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Students say it is difficult to observe religious holidays at Rutgers without falling behind in coursework

Rutgers scheduled this year's parents weekend over Yom Kippur

The lack of holidays officially recognized by the University creates difficulties for students who observe religious holidays that do not coincide with breaks during the academic year.

Dory Devlin, the director of University News and Media Relations at Rutgers, said that the University does not cancel classes on religious holidays, and the choice to attend class is left to the student.

“Rutgers does not schedule days off for any religious holidays,” Devlin said. “Christmas falls within the scheduled winter break. It is up to each student to decide which days to take off for religious reasons, to discuss upcoming absences with professors and to work with professors to determine make-up schedules for work missed.”

The policy she specifically references is section 10.2.7 of Rutgers University Policy, entitled “Course Attendance.” Under part B, the policy states that while there are no official holidays for any religion, students are encouraged to celebrate their religion, ideally free from consequence.

“It is the policy of the University not to cancel classes on religious holidays,” the policy states. “However, students should exercise their own judgment as to attendance in accordance with the dictates of their specific school or program policies and requirements governing class attendance. Generally, no public ceremonies should be scheduled for these religious holidays.”

Despite the directive to avoid scheduling conflicts on religious holidays, any ceremonies deemed necessary by the administration can still take place on these days. The policy states that any approved ceremony can go forward after being cleared through the executive vice president for Academic Affairs or the appropriate campus chancellor.

Additionally, teachers have been instructed to allow students to miss class on these days without penalty. They must also provide students with the chance to redo missed assignments.

“It is also the policy of the University, when consistent with specific school or program policies and requirements governing class attendance, to excuse without penalty students who are absent because of religious observances and to allow the make-up of work missed because of such absence,” Devlin said.

The policy ensures that no loopholes exist that would potentially allow teachers to ignore the exempted absences, yet there is no guarantee every teacher will be sympathetic. 

University policy states that classwork related to clinical assignments, examinations and special required out-of-class activities shall ordinarily not be scheduled on those days when religiously observant students refrain from participating in secular activities.

Andrew Getraer, the executive director of Rutgers Hillel, said while he echoed parts of Devlin’s statement, he feels the University can do more to accommodate their religious students.

Getraer said it has long been the policy of Rutgers not to provide days off for religious holidays. With such a large and diverse student population, to accommodate all the potential days off would be near impossible and very difficult to manage.

He said that Rutgers has never had these holidays off in the past to his knowledge and he does not believe the idea is currently being considered by the school administration. 

“University policy, whether all professors know this or not, has long been that professors must accommodate a student's legitimate religious observance (and), for example, excuse them from class if necessary,” Getraer said. “But how to accommodate the student is left up to each individual professor. Some professors are very understanding, some can be downright hostile.”

He said in some cases, students' religious observance can be an extreme burden, and that Jewish students face many difficulties when actively practicing their faith while classes are in session. 

Depending on how the holidays fall on the Jewish calendar, observant Jewish students will miss two class days a week, for three weeks in September and October, he said. This is very challenging and a source of extreme stress for many students.

“Imagine being a first-year student in your first month at Rutgers and you have to choose between celebrating your traditional or family religious holiday and approaching a strange professor to ask permission to miss six classes and fall far behind in your work,” Getraer said. “It can be a very unwelcoming welcome to Rutgers.”

He said that welcome will not get any warmer in the foreseeable future. Getraer said he does not believe the University will be changing policy in that regard.

He said the University can still be more accommodating, citing an example of this need from earlier in the year.

“This year, 'Parents Weekend' was scheduled over Yom Kippur,” Getraer said. “Rutgers Hillel received numerous emails and calls from upset parents, angry that the University was so insensitive to Jewish families. For a school with the largest Jewish undergraduate population in the country, I believe the University should have taken this into account.”

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