OPINION | Lack of uniform religious accommodations burdens Jewish students

Lily Mae Lazarus, Managing Editor

Religious academic accommodations should not burden observant students. (Cecilia Hammond)

On Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment arrives. Over the next ten days, Jews ask for forgiveness and mend the wrongs they casted over the year. For Jews, the High Holy Days mark a period of deep introspection and repentance. For Jewish students, this time is spent juggling one’s academic responsibilities with those of their spirituality. 

Tulane University’s student body is nearly 40% Jewish. As the first southern university to admit Jews, this statistic ought to be celebrated. Despite gaining entry to the university, Jewish students face the annual challenge of navigating the most sacred of their religious events while their non-Jewish counterparts, specifically Christian students, lack similar difficulties. If the university claims to adopt a core value of modeling inclusive excellence, it must address the lack thereof in religious accommodations

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment in many situations requires public colleges and universities to grant students time off from classes without penalty to observe the High Holy Days. Private universities, like Tulane, are not equally obligated to adopt such inclusive policies nor do private university professors have the same constitutional incentive to be accommodating. However, Louisiana has a state Preservation of Religious Freedom Act that demands the religious liberty of individuals can only be restricted by the “least restrictive means.” 

In theory, Tulane should have measures in place to ensure professors abide by the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. Yet, Tulane’s lack of uniform religious accommodation policies fail the requirement of “least restrictive means” by creating leeway for professors to unfairly burden or penalize religious students who have spiritual obligations on certain academic days. 

Tulane professors are required to make reasonable accommodations for students with legitimate excuses, Jews included. As of 2014, Tulane had a policy that urged professors to refrain from scheduling exams and making assignments due on the High Holy Days. That being said, professors are not mandated to follow this policy and the lack of these accommodations burden practicing Jews who are left behind by their classmates when unable to attend class or do work for religious reasons.

Tulane provides students vacation time to celebrate Christmas and Easter during their winter and spring vacations. Yet, Jewish students are not afforded this same luxury and instead must rely on the willingness of professors and classmates to provide them with class notes and extensions for missed work.  

Education and academic success should not be mutually exclusive with one’s ability to practice their religion on the holiest of their spiritual days. This is not to say the university should make Jewish holidays school breaks. Rather, Tulane must address the lack of uniformity among the faculty when it comes to making religious accommodations. With such a vast Jewish student population, it is well within reason to expect Tulane to create a streamlined system that does not burden religious students during times meant for spiritual enlightenment. 

Other universities openly recognize the High Holy Days as legitimate religious holidays requiring accommodations. With such a predominant Jewish student body, why has Tulane not done the same? Doing so would not require the university to provide additional vacation days, but it would protect religious students from unfair academic practices.

There is an all too simple solution to this dilemma. Jewish students must be allowed to access asynchronous Zoom recordings of lectures on the High Holy Days. Professors are already familiar with this technology and have used it frequently in the past year. While Jewish students may not be in class, asynchronous lectures grant them the same opportunity to take adequate notes, prepare questions for upcoming classes and remain on par with the rest of their classmates.

Leave a Comment