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Tripathi announces ‘Religiously-Neutral Calendar’ to begin 2014

Senior News Editor

Published: Monday, July 1, 2013

Updated: Monday, July 1, 2013 12:07


Spectrum File Photo

May 23, following nearly a year of speculation and debate, UB President Satish Tripathi announced a new academic calendar that includes classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in an attempt to “ensure greater continuity in the academic schedule and minimize course disruptions for students.”

Dr. Richard Cohen believes President Satish Tripathi is hindering the religious practices of students and faculty members at UB.

On May 23, Tripathi announced the creation of the “Religiously-Neutral Academic Calendar,” which includes classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in an attempt to “ensure greater continuity in the academic schedule and minimize course disruptions for students.”

The decision came from the president after he received the Faculty Senate Executive Committee’s recommendation that no religious holidays should recognized by the university and observed with a day off from classes.

“Does President Tripathi think that we are stupid?” Cohen posted on UB Reporter. “The UB academic calendar is not ‘religiously neutral’ because it purposely has no classes on Sundays, Christmas and Easter.”

Cohen, the director of the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage at UB, said the calendar has nothing to do with religion, but rather the administration’s desire for a more fluid semester with fewer single days off throughout the 14 weeks.

However, this is a moot point, according to Lyle Selsky, the vice president of the Student Association. He believes students are going to practice their faith even if classes are being held. Jewish faith prohibits attending work or school and using modern transportation and electronics on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

During a Faculty Senate meeting in March, junior occupational therapy major Ilana Saffeir explained she chose UB over a private school because of the university’s observance of her religion and the larger Jewish community. Cohen believes students like Saffeir will now be less likely to enroll at UB.

“The decision will have a dampening effect, especially because SUNY at Binghamton has retained Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as academic holidays on their calendar,” he said in an email. “Making matters worse, Binghamton is of course closer to NYC, where the largest percentage of NY’s large Jewish population resides – making Binghamton also far more convenient for Jewish students than Buffalo.”

UB will be the 23rd SUNY four-year university to hold classes on the holidays. Some universities, like Stony Brook University, made the change effective as recently as 2012-13 academic year. The change also follows the practices of the governments of New York State and New York City, which close on no religious holiday other than Christmas Day.

Philosophy professor William Baumer welcomes the change and thinks the removing of all religious holidays from the academic calendar lends itself to “non-discrimination.” During a Faculty Senate meeting in 2002, Baumer motioned for UB to observe the holy days, but looking back, he believes this was a mistake. On March 5, he argued that students are supposed to be accommodated by their professors anyway if a class conflicts with religious practice.

Tripathi upheld that policy in his announcement about the change.

The new academic calendar will take effect in the 2014-15 academic year for undergraduate and graduate students; the law, medical and dental schools follow individual approved calendars. Before the start of the fall 2013 semester, the Office of the Provost is set to provide a more detailed policy to professors on how to accommodate the religious observances of their students.



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Sat Mar 29 2014 14:28
Out of curiousity, Dentist Holzman, what is your religion and national origin? I smelled something rancid and suspicious under the guise of "fairness" but I just wanted to be sure. To the school you needn't trouble the good DDS with solicitations for a donation to the school any longer. I will be making one on his behalf.

William Maguire

Fri Jan 17 2014 03:44
This is a letter I wrote to UB over the summer. I guess now I have to put my money where my mouth is:

July 31, 2013

University at Buffalo Foundation:

I would like to support the University at Buffalo Foundation, but I cannot bring myself to donate money to a school that continues to actively favor one religious group, namely Jews, over all other religious groups. This bias continues to get promoted through days off from school and through advertisement on the school's official student calendar, two luxuries that no other religious group currently enjoys.

I have complained about this bias to University at Buffalo administrators in the past, but the response I received only generated more questions. I was told that "only days that affect the school's calendar" are included on the actual calendar. Since "Christmas Day" is not on the school's calendar for example, this shows that UB students do not get December 25th off because of Christmas, but instead get December 25th off because it falls under a "winter break" (as advertised on the school's calendar). If our winter break is given when it is because of Christmas, then the word "Christmas Day" (or "Christmas Break") needs to be written on the student calendar just like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do (they actually get advertised twice each). If, however, our winter break has nothing to do with Christmas, then the question begs: why are UB students being given Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off in the first place?

This is especially bizarre when such a small percentage of UB students are Jewish, and even more bizarre when such an even smaller percentage of Jewish students would require a full day off to properly "celebrate" these two days. Many Jewish people do not even do much out of the ordinary on Rosh Hashanah, but even if Jewish students feel they need a full day off, they can simply just tell their professors they will not be in that day just like all other students who practice all other religions do at UB when they have a religious day they need off for. Forcing all of the non-Jewish students at UB, as well as all of the Jewish students that do nothing out of the ordinary on these two days, is ridiculous and irresponsible. Those two groups of people I just mentioned probably account for slightly over ninety percent of the student body if I had to estimate.

Moreover, other days like Ramadan (the primary Muslim holiday), and Easter Sunday are not advertised on the calendar either. The only fair way to handle this situation is the following: advertise every single religious day of every single religion on the school's calendar (not realistic), or do not advertise any religious holidays at all. If UB is going to continue to give these two Jewish holidays off each year, to be religiously-neutral, the calendar should just advertise "Fall Day: No Classes" with no mention of religion on these two days, just as it does for December 25th.

Lastly, failing to recognize or even advertise on the calendar Columbus Day, Veteran's Day or President's Day, three federal holidays, is borderline Un-American in my personal opinion, but failing to do this, while at the same time recognizing two Jewish religious holidays, shows a strong bias by a public school and is beyond anything responsible. Christmas is also a federal holiday. The school could very easily advertise these three federal holidays like "Columbus Day: Normal Class Schedule" for example. As an active duty member of the U.S. Navy, the fact that UB won't even recognize Veteran's Day is something I find truly disturbing. Many people I have discussed this with have a major problem with it but have told me they choose not to speak up about it out of a general fear of being called anti-semitic. As soon as the calendar changes, I will start donating money to UB Dental. Until then, I cannot.

Very Respectfully,

Dr. William Holzman, DDS

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