By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
A change proposed at Ryerson’s academic council meeting. Tuesday could see professors lose the right to demand a written explanation when students miss school during religious holidays.
At the meeting a committee headed by the school’s registrar, Keith Alnwick, proposed official changes to a policy that has been under examination last fall. “By formalizing the process, we can be assured a student will not end up feeling disenfranchised,” said Alnwick.
If the policy is approved, professors won’t be able to ask for documentation from student’s spiritual leaders if they miss classes, exams or tests because of a religious conflict. Instead, students would download a form from Ryerson’s Web site and submit to their department at the beginning of term.
The form will indicate a student’s religion and give advanced warning of any potential scheduling conflicts. The current policy calls for all religious conflicts to be handled on a one-on-one with the professor. But the onus falls on students to inform their instructor as soon as they notice a problem.
In the past, when observance issues were brought to a professors attention early enough in the term, students said faculty members almost always managed to make alternate arrangements, Alnwick said. But he said the previous informal system left room for faculty members’ personal judgement.
Last November, students proposed eliminating Saturday exams from the schedule because they conflict with some religious observances. Alnwick said that would create a scheduling nightmare, so the idea was dropped.
Elysse Zarek, a first-year journalism student who negotiated with various professors about missing classes for the recent Jewish high holidays, says that change is needed. Like Alnwick, she believes that the decisions should not be left to individual professors.
“Everyone has different levels of observance,” she said, “I’m worried that when I tell a professor that I’m missing class for Passover, he’ll look at a list and say “Well, this student is Jewish, and they’ll be in class, so why can’t you come?”
Jacob Moshinksky, president of the Jewish student association, said that while he agrees a new policy is needed, he is reluctant to embrace the online form. “Not all students want their religion to be accessible information to all Ryerson [faculty],” he said.”Aside from the issue of discrimination, there will always be some people who have honest religious purposes in mind and some who are trying to [pose as particular faith to] miss class.”