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September 22, 1989 - Image 107

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-22

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Classroom Dilemma


Special to The Jewish News

Michigan colleges
try to minimize
for their observant
Jewish students.

The University of Michigan's Walter Harrison.


Daniel M. Rosen

ith the commence-
ment of the school
year, institutions of
higher education
once again face the
perennial issue about possible
conflicts between the
academic calendar and the
religious one. With Rosh
Hashanah on a weekend this
year (Sept. 30-Oct. 1), the pro-
blem is not as acute. But Yom
Kippur falls Sunday night
and Monday, Oct. 8-9.
Over the last few years,
several Michigan universities
and colleges have done their
homework to insure the needs
of the institutions and the
people they serve are equally
met. Most — but not all of the
time — these mechanisms
"We ask the faculty to
respect the religious needs
and desires of students," ex-
plains Walter Harrison, ex-
ecutive director of University
Relations at the University of
Michigan. "It's that simple!'
That simplicity usually suf-
fices but there are occasions
when it's one step behind
events. Last year, for example,
U-M final examinations were
originally scheduled during
Passover and Ramadan.
"When that was brought to
our attention we put out a
memo on it," says Harrison.
This year, Harrison explains,
a newly drafted and updated
memo describing' the uni-
versity's policy will be sent to
faculty early in the school
year to help insure that
scheduling conflicts are held
to a minimum.
"In the past our policy was
formal and irregularly an-
nounced. Now we are trying
to make it formal and
regularly announced," says
Harrison. The simplicity of U7
M's policy can also lead to a
kind of vagueness.
"The university asks facul-
ty to be sensitive to Jewish
students and others and most
are, in fact, sensitive and
responsive," says Michael
Brooks, executive director of
U-M's Hillel. "But it does not
have a policy for what hap-
pens when student en-
counter individual faculty
members who are not sym-
pathetic to their needs."

Like U-M, Eastern Michi-
gan University has a similar
mechanism for informing.the
academic community about
religious holidays and the
obligation towards them,
although it too has found, on
occasion, that events are
scheduled over important
religious holidays. "We - had
commencement scheduled on
Passover last year but we had
it changed," explains Larry
Smith, vice president for
university marketing and
student affairs. "I've been
here 14 years and there have
only been a couple of occa-
sions when there have been
conflicts. I think our faculty
have a history of being ex-
tremely sensitive to the
At Michigan State Univer-
sity, the school policy is ex-
plicity set out in the academic
program manual that's tradi-

"In the past our
policy was formal
and irregularly
announced. Now
we are trying to
make it formal and

tionally given to students. Ac-
cording to Mark Finkelstein,
interim director of MSU's
Hillel, the policy assures that
faculty and students shall be
given the opportunity to
observe holidays set aside by
their respective - religious
faiths. Students who absent
themselves on those days
shall not be seriously disad-
vantaged by doing so.
At Washtenaw Community
College, which has a diverse
student population, including
a substantial Moslem com-
munity, no formal policy has
been developed. "And as a
general rule we don't take
religious holidays into con-
sideration when developing
the academic calendar," says
Marty Heator, interim direc-
tor of college advancement.'
Students and • faculty work
out any possible scheduling
conflicts on an individual
"The critical concern," ex-
plains Heator, "is that
nothing happens which would
adversely affect the student!'
Given institutional recogni-

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