I write in response to Alexander Lansís opinion published in last weekís edition of The Wooster Voice.
First, I applaud his concern and find that we agree on several of the substantive points.† While it may not be surprising given the historical grounding of our college and our nation, the observance of religious holidays is decidedly Christian-centric.† Lans and I would, I believe, agree that these norms are in conflict with an espoused set of values that would have us recognize that faith traditions are essential dimensions of culture; if we value the multiculturalism of our campus community, we should respect the many faith traditions of our members.
Were Lans an investigative journalist rather than an opinion writer, he might have discovered that the Faculty Handbook, Section 7.B.7, has a policy governing faculty practice called ìReligious Observance.”† In part, it reads: ìThe College is a diverse community whose members belong to many faiths and religious traditions. While the College doesnít have a formal policy on religious observance, some students may make a personal decision to observe the holidays of their faith. In that instance, it will be the studentís responsibility to discuss with faculty members, well in advance, any conflicts which may arise with the studentís academic commitments and responsibilities, including class attendance. Faculty members who can make accommodation are encouraged to do so, if the accommodation doesnít result in an unreasonable burden on the faculty member or in unfair treatment of other students.”
If Lans researched the matter, he would also have found that Dean Holmes and Dean Kreuzman sent out a joint memo to all faculty on Aug 10, 2009, with the full policy statement and a list of the major religious observances for the fall recognized by Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus.
Lans and I might also agree, however, that our policies, while recognizing faith traditions, are still biased somewhat toward the secular.† Students have the prerogative to seek accommodation and faculty have the prerogative to grant accommodations or not.† It is a fair question, I think, whether the current policy goes far enough in respecting the diversity of faith traditions of those who are members of our community.
Lans and I part company, however, on two points.† First, Lans suggests that academic assignments ought not be due on the days following religious holidays.† My response is simple and direct ó since one knows well in advance when religious holidays fall and also when major assignments are due, it behooves Lans and all students, facult, and staff to complete the required work in advance of the holiday.
Second, I feel obliged to comment on the tone of Lansí opinion piece.† Popular media has created a social norm where public debate has descended into shouting matches, often addressing issues through strident attacks on persons rather than on the issues themselves.† At Wooster, we need to model† modes of discourse fitting for democratic deliberation.† If we cannot explore and exchange ideas, engage in debate, seriously, even passionately, in ways that are carefully reasoned and respectful, we fall short of our mission.