Planning for fall 2021 – First day of classes and Rosh Hashanah

This message was sent to all faculty and academic staff from Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning John Zumbrunnen.


This message is being sent to all faculty and academic staff, and is primarily intended for instructors who are teaching in fall 2021.

Dear Instructional Colleagues,

I hope you are finding some moments of rest and relaxation as we transition into summer. I remain deeply grateful for all of your hard work supporting our teaching and learning mission through the pandemic. I’m looking forward to a much more familiar fall semester, with predominantly in-person instruction.

While I recognize it’s still relatively early to be thinking about fall, I want to call your attention to the start-date of fall 2021 classes: Wednesday, September 8. As some of you already know, this coincides with Rosh Hashanah, one of Judaism’s holiest days. Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New year and is observed with prayer and reflection. This year, Rosh Hashanah occurs from sunset on September 6 through sunset on September 8. I know this is a conflict for some of you personally, as well as for many of our students.

I encourage us all as instructors to plan ahead and exercise flexibility with our students. Given the conflict with Rosh Hashanah, no student should be penalized for absence on this fall’s first day of class. In keeping with our campus’ religious observances policy, here are some other steps you can take:

  • Include information about the religious observances policy on all of your syllabi. View the current version of our recommended syllabus template.
  • Post a notification in your Canvas course or email your students directly before the start of the semester to highlight the coinciding dates, our campus religious observance policy, and your plans to offer flexibility.
  • Make any first day materials (perhaps including a brief welcome video) available digitally, via email or Canvas.
  • Offer opportunities to meet with students who are not able to attend the first day — e.g., regular or extra office hours, and/or welcoming activities on the second day of class.
  • Avoid scheduling meetings or events with student groups on the first day of classes.

Looking to the future, I’m leading a campus-level working group that is conducting a thorough review of future academic calendars to identify potential conflicts with religious observances, and exploring best practices for accommodations.

Finally, I recognize that there are still many questions around fall instruction and campus operations in general. We are continuing to work through these and will be sharing more information as it becomes available. Please continue to watch your email for important updates.