This week, a professor went under review for his refusal to allow a student time off from class to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Brendon Tran asked Professor Jude Mitchell for the opportunity to switch lab times the week of the Lunar New Year due to the holiday posing a conflict for his attendance. Mitchell, in his rejection of Tran’s proposal, noted that while he “[respected his] decision to celebrate the holiday, it is not a University holiday” and thus it could cause an issue with a lack of uniform policy if he extended that leniency to Tran and not to other students as well as an issue with seating in the packed lab.
To address the lab capacity issue: According to UR Student, BCSC 203: Lab in Neurobiology is offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. While Wednesday’s session is at the max capacity of 16, Thursday’s has 15 enrolled and a capacity of 16, meaning that there would have been one seat available should Tran have switched lab sessions for the week. In addition, accommodations are noted by Mitchell as being implemented for “students having travel complications due to COVID[-19]” and “students who have medical school interviews or university sponsored extra-curricular events,” so those points feel less relevant to the real issue at hand. Should Mitchell be making the call on who gets to have a holiday and who does not?
Brash or not, Mitchell made his decision in accordance with University guidelines, as he’s stated multiple times. And therein lies the problem: Mitchell, as an individual, is not equipped to be making these vast, culturally-complex decisions.
Here’s what happens if we let professors make the executive decisions on who gets to have time off and who doesn’t:
Professors are forced to both realize that being a student is as much a full time job for us as teaching is for them and make specific choices on what exemptions need to be made as a result of a variety of things, including travel for sports games and interviews for jobs.
Many of us are lucky enough to take our holiday breaks for granted, due to time off being integrated automatically into the University’s schedule. You don’t even need to ask for time off to eat turkey with your family. We have a break in the middle of the semester just for that.
Even if the Lunar New Year weren’t a religious holiday for Tran (which it is), it’s an immensely important holiday for a variety of Asian cultures. You wouldn’t ask non-religious Americans to skip Christmas morning to stare at research papers for a couple hours, so why are you expecting the same from students who simply don’t celebrate the same holidays as you? Thus, professors are forced to make the decision between, as Mitchell notes, the difference between “participating in an activity to better themselves and compete to prove their abilities” and “taking a holiday,” which he views as completely different.
Obviously, other professors may feel differently, and students should feel entitled to make a case for their cultures to be recognized appropriately by the University. However, putting it in the professors’ hands to make final judgment on leads to issues like these. Whether or not we agree with Mitchell’s call, he notes that “the University holidays are selected somewhat arbitrarily” and that “this issue needs to be addressed at the higher University level, not by professors individually granting exceptions.” He is making the decision he feels is best for his course, and he has been given the right to do so.
This fight for proper validation and time off given should not be Tran’s fight alone, and it’s a shame that it is. There should never have been the potential for this situation to occur, because the University should have been clearer and more decisive in its policies long before now. You can’t leave the decision up to hundreds of different professors across the University, because there’s no way they’ll all make fair and informed decisions for their students.
The Editorial Board is a weekly Opinions article representing the view of the Campus Times, co-written by Editor-in-Chief Corey Miller-Williams, Publisher Megan Browne, Managing Editors Melanie Earle and Alyssa Koh, News Editor Henry Litsky, and Opinions Editor Allie Tay.