Orthodox Jewish students and GW Law School officials are attempting to strike a compromise for a final exam make-up schedule, after the law school scheduled final exams during Passover for the first time in 14 years.
Passover – which is dependent on the Hebrew calendar – occurs this year during the two weeks in late April that the law school has designated for final exams. During the first and last two days of the eight-day holiday, Orthodox Jews cannot engage in work – which includes writing, studying and using a computer.
University officials are working to provide enough make-up days for observant students, but some Orthodox students still have objections to the schedule.
Second-year law student Jeremy Rovinsky said he cannot write or study during the two days before his exam April 21, a test that he cannot make up because it is not a day the University lists as an official holiday.
“We’re not going to change our religious observances, so our grades might suffer. That’s what it comes down to,” Rovinsky said. “If diversity is about respecting other people and their beliefs, then they should respect the certain days and certain things that we need to do.”
Some Orthodox students said choosing classes that do not have exams on Passover, and negotiating make-up days with professors has caused headaches.
“Instead of taking classes I wanted to take, I took ones that weren’t on Passover. Three of them I’m only taking because their final didn’t fall on Passover,” Mitchell Eisenberger, who will graduate from the law school in May, said.
Law school officials said they have worked to follow the University’s policy regarding religious holidays, during which “observant students are to be afforded the courtesy of absence without penalty… including permission to make up examinations,” according to a law school memo provided by Renee DeVigne, the associate dean for student affairs.
After the first week of the spring semester, students with exam conflicts were asked by the school to submit petitions. DeVigne said school officials are now reviewing potential make-up days.
“We’re trying to come up with a system that’s clear to the students. We’re also putting the professors on notice, and [trying] to be understanding about each case,” DeVigne said.
Administrators defended the exam schedule as merely a series of circumstances. The University’s May 16 Commencement date and the American Bar Association’s requirement for a 13-week semester forced administrators’ hands on creating the academic calendar, DeVigne said.
Despite accommodations, the exam calendar still has some Orthodox students scratching their heads.
“I understand that it’s impossible to accommodate everyone,” Eisenberger said. “But to have the entire final period over the entire Passover, it’s inexcusable. I don’t understand how you make that mistake.”
Laura Levin-Dando, a first-year law student, described a “sense of camaraderie” among Orthodox students who, with students from the Jewish Law Student Association, have lobbied administrators for accommodations.
“Right now there are the most Orthodox students at the school, which is ironic because it coincides with the problems we’re having,” Eisenberger said.
Former GW Law School Dean Frederick Lawrence, a fellow jew who regularly held a Seder for students on the first night of Passover, signed off on this semester’s academic schedule before departing the law school in December.
“Dean Lawrence was observant and would leave the law school on Fridays to walk home by sundown,” DeVigne said. “While he was dean, he was consulted routinely on all of our issues. You can imagine how careful the law school is on issues of religious observance.”