For the first time, the University at Albany is moving to a five-year planning calendar. This change will, among other things, better enable the University to plan long term and ensure consistency from one academic year to the next. It will also entail some changes to past practices, including the suspension of classes on non-legal/non-government holidays. Below are some frequently asked questions about why the University is making this change and what students, faculty and staff should know about how to request accommodations.
Why did UAlbany revise the academic calendar?
First and foremost, the purpose of the academic calendar is to best serve the academic interests of the University and its students. A major component of that is ensuring that our students have as much instructional contact with faculty members as possible. It is also essential that each course offered meets the minimum instructional contact requirements set forth in federal, state and SUNY guidelines. Among other things, meeting these benchmarks is important for the disbursement of financial aid.
Given the enormous time constraints within our 15-week semesters, suspending classes on non-legal holidays has made it increasingly challenging to create a calendar in which courses meet the required number of days/times/hours and an equitable number of times, no matter the day of the week. Suspending classes on these days has also made it increasingly difficult to ensure that the fall semester begins and ends with enough time for a full, 20-day winter session with sufficient time to post grades clear degrees, process academic actions, and package financial aid for the start of the spring semester.
Finally, these changes will, for the first time, allow multi-year planning that will help faculty, staff, students and their families by providing them with major dates, such as Commencement, on the first day of their freshman year. In the past, it has been virtually impossible for the University to plan its calendar more than a year in advance or to institute consistent start and stop dates to the semesters from one year to the next.
What are the most significant changes being made to the academic calendar?
Classes will no longer be suspended on holidays that are not also legal/government holidays. In the past, the University has suspended classes for some religious holidays during the fall and spring semesters (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and Easter Monday).
The academic planning calendar will now be set five years in advance.
When do these changes take effect?
These changes will take effect for the Fall 2019 semester.
If I am a student who observes religious holidays, what should I know and what should I do?
The most important thing to know is that state law requires that any student who is unable, due to religious beliefs, to attend class on a particular day be excused from “any examination, study, or work requirements” and that UAlbany must make available “an equivalent opportunity to make up any examination, study, or work requirements which he may have missed.”
UAlbany takes this requirement seriously and will ensure that faculty are informed about it prior to implementation and that they understand how to adhere to it. A student who requires a reasonable religious accommodation should make the request directly to his or her course instructor (these requests should not be directed to the Office of Undergraduate Education or the Office of Graduate Education). As a student, you should alert your professor in advance that you will be absent on these days.
If you still encounter a concern requesting accommodations after talking with your professor:
Undergraduate students should contact the Office of Undergraduate Education at 518-442-3950 or [email protected]
Graduate students should contact the Office of Graduate Education at [email protected]
What about faculty/staff members who plan to observe these holidays?
State law also requires the accommodation of faculty and staff for religious observance. Professional and Classified staff are required to charge accruals for these absences.
We encourage academic faculty who plan to observe religious holidays to schedule their semester course calendar in such a way that instructional time is preserved. Ways to do this include, but are not limited to:
Finding a UAlbany colleague to cover the class content or to monitor an outside speaker.
Using Blackboard to schedule a timed assignment or required response that allows students to be logged into course content during the class time.
Provide for a take home exam or assignment.
Faculty members with questions about how to make arrangements to be absent for religious observance should contact their Department Chair (or Dean).
Aren’t these changes unfair to some religious faiths?
How best to structure the academic calendar has been a topic of passionate discussion on campus for many years, especially given UAlbany’s rich racial, ethnic and religious diversity. Within the time constraints of a 15-week semester, it would be logistically impossible to suspend classes on additional days.
As a result, on top of best serving our students’ academic needs, limiting the suspension of classes to legal/government holidays is also the most equitable way to recognize UAlbany's diversity in the day-to-day operations of our campus and put all students, faculty, and staff on equal footing.
We understand that this is a big change for some members of our community. This change was not considered lightly and was made, first and foremost, with the academic needs of our students in mind. As a public institution, the University cannot make policy decisions on religious grounds.
According to the 2017 Campus Climate Survey, in which 951 randomly sampled graduate and undergraduate students answered a question about their preferred religious identification, the ten largest religious affiliations among students on UAlbany’s campus – excluding those who answered “none” – were: Roman Catholic (19.24%), Agnostic (12.72%), Atheist (11.57%), Other Christian (8.52%), Jewish (4.63%), Baptist (3.58%), Church of Christ (3.58%), Buddhist (2.84%), Other Religion (2.63%) and Muslim (2.52%).
Why are you adding a fall recess? Why not just continue suspending classes on religious holidays?
The new Monday-Tuesday October recess is possible because it would be predictable from year to year and allow the campus to ensure that, combined with the Wednesday-Sunday Thanksgiving break, no single day of the week is disproportionately impacted by class suspensions. This is not possible with religious holidays that fall on different days of the week each year, requiring adjustment to the start and stop dates of the semester and making long-term planning challenging. Even with this new recess, the academic calendar will ensure that classes have an equal 14 weeks of instruction and allow for the possibility of an unexpected cancellation while still staying within state, federal, and SUNY guidelines.
From the perspective of student wellness, the University believes it is important to provide students a break from class midway through the fall semester. Placing this break in early October allows students to settle in for the critical first six weeks of the semester without scheduling it too close to Thanksgiving break roughly six weeks later.
Who made the decision and who was consulted?
The decision was made by the University’s senior leadership based on a recommendation from the University's Calendar Committee and after extensive consultation with stakeholders across the campus, including the Council of Deans, President’s Council, University Planning and Policy Council (UPPC), University Senate, University Council, on-campus and community faith leaders, the Student Association Senate, and the leadership of the Student Association and Graduate Student Association.
In late September, UPPC – which includes representation by the Provost, teaching faculty, professional staff and students – endorsed a five-year planning calendar that included these changes.
The Graduate Student Association and full University Senate also voted in support of the change.
Why is this change being made now?
The current academic calendar guidelines were approved in 2014 and implemented during the 2016-17 academic year. These guidelines came with a proviso that UPPC should review them every three years. Because we are in the final academic year of that three-year cycle, now was a logical time to make this change. During its previous review, UPPC endorsed the idea of moving the University to a five-year planning calendar. These changes were a necessary step toward that goal and have resulted in the University’s first five-year planning calendar for 2019-2023.
What do other colleges and universities do?
Most colleges and universities – including most four-year SUNY campuses and two of the other three University Centers (Buffalo and Stony Brook) – do not suspend classes on non-legal/non-government holidays.
This change brings UAlbany's calendar into alignment with the majority of its peer institutions.
Do other state offices close for non-legal religious holidays?
No. State government is not closed on non-legal/non-government holidays. State government offices and SUNY campuses like UAlbany are still open and operating on these days even when classes were being suspended.
Why are classes suspended on Christmas?
Christmas is a legal holiday recognized by New York State and negotiated by the State into the union contracts of SUNY employees. The University could not unilaterally change that simply by changing its academic calendar.
What is the University doing to assist with this transition for students, faculty and staff?
The University has convened a task force, led by the Registrar, to make recommendations to campus governance based on stakeholder feedback on how best to assist students, faculty and staff in exercising their right to observe their beliefs and obtain accommodations. These recommendations include providing faculty with information on the dates of major religious holidays to help them plan their syllabi as well as suggested changes to the undergraduate and graduate bulletins, faculty handbook and syllabi requirements.
If more students choose to remain on campus for these holidays, how will the University accommodate them?
The University will work with interfaith services to provide and/or expand programs and services to support students within the parameters allowed by UAlbany’s status as a public institution.