Just two weeks after passing unanimously in the Student Government Assembly, a resolution to make Election Day a university holiday faced a roadblock when the Senate Academic Affairs Committee voted against it in its current form.
The resolution — drafted by NYU’s Chapter of Generation Vote, a youth voting rights initiative — would allow for every first Tuesday in November, during general or midterm election seasons, to be a university holiday and therefore, a day off of class.
The resolution was geared towards the 2020 general election, considered largely consequential by many American politicians. After coming under scrutiny during the meeting concerning the resolution, it could only be enacted for the 2022 midterm election at the earliest.
The resolution states that having no class on Election Day is necessary, as having to attend class that day can often prevent students from voting despite an increased desire to participate, in addition to the surge of efforts to suppress student voting across the United States as well as the fact that NYU has students from nearly every state.
CAS senior and SGA Senator-at-Large Quentin Turner, who was present at the committee meeting and spoke on behalf of students for the resolution, said the primary argument against the resolution is the rigidity of university senate by-laws regarding academic calendars.
“NYU is incredibly strict when it comes to the calendar,” Turner told WSN. “If you move even a couple of days around, the university then can’t schedule its reading days, the university can’t accommodate other issues like religious holidays, some of which are accommodated, most of which aren’t. The university essentially does not have a very mobile calendar.”
He added that this is largely due to administrative efforts for the academic calendar to start after labor day, coinciding with New York public schools — where many faculty members’ children attend school — and that according to the Senate by-laws, some deadlines on the calendar are set several years in advance.
NYU Wagner professor and a member of the Senate of Academic Affairs Committee John Gershman, who did not attend the meeting but said he was involved in the decision, said the committee was generally supportive of the resolution but agreed with Turner that it would not be feasible for the upcoming year.
“A large majority of the committee, while totally supportive of the intention of the resolution which is to expand voter participation and so forth by students, faculty and staff in federal elections, [said] that there was just not enough time for this upcoming year to have the kind of consultation amongst the range of stakeholders that would be necessary in order to make such a change,” Gershman told WSN.
Gershman said that the compromise proposed by the committee would treat Election Day as a religious holiday, where students will not necessarily be penalized for missing class.
“Faculty and supervisors should be encouraged to treat Election Day the way we treat religious observance which is that if someone informs their supervisor or professor that they need time to go and vote that that should be respected, that faculty should be encouraged not to schedule exams and other things on Election Day,” Gershman said.
CAS sophomores and [email protected] co-founders Sam Reinker and Robi Lopez-Irizarry expressed frustration with the committee’s decision.
“Obviously what has happened was not what we wanted, in fact, from GenVote’s standpoint, we are going to fight tooth and nail for 2020, yes we’re going to make this compromise if we have to but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to push,” Lopez-Irizarry told WSN.
He added that he took issue with the committee’s argument that the resolution did not fit the time constraints for approval of the academic calendar.
“That argument of it being short-notice is unfair, because [the committee members] are the ones who really have the power to change the calendar […] this is not a radical thing,” Lopez-Irizarry said. “This idea that 2020 is too soon, that’s just not true.”
Lopez-Irizarry said other administrative channels have supported GenVote’s resolution to make Election Day a university holiday for 2020.
“We reached out and we have actually spoken with a lot of the folks that would be making this happen, for example the Provost’s office, and they had even come up with some ways to actually go about doing this for 2020, but this committee just wasn’t okay with that,” Lopez-Irizarry said.
CAS senior, Student Council Senator for CAS and Student Senators Council Vice-Chair Kosar Kosar — who proposed the resolution — shared some of these proposals.
“The aim is that we have a reading day on [December] 15th, put in another legislative Tuesday to cancel Election Day, and a day would be added at the end of the semester, “ Kosar told WSN. “Classes would be canceled on that day, but there will be a makeup day added. Similar to how we have to make up a Monday class every semester, the goal is to make-up the Tuesday class during the make-up day.”
While there was a second proposal to start the academic calendar a day early, Kosar said this was not popular amongst the authors or the Provost’s office. He added that, despite these efforts, the problem still lies with the calendar.
“These proposals were trying to work on making November 3, 2020, a university holiday prior to the SAAC meeting,” Kosar said. “Because of the various nuances of the calendar, the proposals couldn’t be implemented.”
Reinker took issue with the fact that neither the writers nor proposers of the resolution were asked to attend the meeting.
“You’d think that many of these committees which see resolutions after they’ve been presented at SGA before it goes to the all-university government, they’d have the presenters and writers of the resolutions come to answer questions,” Reinker said. “We weren’t invited. Not Robi, I or Kosar.”
Kosar agreed with Reinker and stated that he was just as surprised by the outcome of the committee meeting, citing what he believed was universal student support for the resolution. He also said
“They didn’t invite me as one of the authors to go to the committee so I thought ‘I’m just gonna trust that it’s gonna be good’,” Kosar told WSN. “Then I get a text message from one of the student senators saying that, ‘Oh it went horribly, it went left.’ I didn’t know all of this stuff was going to come up, I wish I was in that committee meeting.”
He said that while it is not necessarily customary for the writers of resolutions to be invited to hear their documents discussed, it has been done in the past for other committees.
“It’s not mandated that they are required to invite the authors, I know last year there were a lot of resolutions that were sent to the Senate Committee on Organization and Governance and those authors were invited to get their perspective on it,” Kosar said. “It might just be that different committees do different things. I asked the co-chairs why I wasn’t invited and they kind of mentioned that they usually don’t invite the co-authors of the resolution because they hope that the [Student Senators] there would be the ones advocating for the resolution.”
Since being drafted, the resolution has garnered the support of 18 student groups and 8 faculty members, including 2020 New York congressional candidate and Stern professor Suraj Patel. Additionally, a petition upholding the resolution’s requests circulated by GenVote currently yields more than 1,000 signatures.
Currently, students at NYU School of Law have a school-wide holiday on Election Day. Institutions such as Northwestern University School of Law, Columbia University and Fordham University have also implemented this measure.
This issue is not isolated to universities. Previously, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have promised to make national Election Day a federally-mandated holiday.
According to the 2014 and 2018 NYU Campus Reports from National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement at NYU, 37.1% of NYU students voted in the 2018 midterm election, which is 2% lower than the national average voting rate for university institutions.
In response to challenges to the resolution brought to him by meeting attendees, Kosar drafted a document answering frequently asked questions.
In the statement, in response to a question about why the university should have Election Day as a university holiday, Kosar said it was important to promote voter engagement and that Election Day as a university holiday would be a means to that end.
“We are asking for a university holiday because we believe that students are engaged and would want to be even more engaged in our political process,” Kosar wrote in the FAQ document. “Underestimating their potential level of engagement or dismissing it can be seen as very paternalistic.”
After it is revised to address the committee’s concerns, the resolution will first be voted on by every council of the University Senate and then by the University Senate as a whole, Turner said. However, the future of the resolution remains uncertain amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as the March University Senate meeting was canceled and members are still unsure if the April meeting will be canceled or held remotely.
Despite this, Lopez-Irizarry and Reinker remain steadfast in their pursuit of making Election Day a university holiday for the 2020 election season.
“We’re going to keep on fighting for those people that signed on and believed in us,” Lopez-Irizarry said.
Email Lisa Cochran at [email protected]