JBuzz News March 31, 2012: Tulane University to upgrade its Jewish studies program to full department status




Tulane University to upgrade its Jewish studies program

Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3-31-12

Tulane University, already one of the nation’s most attractive secular universities for Jewish students, has decided to upgrade its three-decade-old Jewish studies program to full department status, the university announced.

Beginning in mid-summer, the new department can add its own faculty and acquire a freer hand in cultivating its academic specialty, the modern Jewish experience, said Michael Cohen, its director.

In one sense, the change is evolutionary.

Tulane has promoted Jewish studies since the early 1980s.

It already grants bachelor of arts degrees in the field, and has about 30 majors, a third higher than just two years ago, Cohen said.

Today it operates with three full-time faculty members, but without the standing of a full academic department.

Under the less-robust standing as a Jewish studies program, students took courses from a few program faculty, supplemented with Jewish-themed courses in other departments: history, English, political science and so on, Cohen said.

That will continue, but the faculty will be beefed up by at least two additional professors the new department will hire on its own over the next year or two, Cohen said.

The new department will also have the long-term independence to develop its specialty on the Jewish experience in the modern world.

tulane-hanukkah-menorah.jpgView full sizeMichael DeMocker, The Times-Picayune archiveTulane University students holding candles look up at the flame lit at sundown on a giant menorah behind the Lavin-Bernick Center to mark the first night of Hanukkah in 2010.

Its first chairman will be Brian Horowitz, a specialist in Eastern European Jewish literature and history now on sabbatical.

Like most of the other 55 or so Jewish studies centers at American universities, Tulane’s approach is secular, not religious, Cohen said.

“We explore the Jewish experience from multiple angles: literature, political science, Middle Eastern politics.”

The program’s elevation to department status by vote of the College of Liberal Arts faculty says that “Jewish studies is not an afterthought. It’s a strong part of a liberal arts education, that to look at the Jewish experience from various viewpoints is important and productive,” Cohen said.

Last year Reform Judaism Magazine’s annual college edition reported that with a Jewish enrollment of about 32 percent of its student body, Tulane ranked ninth in the country among public and private universities in that category. It ranked No. 1 among secular universities with more than 5,000 students.

Cohen said that percentage of Jewish enrollment has probably climbed since Hurricane Katrina.

“Since then, I think the type of Jewish student at Tulane tends to be more Jewishly engaged. That stems from our focus on service here.

“People know that they’re coming down here to rebuild New Orleans as part of their Tulane education.”

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