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Religious Observance Policy update

December 20, 2022

Dear Faculty and Academic Staff,   
Michigan State University is committed to the value of inclusion and it has always been our policy to permit students, faculty and staff to observe holidays set aside by their chosen religious faiths. As we have furthered our commitment through the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Report and Plan, we are pleased to announce forthcoming revisions to the current Religious Observance Policy. 
Following extensive review by the DEI Steering Committee, consisting of MSU’s faculty, students and staff, it was determined that a more robust and inclusive policy was needed. 
The revised policy will go into effect in the spring semester. 
Requirements that impact students: The faculty and staff must be sensitive to the observance of religious holidays so that students who absent themselves from classes on these days are not disadvantaged in any way. Students who miss class, assignments, or exams to observe a religious holiday must be accommodated in ways that include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  1. Professors and instructors should make every effort to avoid scheduling exams and oral presentations during the major holidays of religions on campus (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc.). If a professor has scheduled such an exam or oral presentation, exams must be reasonably rescheduled without academic penalty. 

  2. Absences may not be counted as a missed class in any course in which attendance is a measure of academic performance. Some instructors attempt to cover all reasons for student absences from required academic events such as quizzes or exams with a blanket policy, e.g., allowing the student to drop one grade or two quizzes without penalty, or allowing a certain number of “unexcused” absences during a semester. This kind of policy should not be applied to religious observances, as this penalizes religions with more holidays that require absences than others.  

  3. Reasonable extensions of time must be given, without academic penalty, for missed assignments; students must be allowed to schedule presentations around such absences. Make-up work should be appropriate and not more difficult than the original assignment. 

  4. It is the responsibility of those students who need to be absent to inform their instructor at least two weeks before the holiday, make arrangements in advance with their instructors, and to catch up on any material discussed and assignments given during that class period. Accommodations must never fundamentally alter an essential requirement of the course or academic program.
  5. All faculty must refer to this religious policy in their syllabi as well as provide the deadline in the syllabus by which students need to inform instructors of a conflict. Faculty should remind students of the deadline during the first day of class.
  6. Orientation programs for new students -- including the orientations for international students -- must inform incoming students about this policy and urge them to check for conflicts before the deadline for informing their instructors.  

To support implementation of these requirements, the Office of the Provost maintains a Religious Observance Calendar resource webpage to identify major religious observation days. Faculty must consult the calendar when planning their syllabi to make every effort to avoid having major exams or presentations on any of the major religious observation days and be responsive to requests for accommodation related to these observances. 
As an institution, our practices must conform to our commitments. We are confident that by working together we can continue to build an environment that acknowledges diversity, fosters inclusion and promotes our shared success. 
Thomas D. Jeitschko, Ph.D. (he/him)
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D. (he/him)
Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer