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Sep. 3, 2020

Supporting religious observances as high holy days approach

As fall semester begins, members of our community may be observing religious holidays. Information on MSU’s Religious Observance Policy can be found on the Office of the Registrar’s website at https://reg.msu.edu/ROInfo/Notices/ReligiousPolicy.aspx, which includes resources for planning for religious holidays. The policy states:

It has always been the policy of the University to permit students and faculty to observe those holidays set aside by their chosen religious faith.

The faculty and staff should be sensitive to the observance of these holidays so that students who absent themselves from classes on these days are not seriously disadvantaged. It is the responsibility of those students who wish to be absent to make arrangements in advance with their instructors. It is also the responsibility of those faculty who wish to be absent to make arrangements in advance with their chairpersons, who shall assume the responsibility for covering their classes.

As Michigan State University has become increasingly multicultural, the incidence of conflicts between mandatory academic requirements and religious observances has increased. In the absence of a simple and dignified way to determine the validity of individual claims, the claim of a religious conflict should be accepted at face value. Be aware that some degrees of observance may have a more extensive period of observance. Instructors may expect a reasonable limit to the number of requests by any one student. Some instructors attempt to cover all reasons for student absences from required academic events such as quizzes or exams with a blanket policy, e.g., allowing the student to drop one grade or two quizzes without penalty. If this is meant to extend to religious observances, the instructor should state this clearly at the beginning of the term. If instructors require make-up exams, they retain the right to determine the content of the exams and the conditions of administration, giving due consideration to equitable treatment.

"As an institution, we are committed to the value of inclusion, and our practices must conform to our commitments," notes Teresa K. Woodruff, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. "I am confident that working together we can continue to build an environment that supports and fosters diversity and inclusiveness."

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