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University Under Fire for Forcing Students to Choose Between Celebrating Religious Holidays & Going to Class

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"Our goal is to maximize available class time for all of our students..."

Students and faculty who embrace personal faith at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, are in for some tough decisions when it comes to observing faith-based holidays that fall during school hours: Either attend school and forget observance of religious holidays or skip school and risk missing important work and information.

The public university has decided to ditch days off on these special days (aside from Christmas, causing some to charge anti-Jewish bias), leaving students and faculty, alike, with the aforementioned dilemma. Earlier this month, The Jewish Week reported:

To hear some parents, students and faculty members tell it, Stony Brook University’s new academic calendar in September is withdrawing the “welcome” mat to Jewish students. [...]

To ensure that some religions are not given preferential treatment, he said, the university is discarding the previously prepared calendar for next year and replacing it with one that keeps school open on Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and Holy Week. The discarded calendar had the spring vacation coincide with Passover and Holy Week, wherever possible; the new calendar is crafted to have the spring break divide the second semester in half, no matter when Passover and Holy Week occur. As a result, the break next year occurs one week before the holidays.

Arthur Shertzer, president of United University Professions, which represents 2,500 faculty and staff, said he is mystified by the university’s actions. “The logic is that if we celebrate no one, we honor everyone,” he said.

Now, a debate is heating up both on the Stony Brook University campus and off of it. Norman Goodman, a sociology professor at the university, for one, didn't hold his opinions back on the matter when asked to weigh in.

"It stinks. It was done without any input except from the administration — and it was done in secret," he said. "It does not take into account the variety of needs of faculty and students, and it shows no respect for religion. I’m concerned that fellow faculty members and students who are observant will be put at an unnecessary disadvantage."

But the school's vice-provost, Dr. Charles Robbins, defended the decision as an element that would bring increased fairness to the entire student body. He also pledged that students who did take off for religious holidays would not be penalized for practicing their beliefs, going on to say that officials will "...make sure that no exams or papers are due on these religious holidays."

"Our goal is to maximize available class time for all of our students and to really make a calendar that’s predictable and standardized that makes the most sense academically," Robbins said.

In a follow-up article, also published in Jewish Week, Robbins penned his own response to the original pieces, calling it "rife with inaccuracies." He wrote, in part:

Indeed, the need to redesign Stony Brook’s academic calendar became obvious after the university’s administration received numerous complaints in the Spring 2011 semester when there was only one week between the end of classes and finals due to spring break being scheduled to coincide with Holy Week. The calendar was redesigned to provide maximum instruction time for students in a way that did not favor or punish any religious groups. Stony Brook has always been respectful of all religions, and we embrace and celebrate our diversity. [...]

The bottom line is that religious observance is, and must always be, a personal choice, not an institutional mandate.

Robbins claims that Christmas is off due to a union contract provision.

Below, watch a FOX News report that provides more on this debate as well as footage from an interview with the vice-provost:

(H/T: FOX News Insider)
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