After a decision was made last semester to alter the principles and guidelines used to develop academic calendars, some students at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz were left unhappy with the results.
At a faculty meeting at the tail end of the spring 2010 semester, members voted in a movement that resulted in changes made to the days in which students have off from classes and excluded Jewish holidays from those days, leaving students who wish to celebrate Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah with the burden of missing class for religious purposes.
“The result of the calendar change will be that the school will close in the fall semester for a “fall break,” which will occur sometime during the mid-point of the semester,” said chemistry Professor Pamela St. John, who is Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee.
As of 2013, St. John said SUNY New Paltz’s fall academic calendar will have a more concentrated mid-semester break in order to avoid a scattered break schedule, which are “disruptive” and “difficult to follow.”
Some students still felt that excluding Jewish holidays from SUNY New Paltz’s scheduled days off denies a particular group of students the convenience enjoyed by others who celebrate holidays that are outside of the academic class schedules.
“Even now, we have to take off some days of class because we don’t get off on all of the holidays,” said Rose Faber, president of Hillel, who thinks SUNY’s policy that allows students to take off for religious purposes still doesn’t allow students to comfortably celebrate their holidays on days when school is in session. “On Yom Kippur, you’re in temple the entire day, so you don’t think about food. But when you’re on campus, it’s in your face. Even though you have the option to take off class, it’s really hard because you’re going to miss it and you’re liable to make up all of the work.”
Others questioned the legitimacy of the faculty meeting itself. Emily Sobel, a fourth-year Asian Studies major, attended the faculty meeting but felt students weren’t given an opportunity to voice their opinions about the decision.
According to Sobel, only four comments were taken before a vote was held. And some who attended the meeting declared that the manner in which the decision was reached went against “parliamentary rule,” she said.
Sobel also felt the moderator lacked sensitivity to the issue that troubled so many students, and even claimed the moderator acknowledged the meeting wasn’t being conducted along parliamentary rule.
Simin Mozayeni, presiding officer of academic and professional faculty contends that both student and faculty were polled before any decision was reached.
Professor St. John said she “can’t comment on why people are upset by changes,” but still argues that the faculty produced the outcome solely for the purpose of creating a neater, more easily followed academic calendar.
“This year, we had a week off from school after only two weeks of classes. This is disruptive for both instructors and students since routines . . . are being established during these first two weeks,” St. John said. “If the students are off for a week, the routine is likely to break down and another two weeks would be necessary to re-establish it.”
Some students, however, are more concerned with exclusion of the observance of Jewish holidays and will be upset regardless of the reasoning behind the faculty’s decision.
Sobel feels it reflects poorly on SUNY New Paltz.
“There was nothing fair about this process, and there are many people on campus who are very angry about it,” said Sobel. “It was a disgrace to the school and the faculty board, much less the students.”