Jewish students across University of Wisconsin System colleges are frustrated as the start of the 2021-22 academic year coincides with Rosh Hashanah, and the UW System has no plans to change course.
“When I heard that the school year started on Rosh Hashanah I honestly laughed,” said first-year student Carly Silver. “It is so typical for things like this to happen to the Jewish community.”
Classes are set to begin on Wednesday, Sept. 8 — the final day of the Jewish New Year celebration, which begins on Sept. 6.
Silver found a sense of community on campus through a Jewish-based sorority, the UW Hillel and Chabad, but notes that Jewish students are often overlooked.
“This year I didn’t even take off the holy holidays because I knew I would just fall behind because other classmates weren’t in the same situation,” said Silver.
First-year student Yaakov Segal shared Silver’s frustrations with the calendar, saying that the university had “once again” forgotten about the Jewish community.
“I was excited to arrive at a school that I assumed would be different given the huge Jewish population on campus,” said Segal. “My optimism, however, was unfounded.”
At UW-Madison, there are approximately 4,000 Jewish students, making up 13 percent of the undergraduate population.
“At a school with a small Jewish population I would perhaps be more sympathetic,” said Segal. “However, UW historically has a large population and I expected more.”
University officials maintain that the academic calendar cannot be adjusted.
“UW-Madison recognizes that the first date of classes being held on the second day of Rosh Hashanah represents a challenging conflict for students and instructors,” said UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone, underscoring that academic calendars are set several years in advance.
To accommodate Jewish students celebrating the holiday, the university will ask faculty to ensure that course materials are available in an online format or provide materials in advance so that students are “not disadvantaged by missing class that day,” said McGlone.
“I definitely think they have the ability to change [the academic calendar] but don’t really care,” stressed Silver.
The UW-Madison Chancellor’s Convocation — originally scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 7 — was rescheduled for Sept. 3 in order to avoid calendar conflicts with Rosh Hashanah. University sanctioned welcome events were adjusted to avoid conflicts as well, McGlone said.
“We regret the conflict our calendaring has created for our Jewish community,” said McGlone, noting that the administration asked the Registrar’s office to be more conscious when formulating calendars in order to identify possible religious conflicts so that the university can make changes when appropriate.
Despite this, Jewish students like Silver and Segal remain disappointed with the university’s actions.
“I have no doubt that the UW administration will take steps to address the problem now that there is backlash,” said Segal. “The issue for me is that this even happened in the first place.”