Saturday, January 11, 2014

Gavrel in Galveston With a Weekend Thirsty on Being Excused for Religious Reasons.

I have lurked for two or three years now at CM, reading posts and regretting everything I saw in myself that looked like what professors and adjuncts griped about. It even made me send a thank-you letter to the professor of the freshman sociology class I took in my last semester of undergrad at large public university, a few months after graduation.

Here is my question, however.

Q: Under what conditions would you allow "religious reasons" as a valid excuse to have an alternate time for a midterm? I was guilty of this twice, for our midterms for a certain class were scheduled for 7 PM Friday, which as a religious Jew I could not fathom being able to make. Would you ever allow a compromise, such as the same exam being given and taken a few hours prior? The immensely kind professor who did so had to write the exams a day early because of this.

20 comments:

  1. This is really easy. My uni has a policy for finals which involve a form and the department chair's approval. If it's a test during the semester then just talk to me at the start of the term so I can prepare.

    I once tried to set up a term where no exams coincided which any religious events. I couldn't do it.

    Yes, there are those who use religion as an excuse to get extra time. All I can think is that God, Allah, Yahweh, or maybe even Isis will not be impressed.

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  2. In one service course I taught, several students missed the mid-term exam, even though I gave 2 weeks notice as to time and place. None of them informed me about any reason why they couldn't write it as scheduled.

    Guess who whined and complained to their department head about it? When he and I met with those students, one of them got rather shirty with us, claiming that exam day fell on a holiday in his religion and, thereby, he shouldn't be penalized for missing it. Apparently, it never occurred to him to tell me ahead of time.

    He failed the course, as I remember. Fortunately, I never had to teach him or that course ever again.

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  3. I do not give mid-term exams during alternate times, for any reason, not even good reasons. My classes are too big for that to be humanly possible. If I allowed even good reasons, the floodgates would open and all the bad reasons would rush forward.

    I will mark students "excused" if they can't take mid-term exams for religious reasons, just as if they'd been unable to take the exam for health reasons. This puts more weight on the final exam, but this occurs to very few 18-to-22-year-olds: their typical reaction is, "Good, I don't have to take the mid term!" They think I'm being generous.

    If they can't make the final exam, they get an Incomplete for the course, and will need to make it up next semester, for which with any luck will fit into their schedule better. I will not under any circumstances allow the same exam being given and taken a few hours prior: students can talk to each other very easily. Your proffie who did allow this might not have been being kind: he might have been leery of what might happen if he didn't. Religious people sometimes offend easily.

    Some years ago, before I had much teaching experience, I had a student of a religion different from yours. This student disrupted every class by leaving and re-entering the classroom, "to pray" at sunset. I tolerated this, but it was problematical for exams. I don't allow students to leave the classroom for exams, since in the past it has been used to aid cheating. If they need a bathroom break, I mark them "excused" for the exam, just as if they'd been had health issues. Fortunately, our classroom had a little room immediately adjacent to it into which this student could go. I wanted to ask, "Can't you ask your religious leader whether there might be an exemption for a situation in which you can't pause, such as piloting an aircraft, or defending yourself a war against outsiders like me?" But I dared not. Next time, I'm invoking the health exemption mentioned above, which I formulated since this student was in my class.

    Now I have a question for you: Can you provide any physical evidence that supernatural phenomena really do exist?

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    1. You demand physical evidence that non physical phenomena exist? So you're assuming materialism as evidence of materialism.

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    2. Yeah, I thought you wouldn't be able to. Uri Geller apparently has no problem with this, though.

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  4. It helps to have a background in comparative religion.

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    1. Oh, I do, and I like to think it's better than the one Rick Warren says he has. I've been in excellent discussions about the ontological argument of Saint Anselm, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument (recently revived as "intelligent design"), and the moral argument of Kant. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, and in other holy books, many miracles, or in other words physical manifestations of the supernatural, are described, many as being helpful in convincing outsiders of the validity of the religion. Why can't I ever get a miracle? Once when someone accused Project Apollo of being a hoax, Neil Armstrong paraphrased what Hume said about miracles: "It would have been easier to have done it than to have faked it."

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    2. I meant that it helps in judging students' excuses. Your spiritual life or lack thereof is of no interest or concern to me. If you're happy atheist, then I'm happy for you. If you're glad to be a Christian, then I am glad for you. It's all one to me, and I have no interest in picking a fight.

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    3. Excuse me, Chiltepin, but I didn't ask you. I asked Gavrel.

