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NYU students want an exemption policy for religious students. The school already offers one

Students demand days off, but university allows them already

Recent student efforts to convince the administration at New York University to cancel classes on Jewish High Holidays have underscored that the university itself already offers an exemption policy for religious students.

Last month, the university’s student government endorsed a letter titled “Letter of Support for Recognizing Jewish High Holidays on the University Calendar,” asking the school to cancel classes during particularly strenuous religious observances.

The letter distinguishes two types of Jewish holidays, saying that one type, known as “Yom Tov” holidays, involve “many rituals that are difficult to perform on campus and restrictions the very nature of which is to restrict work.”

The letter calls for the cancellation of classes for three days on high holidays, as well as the implementation of policies allowing for further accommodations.

Policy already allows for students to miss classes

Reached for comment, campus spokeswoman Shonna Keogan provided The College Fix with a university policy that “[safeguards] the rights of students who require time off for religious purposes.”

That policy explains that, while the school does not recognize religious holidays on its calendar, several provisions are made in order to accommodate religious students.

“New York University, as a nonsectarian institution, adheres to the general policy of including in the official calendar of the University only certain legal holidays,” it reads, continuing:

(W)henever feasible, examinations and assignment deadlines should not be scheduled on religious holidays. Any student absent from class because of his/her religious beliefs shall not be penalized for any class, examination, or assignment deadline missed on that day or days… (I)f examinations or assignment deadlines are scheduled, any student who is unable to attend class because of religious beliefs shall be permitted the opportunity to make up any examination or to extend any assignment deadline missed on that day or days … No fees of any kind shall be charged by the University for making available to the student an opportunity to make up examinations or to extend assignment deadlines …[N]o adverse or prejudicial effects shall result to any student who avails him/ herself of the provisions of the resolution.

In spite of these accommodations, the student government holds that the policy is insufficient for the requirements of Jewish holidays.

“[B]ecause the Jewish holiday institution is so complicated, it is understandably difficult for professors who don’t experience it to understand all the nuances and their effects on students…Probably because of this, professors often reject additional accommodations. After that, it becomes difficult to engage them further in healthy, productive communications, especially given the time constraints that observant students requesting accommodations already have,” the letter reads.

The university’s policy does allow for students to seek redress against professors who are not sufficiently accommodating. “A violation of these policies and principles shall permit any aggrieved student to bring a grievance, provided under the University Grievance Procedure,” it reads.

University senate ultimately decides policy

Though the students’ letter was addressed to the school’s president, Andrew Hamilton, Keogan noted that the policy is not governed by his office.

“The University’s calendar is not set by the University administration but rather by the University Senate. The Senate actually reexamined this matter several years ago and elected not to make any change to the University calendar, but the issue is likely to be revisited in the near future,” she said. The university senate is distinct from the student government; members of the latter form a portion of members of the former.

The students argues that “it is neither outside NYU’s expressed values nor unprecedented to cancel classes on religious holidays; NYU and universities internationally cancel classes for Christmas.” The letter notes that numerous other New York schools recognize Jewish high holidays, including the City University of New York system and New York City public high schools.

In March of 2017, an NYU student circulated a petition similarly asking for Jewish high holidays off. According to Washington Square News, although the petition obtained over 1,500 signatures, the revisions were voted down by the University Senate.

According to Hillel International, about 13% of undergraduates at NYU are Jewish, which puts it in second place on Hillel’s list of private schools with the highest Jewish populations. Some sources place this estimate even higher; NYU’s student-run blog NYU Local once put it at 25%.

The Fix reached out to multiple Jewish clubs on campus for comment on the proposed policy change; none responded.

MORE: The Citadel says ‘no’ to prospective Muslim cadet’s request to wear hijab

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About the Author
Edyta Wolk is double majoring in journalism and theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the copy editor of her campus newspaper The Troubadour, a contributor to The Four County Catholic newspaper, and a writer for Image & Likeness Magazine. She is a Polish immigrant and enjoys reading and writing about politics and religion.

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