The Faculty Senate on Thursday approved a resolution to adjust the start dates of certain academic years in which the first day of class conflicts with Jewish high holidays. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

The Faculty Senate on Thursday approved a resolution to adjust the start dates of the fall quarter for certain academic years in which the first day of class conflicts with Jewish high holidays.

For academic years 2026-27, 2036-37, and 2050-51, the academic year will now begin on Tuesday instead of the traditional Monday start date to avoid classes beginning on Yom Kippur, which is observed from sundown to sundown, or the first day of Rosh Hashanah, which is observed over two days.

Before voting to approve the resolution, senators discussed various concerns regarding consideration of other possible options, the impact of losing one day of instruction, the significance of the issue for the university’s Jewish community, and more.

Kate Maher, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policies, co-chair of the Academic Calendar Subcommittee, and professor of Earth system science, noted that the resolution doesn’t fully resolve all conflicts with holidays. When the evening of Rosh Hashanah aligns with the first day of classes in academic years 2025-26 and 2052-53, there will be no change to the academic calendar.

“This last piece is really important because it reflects a compromise that was made between honoring the observance of the holidays and minimizing the impacts to the academic calendar,” Maher said.

There will also be years when the first day of the quarter will be on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, or on the first two days of Sukkot, another Jewish holiday. For those years, the university should be proactive in messaging and accommodations, Maher said.

In contemplating this change, the subcommittee considered potential impacts on summer programs, STEM courses, and more, said David K. Stevenson, chair of the Committee of Graduate Studies, co-chair of the Academic Calendar Subcommittee, and the Harold K. Faber Professor of Pediatrics. The subcommittee also explored shifting the academic calendar forward or backward by a week, as well as other possibilities.

“We considered really carefully these different options,” Stevenson said. “…When it came down to it, because of the infrequency of these conflicts which we mapped out, this was the most reasonable solution.”

One senator asked whether other religious holidays were considered when reviewing conflicts with the academic calendar. Maher and Stevenson said that question came up early in the subcommittee’s work, but since they focused on the start of the fall quarter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah were the holidays applicable for that time period. “The overarching senate policy that is in place would suggest that any religious observance would take precedence for the start of the quarter,” Maher said.

Brian Conrad, professor of mathematics, read part of a letter signed by 11 colleagues expressing concern about losing a day of instruction and asking the senate to hold off on the vote until another solution could be reached. STEM courses “have lectures, labs, problem sets, and discussion sections that are carefully designed to fit around many constraints,” Conrad said. “And because the material is cumulative, rushed or omitted coverage early on leads to weaker foundation and increased student anxiety.”

Ruth O’Hara, the Lowell W. and Josephine Q. Berry Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said that while she supported the resolution and appreciated the subcommittee’s work, it’s important to not minimize the impact that some courses and instructors will face as a result. Other senators noted that while it’s impactful, the loss of an instruction day will occur infrequently over the next several decades.

Deborah Hensler, the Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution and a Jewish faculty member, said that she had reorganized her classes in the past so that she and other Jewish students could observe the holidays, but that doing so “made me actually feel unwelcome.”

“There is a symbolic effect of this, when you’re in a community and the community chooses to take [the first day of the academic calendar for instruction] … and it is the most important day of your religion,” Hensler said. “I think it’s valuable for this community to take note of that.”

In other matters

Against a national backdrop of protests to the Israel-Hamas war across college campuses, President Richard Saller in remarks to the senate said the university has worked to plan for the management of campus activities during Admit Weekend as well as in the future. “We’ve talked through many scenarios, and our primary aim is to maintain the safety of the campus and the continued operations of our academic work,” Saller said.

Philip Levis, professor of computer science and of electrical engineering, asked Saller to clarify the policy for free speech and tabling in White Plaza during Admit Weekend. The university’s general policy is that free speech and tabling are allowed in White Plaza, except during a Big Five event, which includes Admit Weekend, Saller explained. “In terms of the enforcement of the policy, we will make judgments about how best to maintain the safety of the community and the peace of the campus,” Saller continued.

During reports from the senate’s Steering Committee, Meagan Mauter, associate professor of photon science, said that the Board on Conduct Affairs has adopted a bylaw that provides guidance for setting the level of review for reported Honor Code concerns. The bylaw emerged from discussions of the Stanford Student Conduct Charter of 2023 and new Honor Code, which were adopted last spring.

Mauter also shared a resolution from the Associated Students of Stanford University, which extends Green Library’s hours effective autumn quarter 2024 and has already been administratively approved.

In memory

Senators also heard a memorial resolution for Edwin M. Bridges, a retired professor of education known for applying problem-based learning to the training of educational learning. Bridges died at age 85 on March 18, 2019.

Maher is a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, and professor, by courtesy, of Earth and planetary sciences. Mauter is a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy, and an associate professor, by courtesy, of chemical engineering. O’Hara is director of the Stanford Center for Clinical and Translational Research and Education (SPECTRUM), and senior associate dean for research at the Stanford School of Medicine. Stevenson is a professor, by courtesy, of obstetrics and gynecology.