Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are Judaism’s High Holy Days, representing the Jewish new year and the time when Jews frequently attend religious services, abstain from certain forms of pleasure and fast. But instead of focusing on atoning for sins and beginning the year with a clean slate, Jewish students must continue to worry about academics; some even have essay deadlines to meet and exams to take or study for during the holidays.
Many students are up in arms that the University of Miami doesn’t cancel class on these holidays, as shown by the petition being circulated by Chabad. However, the university does have a policy requiring faculty members to be sensitive to students’ religious obligations. The 2011-2012 faculty handbook states that “no major test, major class event, or major University activity will be scheduled on a major religious holy day. Faculty members and University administrators shall in no way penalize students who are absent from academic or social activities because of religious observances.”
Some professors disregard this policy by scheduling exams and assignments on religious holidays, but do allow students to make them up on a later date.
Anger about this ambiguity is certainly understandable, especially since we don’t have school on Christmas, a major Christian holiday. But we need to take a look at the role religion actually plays in these days off. Christmas, for instance, falls during winter break, which is a vacation period lasting until January and is typical for any university.
In fact, UM doesn’t give one day off for any religious holidays in its efforts to stay secular. The only holidays during which the university does not hold classes are on national holidays: Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Having class on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar may seem unfair, but if we get those days off, it would be only fair to equally recognize other major religious holidays as well, like those of the Islamic faith.
Where is the line drawn? How many religions does the university have to take into account to be considered fair?
As an academic and secular institution, UM has no obligation to grant days off to students for any religious holiday and should maintain its current policy of asking professors to acknowledge and empathize with students’ religious observances.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.
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