Classes Taped for Jewish Holiday

Oct 8, 2008 9:10 AM. All work by , ,

BOSTON—Video recordings of classes may be available to B.U. students who miss class for religious holidays if a new pilot program from the Provost's office is implemented.
As part of the new program, biology professor Ulla Hansen was asked to record one of her classes last Monday in observance of Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holiday celebrating the New Year. The recording is not yet available to her students, but Hansen said that it will be accessible online.

But for COM sophomore Rachel Udwin, Prof. Hansen's recordings are of no help. Udwin did not attend her classes on Tuesday and Wednesday in observance of Rosh Hashanah. She spent both days in prayer at Morse Auditorium, an experience that took up roughly 11 hours of her time, according to her estimate.

"I think [recordings] would have definitely helped," said Udwin, "because all I have now are someone else’s' notes."

Udwin explained that although she has been able to catch up, borrowed notes were still inferior to seeing and hearing her professors give the lecture. And although Udwin gave her professors advanced notice of her absence, it was her responsibility to acquire notes from her classmates.

Ahmed Abdelmeguid, a junior in CAS, had a different opinion from Udwin. According to Abdelmeguid, recorded classes are asking too much of professors and may encourage students to simply skip class without fear of falling behind.

"It would require a lot from a professor, who’s probably doing research, to provide every lecture for classes that a student has missed," said Abdelmeguid. "I have never heard of teachers doing this before, nor do I think that it should be required of them."

The IR major missed three classes on Wednesday to participate in the Islamic holiday, Eid ul-Fitr, a day of celebration that marks the end of the month-long fast, Ramadan. Like Udwin, Abdelmeguid also got notes from a classmate but added that even if the notes weren't enough, he could easily seek first hand instruction by going to his professors' office hours.

Students who attend college in Massachusetts are protected by state law when they miss classes to observe religious holidays. The law (Chapter 151C of the General Laws of the Commonwealth) states that students who miss class because of religious duties "shall be excused from any such examination or study or work requirement, and shall be provided with an opportunity to make up such examination, study, or work requirement." The provision goes on to state that "no adverse or prejudicial effects shall result to students" if they do miss class.

But not all professors adhere to that policy, said Kip Lombardo, the director of student activities at the B.U. Hillel House.

"We have had to work with Marsh Chapel to remind faculty and staff about that," said Lombardo, who also teaches writing seminars at B.U. The responsibility of balancing academic and religious lifestyles also falls upon the student, said Lombardo. He advocates that students plan ahead to avoid conflicts. On Yom Kippur, for instance, participants are not supposed to eat, drink or do work for 26 hours.

"If you have a test of Friday, you can't tell your professor you can't take it because Yom Kippur was on Thursday," said Lombardo. "You'd better have studied the weekend before."

According to Lombardo, there are roughly 3,500 Jewish undergraduates at B.U., and about 80 percent of them observe Jewish holidays. Yom Kippur is only one of 115 religious, ethnic and civic holidays that was recently published by Purdue University for the 2008-09 academic year. Of the 115 holidays, 18 occur in October.

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