Religious observances accepted as excuses for missed exams

Melanie Saxe

For those who have felt torn between taking an important exam or observing a traditional religious holiday, faculty has recently been reminded of a CSUN policy that allows for rescheduling.

Because personal religion requires a certain amount of tact and sensitivity, whatever a student’s personal belief, it must be acknowledged and respected at a state-run institution like CSUN.

The CSUN policy states, “It is our campus policy that in administering any test or examination, we will permit any student who is eligible to undergo the test of examination to do so, without penalty, at a time when the activity would not violate the student’s religious creed.”

Professor and American Indian Studies coordinator Dr. Karren Baird-Olson said she considers it her own responsibility to not schedule a test on a religious holiday, but if she does so without knowing, she takes the student’s word for it.

“I allow the student to take the test before or after the scheduled test date,” Baird-Olson said.

Assistant Professor Gary Katz has his own calendar of religious holidays and also makes an effort to avoid scheduling tests on those days.

He said scheduling conflicts only happen once or twice a year, and that he has no problem rescheduling a test due to a religious holiday. Katz said he receives memos from Hillel reminding him of upcoming religious holidays.

Sister Rita Basta, professor of mathematics, wrote in an e-mail that she does not require a note from her students.

“I usually know if it is a holiday, but if not, I trust that the student is telling me the truth,” she said.

Some teachers, however, request a written note from students. This note can come from their church, synagogue, mosque, or from a religious organization on campus, such as CSUN’s Hillel Jewish Student Center.

“We have had experiences in the past where students come in (to Hillel) for a letter to give to their teachers,” said Adam Siegel, Hillel’s program director.

Most of the students need letters for tests that are scheduled on a Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath. On the Sabbath, many of those abiding by Jewish religion cannot write or take a test.

A major Jewish holiday, Shavuot, falls in the middle of finals week on May 23 and 24, which “may be an issue for some students,” Siegel said.

Siegel said that in the year and a half he has been at Hillel, he has yet to hear of a teacher making a student go against their religious observances.

The Muslim Student Association has written letters in the past for students as well.

Zabie Mansoory, president of the Muslim Student Association, said the two major Muslim holidays are in September and December.

“For the most part, teachers have been good about observing those days,” he said.

Although each professor may have their own procedure, the Jan. 10 memo encourages them to contact the Provost’s Office if they need assistance in identifying a religious holiday.

Baird-Olson said she personally goes on a “case-by-case basis” for students requesting an exam to be rescheduled due to a religious observance.

Associate Vice President of Undergraduate Studies Cynthia Rawitch said CSUN does not provide or even have a list of approved religious days for the teachers. She said last semester there was an attempt by the Undergraduate Studies Office to compile a list of accepted major religions and their holidays. They realized, however, that such a list was impossible to make.

“It would become extremely difficult to determine what (constitutes) a major religion or what (constitutes) a major religious holiday,” Rawitch said. “Any list wouldn’t (be) complete and could offend some people,” she said.

Faculty is required to look for themselves, and make sure they do not schedule tests on religious holidays.