SBU to hold classes on religious holidays

The campus at Stony brook University in Stony The campus at Stony brook University in Stony Brook. (Mar. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Stony Brook University is changing its school calendar, upsetting some students and faculty because it will no longer cancel classes on major Jewish and Christian holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Good Friday.

Stony Brook says it is putting itself in line with other major research universities and leveling the playing field by ending a practice that honors only some religions.

"We believe this provides two essential things -- a sound educational calendar and at the same time an equal level of respect for all religions and faiths," said Charles Robbins, vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of the undergraduate colleges, who spearheaded the change.

But campus chaplains, along with some students and faculty, said they were never consulted and are upset with the change.

"It stinks," said sociology professor Norman Goodman, a nonobservant Jew. "It's inappropriate. It's disrespectful. . . . It disrespects all religions."

The change is set to go into effect in the fall, and will result in Stony Brook having its spring break earlier than usual -- at the halfway, or seven-week, mark of the semester, rather than during Holy Week when Christians celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter and Jews sometimes mark Passover.

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Robbins said the university decided to make the change partly because some spring breaks were coming as late as 12 weeks into the semester, leaving students little time to finish regular classes and prepare for finals.

Likewise, he said, the fall schedule, which included canceled classes during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, often left students with almost no "reading days" or study days before finals.

He also said it was unfair to cancel classes for the holy days of some religions and not others, especially since Stony Brook's student body and staff is religiously diverse. Students who take the days off would have to make up the work. But no tests would be given or papers due on those days.

SUNY Old Westbury does not cancel classes for religious holidays, a spokesman said. Farmingdale State College usually does not hold classes on the Jewish High Holy Days.

Aaron Gershoff, 29, a Stony Brook history major who is Jewish, said, "I feel it's disrespecting my religion and I feel I have to make a choice between whether I'm going to practice my religion or go to class. That's a really difficult choice."

The Interfaith Center at Stony Brook, which includes Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Islamic and Asian Christian chaplains, wrote a letter of protest to university president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., calling the move "ill-advised." What upset many the most is that they were never consulted. Fred Walter, university senate president, was critical of the process. "The way they went about this is all wrong, and now it's coming back to haunt the administration."

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