Vice President Provost Charles Robbins presented the new academic calendar to the Undergraduate Student Government Senate during their meeting this week and discussed with the group possible changes to make the calendar more agreeable with the student body.
The goal is to “design an academic calendar that is consistent and predictable from year to year, with as much equal recognition and respect as possible for our diverse campus community, that provides maximum instruction for students in the most efficient and effective manner,” Robbins said.
The new calendar would create standardized academic breaks including having spring break after the seventh week of classes and observing contractually mandated “no-class” holidays, such as Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Classes will remain in session for religious holidays except those that require classes be cancelled by contract.
Originally, the calendar was published on the Registrar’s website without any consultation between the administration and USG Senate. USG Executive Vice President Deborah Machalow called this act by the administration a “complete disregard of shared governance.” When the senate discovered the calendar had been changed, they called upon the administration for a meeting to discuss the changes in order to make sure student’s voices were being heard.
“We should be able to communicate better on things like this,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Adil Hussain said. Hussain met with the administration along with USG President Mark Maloof about the changes. According to Hussain, the senate was concerned with observing religious holidays, reading days and holding final exams on weekends, which was originally proposed by the administration in the calendar published on the Registrar’s website.
“A few members [of the senate] were completely outraged,” Hussain said. “I believe each person had their own issue regarding the calendar.”
Hussain and Maloof were able to sit down with Robbins, who, according to Hussain, was willing to work with them on the changes. Hussain described it as a “positive experience.”
“On our part, when we approached administration, we didn’t go with demands,” Hussain said. “It was more of, ‘We’re going to get the information that supports us,’ and that’s what we had done.” Hussain explained that he and Maloof gathered information from Big Ten schools and the Association of American Universities about how many reading days they have and whether or not those schools have final exams on weekends.
It was this information that allowed Hussain and Maloof to campaign for a new finals schedule that is now included in the changes of the calendar. The new finals schedule would possibly spread out the seven days of finals over two weeks, only hold exams during week days and add more reading days to give students more time to study.
Robbins said this new calendar provides for easy planning and increased consistency from year to year while also demonstrating “equal respect for students, faculty and staff of all religions and faiths.”
Because the majority of religious holidays will no longer be observed, “instructors will be required to not either give exams or have assignments due on any religious holidays,” Robbins said. “People will not be penalized negatively for practicing their faith. This campus is an environment where students are free to practice their faith and still get a quality education without there being any negative consequences because of that.”
Machalow says she believes there is no way the university can enforce such a rule. She also believes that by not observing religious holidays, it forces students who are religious to be at a disadvantage to their peers.
“If I am religious, and I choose to miss class on a day that is important to my faith,” Machalow said, “I am never going to get that time back. That’s not going to be replicated for me. Therefore I am put at a disadvantage compared to my peers.”
Machalow feels that USG should have taken a “stronger stance” on the religious holiday aspect of the calendar. “If it takes a little bit more time for the calendar to be created so people can have off for holidays important to their faith, I think it’s worth it.”
Machalow believes that the senate acted the way it did towards the religious holidays.
“When you have influential people staring you down when you vote, you’re going to vote in a certain way and that’s sad,” she said.
When religious holidays were removed from the calendar, Machalow became concerned that accommodations will not be made for students who have certain restrictions on religious holidays that they will now be forced to be on campus for. According to Machalow, removing religious holidays “shows disrespect or disregard towards people who are religious.”
Hussain said he feels that the senate is more in favor of the new calendar “now that they finally had their opportunity to have their voice heard and have issues explained to them. He said it also helped the senate “deal with it better.”