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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UA to clarify religious policy application

The UA currently has a new religious accommodation policy under consideration, which would continue the UA’s practice of reasonable religious accommodation but clarify the policy’s application.

According to Andrew Comrie, the provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, the UA previously operated under the Arizona Board of Regents’ general policy of nondiscrimination, which included religious accommodation and anti-harassment rules. 

The UA then added its own internal guidelines, but now, the school will have an entirely separate religious accommodation policy from the nondiscrimination one.

“We thought it was important to actually call out a particular paragraph on religious accommodation in particular, not just have it nested within a broader set of nondiscrimination kinds of policies, because it just comes up so often,” Comrie said. “It’s an everyday occurrence. It’s a piece of life on a campus where we have people from all kinds of backgrounds interacting.”

Comrie said the policy doesn’t change the current practice of religious accommodation, but allows for those who weren’t previously aware about the religious accommodation standards to know there is a policy about it.

“It’s encoding what was there before, but now putting it in UA terms,” Comrie said.

According to the policy itself, it was proposed on March 10, 2014. The policy is still in the process of getting approved, but according Mary Beth Tucker, assistant vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity, the policy is considered to currently have interim status.

Comrie said the policy has been through the shared governance board, Associated Students of the University of Arizona and various other groups on campus, and is awaiting the approval of the president’s cabinet before it reaches the president.

“I thought it got great support from students and when I presented it to faculty, they were quite supportive as well,” Tucker said. “It’s generally been my experience that this was supported by our campus.”

The policy itself states that university faculty must reasonably accommodate the religious observances of students and employees when they have a request for an accommodation. The policy is two sentences but is followed by a list of frequently asked questions.

“One of the reasons we created detailed FAQs in addition to the policy is because there were some questions about how the policy works,” Tucker said. “The FAQs are a way to help students and employees understand the policy and how to apply it.”

These frequently asked questions give some examples of the kinds of accommodations faculty can provide to students when requested to do so. The policy can also be used when deciding if a person’s religious accommodation rights have been violated.

“One of the goals of the UA policy is to provide the sort of resources for consultation and information about religious accommodation if a student or employee has a question, particularly if they felt their right to religious accommodation was being violated,” Comrie said. “Now we have a full-on way to review the case.”

Tucker recommends students try to give their professors as much notice as possible when requesting an accommodation because the request can processed easier. She hopes his policy will help ensure students receive their reasonably requested accommodations.

“I think any time you have a policy, it tends to raise awareness and provide information,” Tucker said. “To the extent that individuals may not have been aware, I would hope that this would make a difference for them. But I also think that generally, it’s been my experience that as an institution, as a campus, our faculty and staff have been accommodating and supportive of students in a variety of ways. I hope that this would just be another example of that.”


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