University Provost James O’Donnell announced on Monday that the university will be implementing new measures to better accommodate the needs of students observing major non-Catholic religious holidays.

The policy specifies that students who are unable to participate in classes, assignments, presentations and exams on any given day due to their observance of a religious holiday will be granted reasonable accommodations for completing missed work. Students must, however, notify their professors at the beginning of the semester and make arrangements to make up the work.

Associate Provost Marjory Blumenthal said the new policy will promote accommodation of religious diversity, in keeping with the spirit of university.

“There is an educational benefit to have personal interaction for people of different faiths,” Blumenthal said.

The Office of Campus Ministry, in conjunction with the provost and registrar’s offices, according to Blumenthal, will soon publish on their Web site a list of the major religious holidays and holy days, including Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Ramadan, for spring and fall of 2009. Father Kevin O’Brien, S.J., the executive director of campus ministry, said Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam will be represented.

“From its founding, Georgetown has been a Catholic university deeply committed to its own religious tradition but also welcoming to people of all faiths. All departments of the university, including campus ministry, support students as they explore questions of faith and meaning and live the faith that they freely choose,” O’Brien said. “Campus ministry supports [the new policy] that allows faculty to make reasonable accommodations for a student’s religious practice.

O’Brien said campus ministry officials will be serving in an advisory role as this list of major religious holidays is compiled.

“[We can help] faculty and students understand which holy days are central to a particular faith tradition, thus warranting some accommodation,” O’Brien said.

In recent years, as the university has become more and more religiously diverse, some students have experienced difficulties observing non-Catholic religious holidays on campus. The catalyst for the change, Blumenthal said, was “All Religious Traditions Deserve Due Respect” (THE HOYA Oct. 10, 2008, A3), which expressed outrage about a lack of accommodation for non-Catholic religious holidays.

The provost discussed the issue with the faculty in order to establish an agreement to move forward. The Council of Associate Deans and then the Main Campus Executive Faculty discussed and revised the policy, which was then sent back to the provost for finalization. According to Blumenthal, Georgetown also researched similar guidelines of peer colleges and universities, such as Boston College, the University of Maryland and Brown University, to see what had been effective and to establish a benchmark for where Georgetown should be in regard to its religious policies.

“This is a very positive step. It makes it much easier for faculty because they will know which are the holy days and festivals for which students might be absent. Professors won’t have to contact campus ministry to verify absences for holidays. Students won’t have to persuade the professor that a holy day is legitimate because the faculty member will know,” White said. “There will be no confusion and no ambiguity. The professor can also create a syllabus looking at schedules and make sure they don’t schedule an exam on the holy day.”

Blumenthal said that with the new policy in place, the responsibility now lies with the students.

“In addition, there is an obligation for students to approach the faculty. This puts the faculty on alert and allows the professor and student to see if the class does not conflict too much,” she said.

Faculty members, according to Blumenthal, have shown support and understanding for this new policy by sending e-mails to Blumenthal.

“[The new policy is] a wonderful thing. It speaks volumes of Georgetown and its Catholic identity to be accommodating to other religions. It makes students feel at home so it will empower them to work more and contribute more,” Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplaincy director, said.

“I don’t want students to sit in a classroom [on a holy day] and feel they have violated their religion or compromised their identity.”

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