Yom Kippur and Oregon State University

Yom Kippur is the most sacred and solemn holy day in Judaism, and is typically observed from sundown to sundown. This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on September 27th and ends on the evening of Monday, September 28th.

The first day of classes at Oregon State University (OSU) begins on Monday, September 28th. Classes also begin on Monday, September 28th at Eastern Oregon University, Portland State University, Southern Oregon University, and Western Oregon University.

The only Oregon University System (OUS) institution that is not starting classes on September 28th is the University of Oregon. The first day of classes at the University of Oregon begins on Tuesday, September 29th — after Yom Kippur.

An email from the OSU administration informed the OSU community that faculty, staff and students could be absent for the first day of classes without penalty. I would argue that the penalty is a missed day of learning and/or work, and knowing that at least one OUS institution decided to modify their schedule while yours did not.

I have heard, anecdotally, that one of the reasons given by OSU for not modifying the Fall term start date was due to how much lead time is required to change anything on the academic calendar. That actually sounded like a solid rationale, until you check out the University of Oregon calendar and see that they did it. And then you see that several discussions have occurred during OUS Provost Council meetings that reference Yom Kippur.

In August of 2004, the OUS Provost Council minutes record that a discussion took place regarding “the possibility of moving the starting date of classes in 2009-10 to a week earlier due to the date occurring on Yom Kippur.” Yom Kippur was again discussed in September of 2004.

In October of 2004, the OUS Provost Council minutes include the following statement:

“a decision needs to be made on whether the campuses should start fall term in 2009-2010 on another day other than what was originally scheduled: September 28, Yom Kippur. Upon discussion, it was decided that each campus should review the date with their class schedule and adjust the start date according to whatever works best for the campus.”

Then in April of 2005:

UO would like to start fall term one day later due to Yom Kippur; therefore, starting it on Tuesday, September 29. *** noted that [the U of O] would still have the minimum number of days for classes. It was the consensus of the Council to approve UO moving their start date. The Chancellor will be informed of the Council’s recommendation. Note: On the academic calendar that will be posted to the Web, there will be two start dates in fall 2009-10: Monday, September 28 and Tuesday, September 29, indicating “UO only.”

It is unfortunate that Oregon State University, Portland State University, Western Oregon University, Eastern Oregon University and Southern Oregon University decided to hold classes on Yom Kippur. If the University of Oregon can do it, why can’t everyone else? The decisions regarding OUS academic calendars and Yom Kippur took place 5 years ago. Kudos to the University of Oregon for doing the right thing and modifying their Fall term start date.

Here are the dates for future occurrences of Yom Kippur.