      I'd welcome other perspectives, too, although I wish they'd be more philosophically sophisticated than "SHUT UP!" (but then we know they are Christians by their love, by their love) or "DO NOT PROSELYTIZE" (although if inviting people to use their reason to evaluate evidence is proselytizing, then I confess to being guilty as charged), or confusing the supernatural with concepts that are abstract but quite present in the natural world, such as love, the way the 1997 film Contact does.

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  5. Friday evening exams interfere with the Jewish faith as well as the more popular religious observations of Dionysus. I mean, really? I'm a boring old professor and even I've got better things to do. Certainly, my students have other things on their minds on a Friday night.

    To answer your question, the university should have a policy that respects religious obligations and allows for alternative testing/grading arrangements.

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  6. This is simple: follow the rules of the university - the ones at my university include notifying the professor at least 14 days ahead of time. Nearly all students who try to claim religious accommodation don't follow this, so I don't have to worry about denying them accommodation. In my view, the truly faithful know the "challenges" of living in a secular society and go through the trouble of giving advance notice, while the merely academically challenged who try to use religion as a means to score an alternate later exam date don't ever think 14 days in advance of anything...

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    1. Amen. Mature adherents of a faith don't need their mothers to remind them of a religious holiday; they know how their particular religion's yearly calendar works, and plan accordingly. Admittedly some religions have calendars of their own, and, as a result, a number of religious holidays float around a bit (or a lot), but there's always a pattern that is predictable/known well in advance, and it's not like people are making up new major religious holidays on the spur of the moment (at least not in any of the major/recognized faiths).

      Some professors (me included) write their course calendars to allow for their own absences for religious observance (for me, the issue comes up only if I have an evening class in the spring, when Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday fall, but I know plenty of Jewish professors who plan around Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah in the fall, and Passover in the spring). Students can't write the course calendars, of course, but they can certainly compare them to their own calendars* at the beginning of the semester, and talk to the professor about any upcoming conflicts.**

      *And I'm sure that there are at this point multiple religious holiday plug-ins for every major calendar platform and faith.

      **Mind you, I also have trouble getting athletes to sit down and compare the schedule sheets they shove at me to sign with the course calendar. They always seem surprised that I don't really want a copy of the schedule (though I'll take one when offered); I want an email from them pointing out what days they will actually miss class, and proposing how they might deal with the work they'll miss. I've taken to writing "student realizes that (s)he is responsible for comparing team schedule to course schedule and emailing me in advance about how to make up missed work" below my signature, just to make sure we're all on the same page.

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  7. I had a student who needed to miss a whole week of class--his religion is literally a cult. Anyway, he had a note from the Dean of Students. That's what I require, and that's what the process is.

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  8. I, too, am in the "follow the university rules" camp. Ours call for being aware of the numerous religious holidays that are celebrated by members of our extremely diverse community, minimizing conflicts where possible, and offering excused absences/makeups where not. I haven't found that a major hardship (but I do teach classes with few to no exams).

    The corollary is that students should do their best to avoid signing up for classes that conflict with their religious practice. So, observant Jews shouldn't sign up for classes that will make it difficult or them to be home before the sundown on Friday (even when it gets dark earlier and earlier in the fall, as it does every fall), and observant Muslims shouldn't sign up for classes they'll regularly need to leave to pray (or for early-morning classes during Ramadan if they're going to choose to stay up all night all month; this is one of those areas where the difference between cultural and religious mandate seems to get a bit hazy in some students' minds, kind of like the Christian student who once told me she needed Good Friday off to go shopping for an Easter dress with her mother -- not my idea of an appropriate Good Friday activity). If there's only one section of a required class offered, and that time creates a conflict with a repeated religious observance, then that's a time to go talk to the professor, or, more likely the relevant department chair, dean, etc., to see what can be done.

    So, unless you deliberately signed up for a section that met (or had pre-announced exams) at 7 p.m. Friday, you're in the clear as far as I'm concerned.

    Like several others, I also think that 7 p.m. Friday is a really dumb time to schedule an exam. Heck, despite considerable pressure from the legislature to fully utilize our existing buildings, we can't get students to sign up for classes that meet any time on Friday, period (or to come to Friday class meetings if they do, in desperation to fulfill a requirement, sign up).

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  9. If I worship Yaro, shouldn't every day be a paid religious holiday?

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    1. I think it means every day is a day to send the students out into the outdoors to enjoy the sunshine. :)

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  10. My SLAC's policy is to allow accommodations for official religious holidays or practices if the student brings documentation from an official of the religion (i.e. a rabbi or a minister, etc.) that states the student is an active member of the religion.

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