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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Final Exam Fuss

This seems to be a local story that is getting some attention:
Scores of state and city legislators are demanding that the City University of New York change its final exam schedule, which, for the first time in recent history, coincides with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

"CUNY continues to pride itself on cultural sensitivity," Assemblyman Dov Hikind wrote in a recent letter to CUNY's chancellor, Matthew Goldstein. "How is that possible when a holiday with the same religious status as Rosh Hashana is dismissed as insignificant, and thousands of students and faculty will be adversely affected?"

More than 50 state legislators and 14 members of the City Council signed the February 5 letter. Mr. Hikind, a Democrat of Brooklyn, told The New York Sun that he intends bring up the issue with Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Spitzer if the exam schedule is not changed.

In a letter to Mr. Hikind, the chancellor wrote that while he has no plans to alter the academic calendar, "the colleges have been reminded of the obligation to provide an accommodation to faculty and students who must be absent on days of religious observance." State law requires such accommodations.

Not every professor is equally sensitive to students' religious obligations, and students shouldn't be forced to rely on the goodwill of instructors, the assemblyman said.
I agree that CUNY should have been more careful when they originally approved the calendar, and should certainly make every effort going forward to vet the calendar with proper attention to religious holidays. However, the push to have CUNY change the schedule at this date date seems excessive. I myself had a similar situation while in graduate school when midterms were scheduled over Pesach, and I took an uneventful make-up exam a few days later. Was it ideal? No. But the situation was what it was. As, in my opinion, is this one.

Agree? Disagree?


Blogger RaggedyMom said...

I agree with you, Orthomom, and I think this is going a bit overboard at this stage of the game. When I went to Queens College, I fortunately didn't run into any problems. Actually, the student president of the college at the time was a friend's sister, and she encouraged frum kids to try and have an active voice on the academic senate, which helped maintain the calendar's recognition of the Jewish holidays.

However, the CUNY schools are NOT Orthodox-run institutions, they are secular colleges. In almost all cases, professors are extremely accomodating vis a vis arranging a makeup exam. The fact that some of the biggies like Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Pesach are (nearly) never a problem at CUNY (and NYC public schools) is something that amazes my husband and some of my friends who are European, and who were accustomed to being failed for a course for not showing up to a Shabbos or Yom Tov exam.

Ironically, after QC I went to St. John's where I had to miss class for Yom Kippur, but not for my wedding, which fell out on a Catholic holiday (Nov. 1 - All Saints' Day.)

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Joe said...

The state school which I attend has the following policy: "The faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago shall make every effort to avoid scheduling examinations or requiring that student projects be turned in or completed on religious holidays."

The rest of it can be seen here: http://www.uic.edu/depts/oae/religiousholidays0607_3.doc

In short, I'm surprised if it is actually the case that students would "be forced to rely on the goodwill of instructors". At UIC, professors are absolutely required to allow students to do makeup exams if there is a religious conflict. Assuming this is the case at CUNY, I don't see what the fuss is about.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to QC and for the most part had no problem. however, I took one class in my first semester and the final was scheduled for shavuot. I was one of 3 frum people in the class and the professor was being completely unreasonable. He was willing to give a makeup exam, but only with a penalty. We had to go to the head of the department. In the end he rescheduled the final, but the whole fiasco definitely definitely showed up in my grade.

I think that professors have to accomodate the holiday observers, but I think it's going a little too far to expect them to change the whole schedule.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

I went to a secular college where classes and exams were regularly scheduled on Jewish holidays. Do I think that it was an ideal situation? No, but that was the price I paid for going to a secular institution.

Yes, the school should offer every reasonable accomodation to students and professors who would be adversely affected, and clearly no one should be penalized for missing the originally scheduled exam date, but it seems unreasonable to change the schedule for the whole school.

There are reasonable accomodations, and then there is a (vocal) minority holding the rest of a community hostage. If students are being forced to "rely on the goodwill of professors" then there should be a system by which they can address those complaints.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I never experienced it myself (Lander), but a good friend in Queensborough had a similar problem to the anon10:23, and specifically with non-religious Jewish teachers, IIRC. They were upset that while *they* were coming in, these students were not - and while they finals may usually work out, it affects the grades regardless.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I also think that Annie's point is fair in many cases (certainly a private university) but shouldn't apply to a place like CUNY.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree. I think that the school should consider the needs of its students. I don't think that it took long from when the finals schedule was publicized to inform CUNY of the issue. The spring semester just started and I would think(perhaps incorrectly) that before this letter got ciculated somebody tried to talk to the chancelor.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is the ideal, that professors are supposed to accomodate, and the reality, which is that, as other people have pointed out, that they may in fact, but not really in spirit.

