David Shneer: Colorado University Regents Consider Jewish Studies Degree




Program has grown in popularity since it started in 2007

Source: Colorado Daily, 10-3-11

Professor Caryn Aviv lectures during her Global Secular Jewish Studies class at the University of Colorado on Monday. As early as next month, CU regents will consider making CU the first university in the Rocky Mountain region to offer Jewish Studies as a major. ( MARK LEFFINGWELL )

University of Colorado student Carly Coons has studied abroad in Jerusalem, interned at a Jewish summer camp over the summer and is nearly fluent in Hebrew.

The international affairs student, who is also earning a minor in religious studies, is among the growing number of students at CU-Boulder who have taken a particular interest in Jewish studies.

When CU first began its Jewish Studies program in 2007, about a dozen students pursued the certificate. Now, 75 students are enrolled in the certificate program, and the Board of Regents will decide whether the Boulder campus can allow students to major and minor in the area of study. The decision could come as early as November when the regents meet.

If approved, CU would become the first university in the Rocky Mountain region to offer Jewish Studies as a major — though there are well-established programs at dozens of schools across the country, including many Ivy League colleges.

“We have seen a huge student demand,” said David Shneer, a CU history professor and the director of the Program in Jewish Studies. “Each time we add a class, it fills up.”

When the program first began, it offered five classes a semester. Now, 25 classes are offered to students — including courses on the Holocaust, Jewish-American Literature, Hebrew language and “Women, Gender & Sexuality in Judaism.”

Coon, who is leaning toward a career in the nonprofit sector, said she is hopeful Jewish Studies will become a major because the area of study allows students to think critically and in a cross-cultural context.

“Those are skills that can be applied to any career path that you choose,” she said.

The bachelor’s in Jewish Studies proposal is among nine new degree programs that are in the pipeline at CU-Boulder, all of which are in varying stages and would require approval from the Board of Regents. Other programs include a computer science degree housed in the College of

Katie Christensen, senior in international affairs, takes notes during professor Caryn Aviv’s Global Secular Jewish Studies class on Monday. ( MARK LEFFINGWELL )

Arts and Sciences, Ph.D.in German and Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in architectural engineering.Coons — who is the president of Hillel Boulder, a Jewish campus life organization — has enough credits in the Jewish Studies program that if regents approve the degree program, she’ll have a bachelor’s degree in Jewish Studies when she graduates in May.

The certificate program requires students to take 24 credits, said Jamie Polliard, assistant director of the Program in Jewish Studies. Students would need to complete 18 credits to minor in Jewish Studies and 36 to major in it.

Each semester, 750 students take classes offered through Jewish Studies, she said.

Students pursuing Jewish Studies are oftentimes considering careers in international relations, teaching or working with community organizations, Polliard said.

Shneer said the degree proposal fits into the university’s long-term “Flagship 2030” plan because it will help prepare graduates for an increasingly global economy. Students in the degree program would have internship and study abroad options, and they’d be required to take three years of a foreign language.

The university will also be establishing a $2.5 million endowed chair in Jewish history made possible by a donation from Midge Korczak and Leslie Lomas, sisters who have advanced history degrees and live in Boulder.

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