Despite many complaints, Stony Brook University’s controversial new academic calendar, which will no longer observe religious holidays besides those that are federally mandated, will be in effect starting next fall.
According to Charles Robbins, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of the Undergraduate Colleges, the calendar was changed due to complaints from the students and faculty about the unpredictability of spring break and how it did not give students enough time to prepare for finals.
The new calendar creates standardized academic breaks. Spring break will now be after the seventh week of classes. Classes will only be cancelled on contractually mandated “no-class” holidays, such as Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Otherwise, classes will remain in session for religious holidays, except for those that require to be cancelled by contract.
This change in the calendar sparked a controversy among the various religious groups on campus.
“The Interfaith Center chaplains are very concerned that this policy will result in a large number of faculty and staff being unable to teach classes on major holidays, and that large numbers of students will miss important course work,” Rabbi Joseph S. Topek, director of the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life and chairperson of the Interfaith Center, wrote in a letter addressed to the Stony Brook Jewish Community.
Junior history major Aaron Gershoff, board member of Hillel, started a petition with other students opposing the changes.
Gershoff said the goal of the petition is to “let the administration know they have wronged us in a way that is very hurtful to us, that will impact us and our school studies further down the road.”
Robbins does not see the changes to the calendar as controversial. According to him, the “vast majority” of students and faculty does not see this as a controversy.
“They understand the fact we’re getting in line with what most universities in the United States do,” Robbins said, “and believe that the new calendar, being more predictable and equal for everybody is what we should do.” Robbins also said that “changes were made with the best of intentions to highlight the academic mission and to treat everyone in the community equally.”
However, the religious groups feel that they are not being treated equally by these changes.
“We now have to make a choice between going to class and practicing our faith,” Gershoff said. “It’s not fair to have to be put in this position.”
Robbins said students will not be penalized for missing class for religious purposes.
Students will also be given plenty of time to make up work and that assignments and exams will not be scheduled on religious holidays.
According to Robbins, the school is “committed to making sure that everyone is free to practice their faith and their religion without any penalty or consequences from the new academic calendar.”
This is in accordance with the New York State Education Law which also states that any student who is “aggrieved by the alleged failure of any faculty or administrative officials to comply in good faith” with the law, the student can take action “in the supreme court of the county in which such institution of higher education is located for the enforcement of his or her rights.”
Robbins’ main justification for the changes is that this type of an academic calendar is one that most universities follow and is necessary to have when the student population is diverse such as Stony Brook’s.
Gershoff said following in the steps of other universities is not in Stony Brook’s best interest.
“Why do we have to be like every other university? Stony Brook University has got to be one of the best universities in the nation and has been called the best value in the nation with the calendar the way it’s been. Why can we not be a unique university that respects everyone’s religious beliefs and still strives for academic excellence?” Gershoff said.
This new academic calendar will be in effect for the next three years, when the calendar will then be redone.
“All change creates some tension, all change creates reaction,” Robbins said. “If people look at the outcome we came up with, they will have to agree with it’s a better calendar.”
Additional reporting by Philly Bubaris