University Life Council

Minutes of Meeting

February 16, 2005

 Empire Commons Meeting Room

 

Present:            Sumedha Tagare, Karen Brown, Michael Christakis, John Murphy, Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Bill Reese, Robert Yagelski, Roslyn Jefferson, Ben Shaw, Lisa Thompson, and Gwen Moore (Chair)

 

Meeting commenced at 2:35 p.m.

 

Chair’s Report

 

Chair Moore welcomed everyone to the meeting and requested approval on the minutes from the January 27 meeting. Minutes were unanimously approved.

 

Chair Moore asked for sub-committee and ad hoc committee updates.

 

Ad hoc Benefits Committee2:38 p.m.

 

Jennifer-Stromer Galley announced that an open forum for faculty will be held on April 1, 2005 at 4 p.m. (location TBD). The forum will be to discuss family leave benefits.

 

Senate Report 2:40 p.m.

 

Chair Moore reviewed items from the most recent University Senate meeting. Items discussed included information on the proposed budget for next year including proposed cuts.

 

Final enrollment numbers for Spring 2005 were up since the Fall (with a high number of graduate student enrollment) but still short financially.

 

Suspension of Classes for Religious Holidays2:45 p.m.

 

Chair Moore reviewed the two proposed bills regarding the suspension of classes for religious holidays.

 

The bill proposing no suspension of classes will be referred to as “Proposal A” and the bill proposing classes be suspending in recognition of and respect for Muslim religious holidays will be referred to as “Proposal B”.

 

Added to Proposal A was an addendum regarding the policies of New York University and SUNY Brockport, both institutions do not suspend classes for holidays.

 

Chair Moore asked if there were any corrections to the bills and opened the floor for discussion, questions and comments.

 

Committee members clarified that only one bill can be recommended (or not recommended) and also reviewed the approval process. Once a bill was voted on by the ULC, it would then go to the Educational Policy Council for review and if passed by the EPC, it would go on to the Senate and then President Hall for final approval.

 

Chair Moore addressed and answered the question posed at the previous ULC meeting regarding whether not suspending classes would solve the academic departments’ concerns about having to reschedule classes.

 

(At the 1/27/05 meeting, Bill Hedberg asked if not recognizing the holidays would actually solve the academic departments’ problem as they would still have to recognize NYS Law and allow students the day off if requested.)

 

After speaking with the Biology Department, Chair Moore explained that that particular department feels that no holidays would be better for their teaching.

 

Chair Moore said that Committee member Candace Merbler had told her that the University at Buffalo will no longer be giving time off for religious holidays and that it appears that the institution is phasing out the recognition of holidays according to the posted academic calendar.

 

Michael Christakis explained that the proposed bills for UAlbany would also phase out the holidays and it would not be an overnight change.

 

Michael Christakis passed around info obtained from the journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, regarding a survey done by the journal regarding freshmen students’ religious preference. The information was taken from The Chronicle’s Annual Freshmen Survey from 1995-2004. M. Christakis pointed out that according to the survey, there are more students who identify with the Buddhist religion than Islam, which brings up the “slippery slope” issue regarding other holidays beyond the Muslim ones.

 

Committee members briefly discussed a study done on New Yorkers and it was found that approximately 2 percent identified as Muslim and 5 percent identified as Jewish. Unofficially, UAlbany percentages are higher.

 

Karen Brown stated that both bills were well-written and compelling and credits Dan Smith and the subcommittee for excellent work. John Murphy agreed.

 

Lisa Thompson noted the high percentage of students who identified themselves with “no religious preference” in The Chronicle survey. Committee members discussed that this could make it more compelling to vote for no holidays.

 

Jennifer Stromer-Galley asked if Proposal A could include the survey information to help clarify certain points.

 

Committee members also felt that the wording in paragraph 1 on page 2 in Proposal B seemed to imply that students would opt to “neglect” their work as opposed to making up work and asked if the wording could be changed.

