Religious policy now holds students, faculty accountable

File Photo
File Photo

Changes have been made to the university’s holiday policy – now referred to as the Holy Day Policy – after a unanimous decision from the Faculty Senate in a meeting held Feb. 29.

Prior to this meeting, the faculty manual had prohibited professors from administering exams on certain pre-defined holidays. However, many faculty members were not abiding by these guidelines, according to Richard Williamson, chair of the Faculty Senate.

“There has been a high degree of non-compliance with the policy,” Williamson said. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to have a policy that is not being complied with.”

The list of dates in the Holiday Policy included only Christian, Judaic and Islamic holidays and moreover did not enumerate all holidays within those three religions. This made it difficult for students to observe their respective religious holidays.

“The previous policy made it very difficult to practice religion of all shapes. Students didn’t want to confront teachers on this issue,” said senior Isi Stein, a representative of UM Chabbad. “They had tried in the past, and failed, and didn’t want to try again. Others asked and teachers said ‘OK’ reluctantly.”

Stein was one of the main forces behind a petition circulated by Chabbad last year, which argued for the university to close school on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Student opinions like Stein’s, as well as opinions voiced by faculty, ultimately led to this change in the manual.

The Department of Religion sent a letter to the faculty senate addressing the fact that the only holidays listed in the holiday policy reflected the Christian, Judaic and Islamic religions, which was discriminatory against religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

“The best alternative would be one in which we don’t care what religion you are. It’s not up to us decide,” Williamson said. “You have a right to decide what your holy days are.”

With the implementation of the new Holy Day Policy, students must now notify faculty members of the dates in which they will be absent from class, and their professors must make the necessary adjustment. However, faculty have the right to specify a maximum number of excused and unexcused absences for all reasons.

Administrators within each of the separate schools have been communicating these changes to their respective faculty. At the School of Communication, department chairs were sent an email summarizing the policy changes and the chairs were asked to inform the professors in that department.

“We asked that each professor put in their syllabus a sort of short summary highlighting the policy,” said Paul Driscoll, the vice dean of academic affairs for the School of Communication.

The revised policy explains that faculty members are only required to give students until the first three days of class to notify them; however, many students have yet to hear about this change.

“I haven’t heard about it, but it makes sense,” senior Hershel Mehta said. “It should be in the syllabus if the professor wants to strictly abide by it. If not, then it is up to their discretion.”

There are some exceptions regarding to whom this policy applies. Clinical programs such as those at the School of Nursing and Health Studies as well as graduate programs are strongly encouraged to adopt this policy but are not required.

“It does not apply to graduate programs because it just wouldn’t work,” Williamson said. “You couldn’t have medical students who are supposed to be working with patients just disappear.”

This major change to the policy results in consequences for violations. A formal complaint can be placed against a faculty member by either administration or another faculty member.

The complaint will pass through the faculty senate where, if requirements are met, the faculty member will undergo a hearing process. A panel of high-ranking administrators will then make a recommendation on the situation so that disciplinary action can take place. The most severe scenario would include a 10 percent pay reduction on the faculty member’s salary.

Faculty members rarely have to stand for a hearing, according to Williamson. In the last three and a half years, only five faculty hearings have taken place, and none have been in regard to this specific religious holiday policy.

“The fact that there is a possibility for this kind of sanction is something never seen before,” Williamson said.

Thus far into the semester, many students have responded positively to the policy.

“The new policy is great in that it includes all religion. I think its shows the strength of the student initiative and the commitment of the university,” Stein said. “It’ll allow students to do what they believe in without punishment.”