I went to a secular high school, as well as a secular college, and while I was able to make arrangements to take exams and turn in papers, it usually came at some difficulty, at a minimum, depending on the teacher/professor. Frequently, I would be forced to have a heavier exam schedule on particular days than I otherwise would have, or would have to take exams and turn in papers earlier. If I didn't realize that the exams and papers were scheduled for a holiday early on, I would frequently not have sufficient time to prepare, or not do as good a job on the paper.

While some of this was, of course, my own fault, since I should have been writing/otherwise preparing the whole semester, the reality is that sometimes people don't do what they should. This was, of course, in no way my teachers' fault, but still, I felt I could have done better, if only because there is an added stress of trying to make arrangements, as well as that of trying to take more exams or turn in more papers at once. Rarely, if ever, was I able to schedule a make-up exam, or turn in a paper later than the due date.

What I don't think people realize is that when university policy says that accomodations must be made, that doesn't mean that the professor must make it convenient for the student. The professor is going to schedule the accomodation at his/her convience. You can say that this is the price that people pay for going to a secular school, and maybe it is, but that doesn't mean that's the way it should be.

Maybe the accomodation should be specified so that while it isn't entirely at the student's convience, it emphasizes-and carries out- a truly fair accomodation. What that means? I don't know. It might vary. But I don't think having a heavier exam schedule, being forced to turn in work earlier, or having that work graded by a resentful professor should meet the standard.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It can affect grades practically speaking because professors have certain amount of discretion in grading, rgardless of exams and while a straight A student will probably still get the A, someone on the borderline may not so as well if the professor feels like he had to give a make-up exam unjustifiably. . .But then again, every professor brings his or her particular biases to the table -that's just life. You'd like not to think this, but I suspect that in certain cases a frum professor may give a frum student the beenfit of the doubt too when they are a borderline case. So I agree with Orthomom. You decide to go to a secular college, and that's it-you are in the real world where some people might hold taking off for yom tov against you. And then you get Schar from Above for your aggravation, and you move on. Of course any overt bias needs to be quashed, and loudly. But overt bias is not what's going on here.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in Chinuch and I didn't have that problem. I sat and learned for a number of years. I never went to College!

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Emily said...

"Reasonable Accomodation" can take a lot of forms, many of which aren't really all that reasonable. I have an exam schedualed for the last day of Pesach this year, and I informed my teacher that I would have to retake it on the first day of class, and gave her a list of about 10 times when I could retake the exam, half before the schedualled date and half after. Her response was that I should remind her later in the semester that she "will be forced to write a second exam" for that unit, and I'll take the exam the day after it's schedualled. I don't believe for an instant that my exam will be the same difficulty as the exam given to the rest of the students. I've also had to schedual my lab for that class and my workshop for the same class on the same day, which means 5 hours of biology work in one day, going until almost 10 at night, since I can't make up any labs that I would miss on holidays. Yes, she's required to allow you to make up work missed for religous reasons, but "make up" can include having the missed lab be you're lowest (dropped) lab grade, which clearly puts you at a disadvantage to other students. Is that "reasonable" at a school that claims to have a policy that you cannot have your grade penalized for religious observance?
To some extent, yes, this is what you get for going to a secular college, but I hardly think that the other alternitive is that great. The least a PUBLIC univerisity should do is make sure all thier students can take their finals on time.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could understand if this was in Kansas where a frum Jew might show up once every few years, but in New York City they (CUNY) should have known better from the start!

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a current CUNY student, let me say this: the administration should have been more aware and not scheduled finals for Shavuout to begin with.
That being said, now that they have done so, they should be super accomodating, which they are not being. In the words of one of my professors (who has decided to give the final on the last day of class):"They made a mistake and told us (the professors) to 'just deal with it.'" Incidentally, it is common knowledge that professors despise makeup exams and have a tendency to make them harder. One of my professors actually kinda freaked when we informed him of the Shavuout problem, and initially wouldn't change it, but then realized he had no choice, so he has scheduled a makeup exam.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous bc student said...

