Public universities honor MLK, Cesar Chavez Days, ignore Presidents’ Day

Post offices, banks, the New York stock exchange, and the federal government are all closed Monday, but college campuses across America are remaining open with little to no recognition of our nation’s presidents.

While Presidents’ Day is largely ignored at many universities, holidays such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas break, and Martin Luther King Day are almost uniformly observed—and a growing number of universities in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Utah are celebrating Cesar Chavez Day in honor of a labor organizer.

Campus Reform reached out to over 25 major universities to ask why Presidents’ Day is no longer observed.

A few of the universities still observe Presidents’ Day, but do so on already-established holiday breaks such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The University of Virginia (UVA), located in the home state of eight presidents, told Campus Reform that the university has to be open on Presidents’ Day in order to provide required services and, “[S]ince there are no classes on the day before Thanksgiving, we designated that day as a holiday.”

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio, also home to eight presidents, told Campus Reform that Presidents’ Day is one of their biggest days for high school students to visit campus while classes are in session. BGSU instead observes Presidents’ Day on December 27, while Ohio State University doesn’t observe Presidents’ Day at all.

The University of Chicago also doesn’t observe Presidents’ Day, yet last week legislation was proposed for August 4 to be known as Barack Obama’s Birthday, which would bring the number of legal holidays in Illinois to twelve. State offices and schools would be required to close that day.

San Francisco State University and California State University - Chico gives students the day off for Cesar Chavez Day, but only observes Presidents’ Day during Christmas Break.

Last week, in an op-ed written for The Baltimore Sun, Craig Garfield recalled that Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays were still celebrated separately when he was in school. Now, the University of Baltimore-Maryland only observes Presidents’ Day during Christmas break.

“So King gets his own day, and two of our greatest presidents don't,” Garfield said.

The holiday was originally established in 1885 in recognition of George Washington and is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. It was moved from Washington’s actual date of birth, February 22, to the third Monday in February as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971 which created more three-day weekends for workers.

Washington and Lee University (WLU), a college partially funded by a $20,000 investment from George Washington, doesn’t observe Presidents’ Day officially but WLU told Campus Reform that staff are allowed to take the day off due to WLU’s combined time off (CTO) system. Students must still attend classes.

The University of Florida told Campus Reform that no one there can recall having Presidents’ Day off in the last twenty years.

Other universities that don’t observe Presidents’ Day that Campus Reform contacted include: Ole Miss, Florida State, University of Michigan, West Virginia University, University of Maryland, Alabama State, University of Missouri, Oregon State, Grand Valley State University, Portland State, California State, Michigan State, Texas A&M, University of Houston, and John Hopkins University. Responses have not been received by press time.

While the majority of universities are letting Presidents’ Day slip by at an alarming rate, some still recognize it on the actual federal holiday. These include: Harvard University, the University of Washington, Boston University, Georgetown University, the University of California Berkeley, and Columbia University, to name a few.

For example, George Washington University is celebrating its namesake throughout the month of February with a birthday bonfire, homecoming games, a visit to Mount Vernon, and a tour of Washington’s hometown of Alexandria.

However, American University, also in Washington DC, doesn’t observe Presidents’ Day at any point during the year.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @brianledtke