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July 5, 2021 4:48 pm

University of Wisconsin Sticks With ‘Unwelcoming’ Plan to Start Term on Rosh Hashanah

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Photo: Richard Hurd / Flickr

Jewish students and faculty at the University of Wisconsin System spoke out on Monday over what one called an “exclusionary” decision to stick with a 2021-2022 term calendar beginning on the Rosh Hashanah holiday, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report.

Despite receiving a June 1 letter from chancellors representing six UW campuses about the schedule conflict, the University of Wisconsin System will indeed begin fall term on September 7 and 8 — just as Jewish community members celebrate the new year.

“That the university is making me choose is upsetting,” rising UW-Madison junior Mikaela Steckelis told the Journal. A legal studies and political science major fearful of starting “on the wrong foot” with her professors, Steckelis said she will attend class during Rosh Hashanah anyway.

The holiday begins in the evening of September 6 and ends on September 8 — the earliest it has fallen on the Western calendar since 2013.

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“UW-Madison says they’re focusing on diversity and inclusion,” Steckelis said, but “this feels the opposite of inclusion.”

CEO of UW Hillel Greg Steinberger said it was last December when he notified UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Provost John Karl Scholz, and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor of the Fall 2021 term’s starting during Rosh Hashanah.

He was joined in the request by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the Islamic Community of Madison Area and the Wisconsin Council of Churches — but to no avail.

UW officials have said that student financial aid, federal and state reporting requirements, and technology systems make it too late to change the term plans.

Greg Steinberger told Journal that he asked UW officials to at least tell Jewish students about the scheduling conflict during orientation, but they were “reluctant to do so.”

Rising senior and summer orientation adviser Aerin Leigh Lammers said the Jewish students she spoke to were unaware of any issue and not apprised of the process for requesting religious accommodations.

UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas did not confirm or deny Lammers account but said notice of the conflict will be “widely communicated” before the start of fall term.

The issue has also given some Jewish professors tough choices. Community and Environmental Sociology Professor Josh Garoon, for example, said he will take his family to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and is “assessing how to make up the missed material.”

Other professors said they have never been through the process of “high-level-approval” for receiving religious accommodations.

Professor of Jewish Studies Chad Goldberg strongly criticized UW, saying, “There is no question that it sets an exclusionary and unwelcoming tone for Jewish students, staff, and faculty.”

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