supported the call for change.
Stony Brook is a public institution with a very diverse student body and as such we have always believed that religious observance is and must always be a personal choice, not an institutional mandate. Stony Brook is first and foremost an educational institution that has to provide the maximum instruction time in the most efficient, effective and beneficial manner for all students.
As we addressed the issue of optimizing academic time in the new academic calendar, we recognized that it was also important for us to address the changes in our campus demographics that have occurred over the past 40 years. Today, Stony Brook’s campus population reflects an equal number of Muslim and Jewish students and a much larger population of individuals of other religious affiliations. As such, Stony Brook realized that it had to address real issues in terms of treating religions differently (for example, closing classes for Jewish High Holy Days, but not Muslim or Hindu High Holy Days).
Since closing classes for all religious holidays is not possible, it was decided that we should adopt an approach that is implemented by almost every major public university throughout the United States. That is, to identify the major religious holidays for the religions represented on campus, make sure that each faculty member knows that no tests or major assignments can be scheduled on those days, and take steps to ensure that students are not penalized for taking those days off. This allows each of our students to exercise their religious choices but does not compel other students to miss classes.
The revised calendar was presented to and finalized with requests for feedback from a number of University organizations, including the University Council (Vice Presidents, Deans and the President of the University Senate), the full University Senate, which represents the entire faculty, staff and student body in matters which affect the entire campus, and Graduate and Undergraduate Student Governments. The USG was the only group to make a recommendation -- to increase the number of reading days before final exams, and to not schedule final exams on weekends. Both USG requests were immediately accommodated.
The University Senate adopted a resolution on the role of shared governance in the Establishment of an Academic Calendar.
Observing with Impunity; Providing Additional Resources
No faculty, students or staff will be penalized in any way for observing religious holidays; no exams will be given or papers due.
To accommodate those religious organizations that may need additional worship space and have special dietary requirements during respective religious holidays, the University has committed to work with the Interfaith Center in fulfilling those needs as requested.
State and Religious Holidays
Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York, is a New York State institution. Neither the government of New York State, nor that of New York City, closes on these holidays.
The State of New York identifies official holidays on its website: http://www.cs.ny.gov/attendance_leave/2011_legal_holidays.cfm
In Good Company
Stony Brook is not the only SUNY campus that has classes on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur; in fact, cancelling classes on those days is the exception not the norm.
- This year, nearly all of the Universities in the AAU did not cancel classes for religious observance. All these Universities have policies that ensure there will be no consequences for anyone exercising their religious beliefs. This is the model Stony Brook has elected to emulate.
- 22 of 29 four year SUNY Campuses do not cancel classes on the Jewish Holidays.
—March 22. 2012