DUB panel: a diverse university schedules a day off for Eid al-Fitr

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If Utrecht University is pursuing diversity, it wouldn’t be such a weird thing to turn the day of Eid al-Fitr into an official day off for all staf and students, according to a large number of people in the DUB panel. Others would rather see the end of all religious holidays. “I’d prefer a day of inclusivity.”

Read in Dutch

Read in Dutch

This year, Eid al-Fitr falls on June 15th. It’s the celebration of the end of the Muslim holy month Ramadan, and it’s not a national holiday in the Netherlands. That means students and employees of the university do not have a scheduled day off. A student who misses an exam to celebrate Eid al-Fitr with their family, has to officially request a new chance with the exam committee. Just like students who miss an exam for, for example, a wedding. Employees can use their vacation time for a non-national holiday, but that can only be done for a maximum of five days a year, and only if work allows it. During a course period or exam period, getting a day off may not always be possible.

The university’s collective labour agreement offers all universities space to add bank holidays to the existing ones. That could allow non-Christian holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, Yom Kippur, and Holi to become official days off. The university board, however, has decided to stick with the days marked by the government as national holidays. Isn’t that in direct contrast to the wishes of pursuing increased internationalisation, diversity, and inclusivity? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to exchange the day off after Ascension Day for a non-Christian holiday?

“I’m quite sympathetic to the idea of embracing religious holidays of groups of significant size,” says master’s student of Governance, Richard Kempen. “It’s a clear signal that not only are these groups welcomed at the university, but the university as an organisation is more than willing to be an environment that’s as inclusive as possible.” Assistant professor Bald de Vries agrees that a university that strives towards diversity should allow students and colleagues the opportunity to celebrate culturally significant days and events. “We’re a secular university that becomes richer due to its cultural diversity, and is therefore able to search for solutions in creative ways.” Diversity calls for a flexible attitude of the university, agrees Miranda Jansen, managing director at the Social Sciences Office of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

I’d prefer a day of inclusivity

Sociology student José Kamal doesn’t agree with these three panel members. He’d rather not see any religious holidays be added to the list of academic holidays. “The effect of religious holidays is that they make differences more visible. I’d rather have a day of inclusivity. A day on which it doesn’t matter what your religion, origin, or nationality is.” Assistant professor Frank van Rijnsoever would also rather see a decrease than an increase in the number of enforced days off. He’s not enthusiastic about the idea of sacrificing an elective day off to Eid al-Fitr, for example. “It’s practical to assign collective days off when other people have days off as well. It allows people with partners who don’t work at the UU to go on holiday together, for example. So it’s sensible to follow the lead of the government, as a large employer. Also because schools do this, too.”

Lecturer-researcher Annemieke Hoogenboom agrees that life of colleagues with school-age children becomes more complicated if official days off are exchanged for new ones. The principle of it doesn’t matter at all to her, if “Second Easter day, Second Pentecost day, and Ascension Day are exchanged for other religious holidays,” because she works on most of those days anyway. Miranda Jansen and alumnus Guido van Seeters are optimistic about the idea of a punch card for holidays. Enforced bank holidays could then become elective ones, and instead, employees could choose when to take time off. Whether that’s for a religious holiday, or because you’re just having a “drama day”, Van Seeters suggests. Lecturer-researcher Casper Hulshof thinks a construction like that would be inconvenient. On collective holidays, the university’s buildings don’t need security, and the heating can be turned off. In short: flexible days off would cost a lot more money than collective ones.

Like many of my colleagues, I never use all my vacation hours

Annemieke Hoogenboom thinks the discussion is almost surreal. Whether days off are flexible or enforced, she currently works most national holidays anyway, as well as “at least one day of three out of four weekends a month”. Like many of my colleagues, I never use all my vacation hours. So if I’d want to visit a service of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which a few family members have joined, I’m sure I’ll have some vacation hours to use for it.”

Bouke van Gorp, lecturer-researcher, says something similar. She, too, doesn’t generally use all her vacation hours each year. “With a lot of educational hours spread out throughout the year, I’d have to take off quite a lot of days in summer in order to use all my vacation hours. And that’s inconvenient, because that’s when you grade, prepare, and finally have time to write in peace.” As opposed to Hoogenboom, she’d be interested in having a few enforced days off during the academic year. She’d love to exchange some vacation hours during the summer in order to have a few free moments spread out throughout the year. Mies van Steenbergen, research analyst at Pharmaceutical Sciences, also thinks that adding additional holidays like Eid al-Fitr would benefit the equal distribution of holidays throughout the year. “You wouldn’t have that big lump of days off all at once in spring.”

Still, Van Steenbergen wonders whether it’d solve anything for students if Eid al-Fitr became a day off. “So you’d be celebrating Eid al-Fitr, but you could still have an exam the next day at nine a.m. That doesn’t seem convenient to me. So would you have to give two days off?” Additionally, a change in the holidays asks for an ‘integral re-contemplation’ of holidays. Because on what other religious holidays should the university be closed? They’re arguments Casper Hulshof, Miranda Jansen and Richard Kempen also mention. Because once you start exchanging holidays, when do you stop? Are we going to give everyone a holiday? How big should a religious group be before they get their own day off?

Undoubtedly, the issue will lead to much more discussion and contemplation, Jansen concludes. After all, a potential change would lead to lots of practical consequences, as well as costs. But, Van Steenbergen says: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Translation: Indra Spronk

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