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FAQ: Redesigning the Academic Calendar at Stony Brook University
Effective 2012-13 Academic Year

Why did Stony Brook revise the academic calendar?
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. Traditionally, spring break was often timed to coincide with the Passover and Easter holidays. But since these holidays do not fall on the same date every year, spring break was unpredictable. Since the University’s mission as an educational institution is to provide the maximum instruction time in the most efficient, effective and beneficial manner for all of our students, the student complaints about insufficient study time prompted us to look into an alternative academic calendar.

Were there other complaints?
We also received complaints from students and faculty regarding our fall semester. The complaints were similar. There was no predictability and there was insufficient study/reading days before finals.

What did Stony Brook do to address the complaints?
A calendar committee, under the Office of the Provost, was created in the fall of 2011 to look at all aspects of the academic calendar.

Who was on the committee?
The calendar committee consisted of representatives from the Registrar’s office, Student Affairs, Office of the Provost and the College of Arts and Sciences.

What was the process?
The committee reviewed peer institution procedures relative to academic calendar scheduling and considered mandated holidays -- state, federal and contractually – in the process. Based on this in depth review, the decision was made to recommend changes to the academic calendar.

What was the outcome?
The University academic calendar is now designed to provide maximum instruction for all students in an efficient and effective manner. The new calendar is predictable and consistent.  We recognize and value the significant role of religion and faith in the lives of our students, faculty and staff and will ensure that no member of our community is compelled to work, teach or attend class in a way that impacts their ability to practice their faith.

What do other colleges and universities do?
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.

Don’t all the other SUNY campuses cancel classes for religious holidays?
No. 22 of 29 four year SUNY Campuses do not cancel classes on the Jewish Holidays.

Is Stony Brook University a public or private university?
Stony Brook University is a public institution, part of the State University of New York, and as a State institution, we must be careful not to favor one religion over another.

Do other New York State Offices Close for Religious Holidays?
Neither the government of New York State, nor that of New York City, closes on religious holidays other than Christmas. The State of New York identifies official holidays on its website: http://www.cs.ny.gov/attendance_leave/2011_legal_holidays.cfm

Are you making students and faculty choose between education and religion?
Absolutely not. To reiterate, no faculty, students or staff will be penalized in any way for observing religious holidays; no exams will be given or papers due. No faculty member is required to teach if they choose to observe a religious holiday. Class may be rescheduled or arrangements made for alternate coverage. Indeed, this option has been available for many years to Jewish, Christian and Muslim faculty who choose to observe Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Passover and Muslim holidays.  The University will continue to embrace our diverse campus and accommodate the religious observances of our community members.

Why are classes cancelled for Christmas?
Christmas and New Year’s day fall between the break between the fall and spring semester so naturally there are no classes held on either of those days. Incidentally, Christmas is a holiday that is negotiated into union contracts.

With more students and faculty on campus during these holidays how will you accommodate the services and dietary needs?
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.

It seems like the University is taking a stand on religion?
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.

Why not respect religion and cancel classes for all religious holidays?
On average, there are more than five religious holidays each month. Some months have more than 10 religious holidays. If we were to cancel classes for all of these religious holidays, it would be impossible to preserve our academic mission. Stony Brook has always been respectful of all religions, and we embrace and celebrate our diversity, we are an educational institution that has to provide the maximum instruction time in the most efficient, effective and beneficial manner for all of our students.

Did students and faculty have a chance to review and comment on the new calendar?
Yes. Before the revised calendar was finalized it was presented for review and comment to a number of University organizations, including the University Council (Vice Presidents and 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.

Were any changes requested or made after the new calendar was presented to different groups?
Yes. The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) was the only group to make a recommendation which was to increase the number of reading days before final exams, and to not schedule final exams on weekends. Both USG requests were immediately accommodated.

What is the demographic breakdown by religion at Stony Brook University?
The most recent preferences of incoming freshman (2009) shows the following:

Baptist
Buddhist
Congregational (UCC)
Eastern Orthodox
Episcopal
Jewish
Latter Day Saints (Mormon)
Lutheran
Methodist
Muslim
Presbyterian
Quaker (Society of Friends)
Roman Catholic
Seventh Day Adventist
Unitarian Universalist
Other Christian (Protestant)
Other religion
None

1.5%
3.1%
0.1%
2.2%
1.0%
6.2%
0.1%
1.4%
1.4%
6.6%
2.6%
0.0%
26.4%
0.4%
--
7.2%
2.4%
  31.7%

—March 22. 2012

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