UW Fall 2021 Start Date Conflicts with Rosh Hashanah

Six of the 13 UW System campuses have scheduled the first day of classes for the 2021 school year on Rosh Hashanah, which begins on September 6 and ends on September 8. The campuses are: UW-Madison, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Superior, UW-Stout and UW-La Crosse. This letter was sent Feb. 22, 2021 to UW System President Tommy Thompson, the Board of Regents and copied to the Chancellors of the six UW campuses that are starting class on Rosh Hashanah.

The start of school date is not in the spirit of the state of Wisconsin’s definition of inclusion, which defines inclusion as the active and intentional cultivation of an environment in which everyone feels welcomed, respected, supported, valued, and empowered to fully engage.  

Background 

The Jewish community has reached out to the UW System Board of Regents and individual campuses to try and address this issue. However, no date changes have been made and the decision to move the start date is up to individual campus leadership at UW-Madison, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Superior, UW-Stout and UW-La Crosse. The two largest public school districts in Wisconsin have already moved their 2021 start date after being contacted by the Jewish Community.

The six campuses starting on Rosh Hashanah have the flexibility to move their start dates to one of three dates—September 2, 3 or 9. In fact, the majority of UW System schools are starting classes on September 2, thus avoiding a conflict with Rosh Hashanah. 

IMPORTANT UPDATES from UW-Madison (July 20, 2021)

1. Chancellor message to faculty and staff

2. Chancellor message to students

3. UW Hillell message

4. High Holiday exemption letters for student use

RESOURCES

Campus start dates and policies

UW-Madison: Sept. 8, 2021
UW-Madison academic calendar
Religious observances policy

UW-La Crosse: Sept. 7, 2021
UW-La Crosse academic calendar 
Accommodation of religious beliefs policy

UW-Oshkosh: Sept. 7, 2021
UW-Oshkosh academic calendar 
Accommodation of religious beliefs policy

UW-Parkside: Sept. 8, 2021
UW-Parkside academic calendar
Accommodation of religious observances policy

UW-Superior: Sept. 8, 2021
UW-Superior academic calendar
Accommodations of religious beliefs policy

UW-Stout: Sept. 8, 2021
UW-Stout academic calendar 
First day attendance policy and religious observances policy 

Hillel

University of Wisconsin Hillel: Incoming Students
Contact: Greg Steinberger or call (608) 256-8361

Jewish Community Relations Council

JCRC of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation
Contact: Kai Gardner Mishlove or call (414) 390-5736

Jewish Federation of Madison

Letters

Hillel International

Faith-based Organizations

Jewish Organizations (first letter)

UW Hillel Board

Wisconsin Catholic Conference

Wisconsin Council of Churches

Wisconsin Faith Voices For Justice

Letters to UW System and Regents from each university on its accommodations

UW Madison

UW Lacrosse

UW Superior

UW Oshkosh

UW Stout

UW Parkside

Media

The Forward, July 22, 2021: Not sorry enough? U. Wisconsin apologizes, but does not change plan to start on Rosh Hashanah

The Badger Herald, July 20, 2021: UW faces backlash for scheduling first day of school on Jewish holiday

Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, July 20, 2021: Madison chancellor apologizes for Rosh Hashanah conflict

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 20, 2021: UW-Madison chancellor apologies for starting classes on Rosh Hashana following backlash

Madison Commons, May 23, 2021: Despite pushback, University of Wisconsin will start classes on Rosh Hashanah this fall

Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, April 30, 2021: Madison’s first day is on Rosh Hashanah; Community lobbies for change, with some success

The Badger Herald, April 28, 2021: UW System academic calendar conflict with Rosh Hashanah speaks to larger institutional problems

The Daily Cardinal, April 12, 2021: UW’s 2021-22 academic year set to begin during Rosh Hashanah, Jewish students describe frustrations

Wisconsin State Journal, April 9, 2021:  Jewish groups ask UW-Madison, other UW campuses to change next year’s calendar

JNS, April 12, 2021: University of Wisconsin to start fall academic year on Rosh Hashanah

Wisconsin Administrative Rules

Chapter UWS 22: Accommodation of Religious Beliefs

Statute 36.11(16) (State legislation governing the earliest start date)
“Commencement of fall semester. The board shall ensure that no fall semester classes at any institution, except medical school classes and 4th year classes at the school of veterinary medicine, commence until after September 1.”

What You Can Do 

Contact UW System President and Board of Regents as well as campus leadership of UW-Madison, UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Superior and UW-Stout and let them know that you are concerned that they are starting classes on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish year, and urge them to move their 2021 start date to September 2, 3 or 9.  

In addition to contacting the Board of Regents, please feel free to reach out to any or all of the six campuses. You may choose to reach out to a particular campus if you are a member of the Madison, Oshkosh, Kenosha, Superior, Menomonie or La Crosse area community. If you or a family member is a student, faculty member, staff or alumni of a specific campus, please add this personalization to your letter.  

Talking Points 

  • Starting fall instruction on Rosh Hashanah, the holiest time on the Jewish calendar, sets an unwelcoming and exclusionary tone for the Jewish community across campuses and is in direct conflict with the System’s own stated inclusion planning process, the University of Wisconsin Inclusive Excellence.  
  • No student or faculty member should be forced to make a choice between attending the first day of classes and observing a religious holiday.  
  • We are not asking schools to cancel instruction for all religious observances, but for schools to consider all communities in a transparent and inclusive process for setting the academic calendar well in advance to avoid conflicts whenever possible.  
  • There is still time to correct this error. Schools are recognizing the conflict and adjusting calendars to accommodate the holiday. For example, the Madison Metropolitan School District and Milwaukee Public Schools changed its start date, and will work with area faith groups to review calendaring going forward. 
  • This is an opportunity for both correction and reflection to devote more attention to equity in public schools, and ignite a dialogue about the larger Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Framework.

Action Steps 

Email the UW Board of Regents and the individual UW chancellors urging them to move their campus’s fall 2021 start date.

UW System and chancellor email addresses: 

UWS President Tommy Thompson – president@uwsa.edu

UWS Board of Regents  board@uwsa.edu; jlathrop@uwsa.edu

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank – chancellor@wisc.edu

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow – jgow@uwlax.edu

UW-Superior Chancellor Dr. Renée Wachter – rwachter@uwsuper.edu

UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt – leavitt@uwosh.edu

UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine P. Frank – chancellor@uwstout.edu

UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford – chancellor@uwp.edu


Thank you!
Thank you for taking the time to voice your concern.

Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation
Wisconsin Jewish Conference
Jewish Federation of Madison