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Petition calls for reinstatement of three-week winter break

By Amanda Schallert

Jan. 23, 2014 5:21 p.m.

This post was updated at 12:56 a.m.

More than 21,000 people have signed a petition calling for University of California officials to shift the academic calendars of some UC schools and keep winter break three weeks long.

The petition for the calendar change was created Wednesday, after UC schools on the quarter system set the 2014-2015 school year to start a week later than usual, taking away one week from winter break.

UC schools on the quarter system are starting school a week later to comply with UC-wide policies and guidelines, which mandate that the academic year begins at least three weeks after Labor Day and does not conflict with religious holidays, said Brooke Converse, a UC spokeswoman.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, falls on Sept. 24-26 this year, when most UC schools would normally start, so the academic calendar was pushed back one week.

Some students who celebrate Rosh Hashanah have said they would not be able to attend class during the holiday because of their religious beliefs.

Tammy Rubin, the president of Hillel at UCLA and a third-year human biology and society student, said she would not be able to attend class if Rosh Hashanah fell on the same day as the start of the school year because she celebrates the holiday by attending services and spending time with her family.

Rubin said she thinks the UC was right to push fall quarter back a week, but she does not want a shorter break and thinks the University should consider shifting back winter and spring quarter, like the petition suggests.

She added that she thinks some students criticizing the calendar change have wrongly tried to blame Jewish students for the shorter winter break, and that she thinks the UC should have included students more in its decision.

Omer Hit, a third-year neuroscience student who is Jewish, said he also values spending time with his family during Rosh Hashanah, but he has mixed feelings about the academic calendar change because he thinks having three weeks of winter break is also important.

UC officials organize and set academic calendars about five years in advance and take into account various factors, such as the number of days of instruction in each quarter and the time between the end of the spring and fall quarters, in addition to the religious holiday conflict policy, Converse said.

But in past years, UC schools have not always changed the academic calendar to address conflicts between religious holidays and University scheduling. For example, in 2009 the Muslim religious holiday Ramadan conflicted with some residence hall move-in days at certain UC schools.

Neyamatullah Akbar, president of the Muslim Student Association and a fourth-year biology student, said he thinks it was right for the UC to push back fall quarter a week to respect the Jewish New Year. But he thinks Muslim holidays and the holidays of other religions should be respected too.

“There should be consistency,” Akbar said. “It should be for everybody or not at all.”

The petition asks for UC officials to move the beginning of winter and spring quarters in 2015 back one week to allow winter break this year to last three weeks while still complying with the policy.

UC Davis student Alfredo Amaya said he created the petition partially because he works a construction job during winter break and, with less time to make money, he will have to worry more about his finances this year.

The statement says maintaining a three-week winter break is important because it allows students and University faculty to reconnect with their families, take on other jobs and rest in preparation for the rest of the school year.

Some international and out-of-state students at UCLA said they support the petition because shortening the break could jeopardize their ability to travel back home.

“Three weeks is (too short) for going back to (my) hometown, so the policy shouldn’t change,” said Phoebe Chan, a third-year psychology international student. “Usually, I go back to my hometown, Hong Kong, to spend time with my family and friends.”

Matthew Au, a third-year psychology student who lives in New York, said flying home for winter break is expensive, and he usually goes home to his family twice a year – for winter break and after summer Session A. He said he thinks he may not go home for winter break now and will miss his family.

As of now, the UC does not have specific plans for addressing the petition, but Converse does not think the academic calendar can change and still meet all UC policy requirements.

Contributing reports by Hee Jae Choi and Fiona Kirby, Bruin reporters.

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