The prospect of genuine accommodation for students’ religious holidays is a welcome change. But it will be up to the students to act in good faith to make the policy work.
The shift stems from a law recently passed by the N.C. General Assembly allowing students’ freedom to observe religious holidays without the worry of unexcused absences.
The Board of Governors for the UNC system voted to allow each campus to derive its own policy for religious holidays, in accordance with the new state law. For UNC, students must notify their instructors of a holiday at least two weeks before the planned absence.
The two-week notice is crucial because it helps eliminate the sudden urge for a student to skip class and use the law as an excuse to sleep in.
Religion is deeply personal. Students should have the right to miss classes for religious reasons. Because the academic calendar only includes state-recognized holidays, it does not accommodate most religious ones.
The calendar does structure holidays around both Easter and Christmas. But both are Christian holidays, which means that members of all other religions must compromise their school schedules because of religious obligations.
In the past, this has been particularly problematic for Jewish students. Many students have voiced opposition to the University not canceling classes on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish religion — since Judaism is a widely-followed religion in the United States. However, with the new policy, Jewish students no longer have to worry about risking their grades and class status with unexcused absences.
Instructors should openly embrace the new policy rather than impede it. But, if instructors must make an effort, so should students.
The success of a policy predicated upon the honor system depends on good faith on both ends of the student/teacher relationship.