As a current Bc student, I can tell you that in previous years there hasn't been a problem because they were careful about the scheduling. Approximately 6000 out of 15000 students identify themselves as Jewish on campus. Granted, not all are religious; but even my irreligious friends make it a point not to attend on holidays. I also want to add that the assemblyman is corredt that some professors are extremely unaccommodating. Though they have to comply, it can be a heartache. I remeber being unable to take a major exam because of Succos, and the professor stood me up three times before he actually showed up to his office hours.

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly believe this is the price we pay for living in the galut. When I went to Brooklyn College I had the same problems and sometimes my grades suffered because of it. I think we do ourselves a disservice by screaming about it.

Its one of the reasons we are leaving for Israel this summer, be'ezrat Hashem. I dont want my kids to have the same experiences...

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that there are enough frum ppl in CUNY that it would be reasonable to make an across the board change.

I went to NYU and we had a test scheduled for 2nd day Pesach (which many reform don't keep) and it also coincided with Good Friday. We were given a makeup date relatively easily. There were actually more Catholics there than Jews.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

As a teacher, I'd be surprised if the faculty complaints don't ensure that this never happens again. Having to come up with two different sets of fair questions on the same material is really a pain. It's not just the students who are inconvenienced, it's every faculty member with a Shomer-Shavuot student. (Not to mention professors who are shomer shavuot)

I went to Barnard, which has a very nice policy about making accomodations for religious students, but it's true that the policy is sort of unevenly applied. Once I had a prof who made the three Orthodox students in our seminar write an extra paper, to "make up" for the several classes we were missing for chagim. An extra paper! In addition to making up notes and keeping up with the reading and trying to keep our heads above water! Oh how I hated her!

10:18 AM  
Blogger rivkayael said...

I agree that such policies should be institutionalized. Last year, I ended up TA-ing for a Jewish prof during the 2nd day of Pesach because I didn't want to call him out on it--things were much easier with Shavuos when the prof was not Jewish (I was excused). Students shouldn't have to go through that kind of anxiety trying to observe religious holidays. There was also the situation when prof came in during Y"K, announced that he was fasting, and the rest of the class wondered where all the other Jewish students were! Oyoyoy. Goodwill of instructors, especially unobservant Jewish instructors, is a scary thing to rely on.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Eli7 said...

I really don't see why the fact that CUNY is a public college--or group of colleges--should make any difference. And I really don't see what the big deal is.

I go to Columbia, and I've had to deal with similar problems before and they've all worked out--most of the time without incident. And if there was a problem with a professor, I knew I had department heads and deans I could rely on. But I also knew it was my sole responsibility to work it out.

True, sometimes it was not quite as easy as I would have liked, but, honestly, I chose not to go to Stern. If I had wanted it to be easier to be frum, I wouldn't have gone to a secular college. That's the way it works. If I had to miss class for Yom Kippur, it wasn't great, but Columbia (or CUNY) has no obligation to give me off for said holiday.

Secular institutions should have to be accommodating, but that doesn't mean they have to make or change their test schedules for our religious observances. And students should recognize that when they make their college choices.

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a point that most of the commenters are missing:
The lifeline of the colleges and ivy league universities have changed over the last 5 years. The Saudi government funds many of the Middle East and History departments hiring and making Islamic Fundamentalist demands that are outright anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. The professors, lecturers, and administrators of the colleges are mainly left wing liberal advocates who are anti-religion, anti-ethical behavior and promagaters of deviant and decadent lifestyles. The graduates of the universities are educated in this way, beware of the future CEO's, senators, representatives, professional who are absorbing this education.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sad to see this topic get shoved to the sideline because of Greenbaum's ridiculous lawsuit.

Eli7, I think you are forgetting to take into account the huge percentage of CUNY students who are Jewish. (According to the SUN article, 25% of BC and QC students.) Those numbers can't compare to how many Jews are in most other academic institutions. Of course, not all of those are frum, but as a BC student, I would venture to guess that the majority are.

11:48 AM  
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9:57 AM  

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