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FAQ: Changes to the Academic Calendar

FAQ: Changes to the Academic Calendar at SUNY New Paltz
Effective Fall 2013 Academic Year

What changes are being made to the academic calendar?
Classes will be in session on the religious holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur during the fall semester. In the past, the College did not schedule classes on these days.

When do these changes take effect?
Because the academic calendars have already been published through spring 2013, the changes will first take effect in the fall of 2013. 

If I am a student who observes these holidays, what should I know and what should I do?
You should know that the New York State Education Law, Chapter 161, Section 224 stipulates that “Any student who is unable, because of religious beliefs, to attend classes on a particular day or days, shall be excused from any examination, study, or work requirements.  It shall be the responsibility of the faculty and of the administrative officials…to make available to each student… an equivalent opportunity to make up any examination, study, or work requirements which he may have missed because of such absence on a particular day or days.” 

Thus, it is a State requirement that accommodations be made for any student who is absent from class for religious beliefs.  You should alert your professor that you will absent on these class days. If you encounter any resistance to be able to make up work missed, you should contact the Department Chair.

What if I am a faculty or staff member who plans to observe these holidays?
State law requires that the college accommodate requests for absences from faculty and staff for religious observance.   Professional and Classified staff are required to charge accruals for these absences. (Sick days cannot be used for this purpose.)

We encourage academic faculty who plan to observe these or other religious holidays to schedule their semester course calendar in such a way that instructional time is preserved.  Ways to do this include:

  1. building in a make-up class prior to finals,
  2. finding a New Paltz colleague to cover the class content or to monitor an outside speaker or video presentation,
  3. or using Blackboard to schedule a timed assignment or required response that allows students to be logged into course content during the class time. 

Per existing College policy, a faculty member who is absent from class for any reason must notify the Department Chair in advance of the absence.  This will make it possible for the Chair to fulfill his or her responsibility to ensure that there is proper coverage for the class.  However, the faculty member is normally expected to arrange for make-up sessions or alternative content delivery for classes missed because of absence due to circumstances other than illness.

What if I am the supervisor of someone who plans to observe these holidays and miss work on those days?
Faculty and staff who observe these religious holidays will be affected by these changes, and we remind all Supervisors and/or Department Chairs that state law requires that the college accommodate requests for absences from faculty and staff for religious observance.   Professional and Classified staff are required to charge accruals for these absences. (Sick days cannot be used for this purpose.)

Per existing College policy, a faculty member who is absent from class for any reason must notify the Department Chair in advance of the absence.  This will make it possible for the Chair to fulfill his or her responsibility to ensure that there is proper coverage for the class.  However, the faculty member is normally expected to arrange for make-up sessions or alternative content delivery for classes missed because of absence due to circumstances other than illness.

Why did New Paltz revise the academic calendar?
Observing these holidays led to repeatedly disruptive class schedules during the fall semester. In some years, classes that met once a week would convene once and then not meet for another three weeks. For example, if previous practice were to be employed in fall 2013, students would start classes, be in session for one week, and then because of Labor Day and Rosh Hoshanah, then break for the entire  second week of the semester. In particular, science faculty noted the difficulties this inconsistent course schedule created for lab courses.

Faculty considered a variety of alternatives and held passionate discussions and debates at faculty meetings in recent years about this issue. Some wanted the College to add additional religious observances to the academic calendar to be equitable to religious faiths other than Christianity and Judaism and celebrate the religious diversity of the United States. However, if the college were to do this, it would not be possible to provide the hours of instruction each semester required by the state. Instead, the faculty recommended and the administration accepted this recommendation to move toward a more secular calendar.

The decision to implement the recommended change is grounded in our primary mission as an educational institution.   The fall academic calendar is now designed to provide instruction for all students in an efficient, predictable and consistent manner. The College will continue to observe the first day of Passover when it falls on a class day, including the cessation of classes at 3 p.m. on the day prior to the holiday.

Who made the decision?
During the 2009-10 academic year, the Academic Affairs Committee (which includes faculty, staff and student representation) passed a resolution outlining fundamental principles for creating academic calendars.  This change was among the principles contained in the resolution.  The resolution was subsequently forwarded to the Academic Senate (which also includes student representation) and the Faculty for consideration and was approved by both bodies.  The Presiding Officer of the Faculty then forwarded that recommendation to the Administration and then-President Poskanzer accepted the recommendation. 

What do other colleges and universities do?
Most colleges and universities do not cancel classes for the Jewish holidays. These institutions have policies that ensure there will be no consequences for anyone exercising their religious beliefs. This is the model New Paltz has chosen to follow.

Don’t all the other SUNY campuses cancel classes for religious holidays?
No. Most (23 of 29) four year SUNY Campuses do not cancel classes on the Jewish holidays. Stony Brook University on Long Island, part of the SUNY System, made the same change to their academic calendar in spring 2012.

Is New Paltz a public or private college?
SUNY New Paltz is a public institution, part of the State University of New York, and as a State institution, we must 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; they do close for Christmas. The State of New York identifies official holidays on its website: http://www.cs.ny.gov/attendance_leave/2011_legal_holidays.cfm

Is the College making students and faculty choose between education and religion?
No. To reiterate, no faculty, students or staff will be penalized in any way for observing religious holidays; students will have an opportunity to make up any exams or assignments they may have missed. 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. Furthermore, Christmas is a holiday that is negotiated by the State of New York into the union contracts of our employees.

With more students and faculty on campus during these holidays how will you accommodate services and dietary needs?
The College is committed to fulfilling special dietary preferences, and or needs for additional worship space as requested. Campus Jewish organizations, such as Hillel and Chabad, are already planning for this change and will advertise their offerings. Campus food services will offer menu items to reflect festive dietary preferences as well.

It seems like the College is taking a stand on religion?
New Paltz 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. New Paltz is first and foremost an educational institution that has to provide the state-required 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. New Paltz has always been respectful of all religions, and we embrace and celebrate our diversity.  But we must meet state requirements for instructional 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. The discussion about changing the fall calendar originated in the faculty governance body, the Academic Affairs Committee, which includes student representation. The calendar changes were then discussed and approved by the Academic Senate, which also includes faculty, staff and student representation. The proposal then went before the full faculty for a vote.