 

Bob Yagelski asked if there was any data on the SUNY population and Chair Moore referred to a 1993 UAlbany survey that provided some information.

 

Committee members discussed the “tradition” in place at the University and that it would be a significant change to go to “no holidays” if that bill passed. Karen Brown stated that in the downstate area only a few colleges recognize no holidays.

 

John Murphy stated that he supports Proposal B but he is concerned about the slippery slope issue. Bill Reese asked if there should be a discussion about students who come to Albany and just want the day off versus those who apply to Albany because of the fact the University gives them certain holidays off.

Committee members discussed who the ULC represents and the consensus was that it is the entire University and not any particular audience over another.

 

Other members asked if there was any conversation about how this would affect faculty and if there were statistics on who takes time off.

 

John Murphy asked for the rationale to set aside a 40 year tradition. Bill Reese said that the slippery slope issue is a strong rationale.

 

Committee members also discussed that by being in favor of not recognizing any holidays, the institution would be honoring all religious holidays and traditions and that the University may be at a point where it is changing and adapting. It was just recently that the New York State Education Law was passed (in 1992).

 

Bill Reese asked graduate student representative, Sumedha Tagare, if students were for or against either proposal and she indicated that although nobody seems to mind having the day off, there was not real push for either option.

 

The Committee also said it would be helpful if a five year academic calendar were put together and included all major religious holidays so that everyone was aware of the dates.

 

Also discussed was the fact that there were other Jewish holy days that were not recognized by the University and that Christian holidays were not really recognized either.

 

Lisa Thompson stated that by possibly eliminating the suspension of classes on religious holidays, the University could create a community, on campus, since less students would be going home. Bob Yagelski said that the point made earlier by Lisa regarding the high percentage of students who do not identify with a religion could also be indicative of the notion of respect extending to other ways of recognizing spirituality.

 

Chair Moore briefly reviewed a 1993 UAlbany Institutional Research that surveyed religious preference of students:

 

  • Islamic – 1%
  • Jewish – 24%
  • Christian/Catholic – 37%
  • Buddhist – .08%
  • None – 15%

 

ULC members agreed that education and the teaching process are primary concerns and Proposal A seemed to address both that issue along with the issue of respect. However, a concern regarding Proposal A is the possible issue that Muslim students may feel that they are not be respected because they just recently received recognition or they may feel they are at fault for the institution deciding to no longer recognize any religious holidays.

 

A member asked if there were statistics on the number of students actually missing class. Chair Moore said that based on informal conversations with colleagues at other institutions, the number of students missing class elsewhere is low. Karen Brown offered to do further research on UBuffalo’s policy.

 

John Murphy asked if there were any studies on retention and recruitment and how it would be affected if the holidays are phased out. He also emphasized the importance of celebrating within communities and the importance of getting major holidays on the academic calendar.

 

Motion to Vote 3:30 p.m.

 

Motion to move Proposal A to the Senate with the following friendly amendments:

 

  • In the Rationale Section, include details from The Chronicle of Higher Education survey regarding religious preference of freshmen students and the 1993 UAlbany Institutional Research religious preference survey.
  • Incorporate a statement regarding the issue of respect for all religions and religious holidays.
  • In the Implementation Section, charge Chapel House to administer to the religious communities.

 

 

Jennifer Stromer-Galley made the motion, Michael Christakis seconded. Motion in favor of moving Proposal A to the Senate with the friendly amendments was unanimously passed by all members present.

 

Chair Moore announced “proxy votes” for three members not present: one for the continued recognition of the Muslim holidays, one no suspension of classes on religious holidays and one for neither proposal.

 

Chair Moore will let everyone know when this Bill will be presented Senate.

 

New Business 3:35 p.m.

 

No new Committee business.

 

Next meeting TBD.

 

Meeting was adjourned at 3:36 p.m.

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Nancy Lauricella, Recording Secretary