Faculty Senate pushes start of academic year to not coincide with Jewish holidays, considers fate of affirmative action  

Nov. 29, 2022, 1:07 a.m.

At Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting, senators voted to push back the start of the 2023-24 academic year by an additional day to not conflict with Yom Kippur. 

The upcoming academic year will now start on Tuesday, Sept. 26 instead of Monday, Sept. 25. University administrators also considered the ramifications of an ongoing Supreme Court case involving affirmative action. 

The start of the 2022-23 academic year coincided with Rosh Hashanah, a significant Jewish holiday. In light of this overlap, the Senate approved a two-part motion to change the following academic year’s start date and create a strategic committee to look at upcoming academic calendars and develop recommendations to avoid future scheduling conflicts. 

Dean for Religious & Spiritual Life Tiffany Steinwert, who led a presentation outlining the issue and the motion, explained that there are both symbolic and pragmatic reasons why missing the first day of classes due to religious observance can be difficult for students. 

“It is hard when we talk about inclusion and belonging at Stanford University to have this conflict come up on the very first day of the academic season,” Steinwert said. 

Steinwert reminded the Senate of the recommendations of the Task Force on Jewish Admissions, which was formed in response to evidence that the University had limited Jewish enrollment in the 1950s.

“One of the recommendations was that the faculty amend the academic calendar to avoid instruction on the first day of autumn quarter when it conflicts with religious observance,” Steinwert said. 

University Registrar Johanna Metzgar apologized for the mistake that led to this academic year starting on the Jewish high holiday of Rosh Hashanah. 

“I apologize on behalf of my office for that. It was an oversight,” Metzgar said. 

She promised change for future academic calendars, which are planned ten years in advance. “When 2030 rolls around, and we are planning the next decade, we will most assuredly avoid this problem,” she said.

After several questions regarding the scope and timeframe of the committee, the senators unanimously voted to pass the resolution, with no abstentions. 

Affirmative action at Stanford

After the vote, Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez gave a report on affirmative action in response to the Supreme Court hearing cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, which are facing legal challenges regarding their use of race-conscious admissions.

Martinez explained the historical context of race-conscious admissions, otherwise known as affirmative action, pulling data from state schools in California and Michigan to illustrate how the diversity of their student population has changed due to eliminating affirmative action. 

Martinez also noted how the Supreme Court case could potentially impact not only admissions, but the way that Stanford conducts many programs internally. For example, Stanford has programs that encourage racial diversity within research. Depending on the Court’s ruling, these programs could end, she said.

Martinez said that, while many expect the court to rule against affirmative action, it is still unclear how broad or narrow the scope of the ruling will be. This scope will determine how much it influences universities across the country.  

Members of the Senate asked questions about Stanford’s response to the ongoing legal challenges against affirmative action. Provost Persis Drell said that Stanford is engaged in investigating current methods and exploring options for the future. However, the scope of the ruling will determine Stanford’s response.  

“Until we see the language we don’t quite know what we’re dealing with. However, we are actively looking into all issues and possibilities and how programs are currently structuring their admissions and what might be speculative alternatives once we actually know what the rule is,” Drell said. 

The University is working with peer institutions across the country to share information and ideas about this possible change. “We are not doing this in isolation,” Drell shared. 

The provost reiterated, “We believe really, really strongly in the value of our current holistic admissions process.”

This article has been corrected to reflect the accurate spelling of Tiffany Steinwert’s name. The Daily regrets this error.

Jonathan is a writer for The Daily. Contact them at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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