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Faculty Senate Executive Committee votes not to create department of Jewish Studies

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The Faculty Senate Executive Committee voted not to pass the proposal to make the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage (IJTH) into a department within the College of Arts and Sciences. The senate voted with seven “no” votes and six “yes” votes at a meeting Wednesday.

The proposal to make the institute into a department was introduced at the Faculty Senate meeting on Oct. 7, but the body was not able to make a vote because it did not have a quorum – meaning 50 percent plus one of the Senate members are present – at the time of the vote.

The proposal was then moved to the Faculty Senate Executive Committee where it failed to pass.

“The Faculty Senate Academic Planning and Assessment Committee, which I chair, voted unanimously to recommend not advancing the Institute of Jewish Heritage to department status at this time,” said English professor Diane Christian in an email. “We felt it had too few faculty, students, and affiliated scholarly support.”

Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the idea to create a department of Jewish Studies has been around for about 30 years.

In 2008, the current institute was created with the intent of eventually creating a department.

In 2011, the Faculty Senate endorsed a proposal to create a Bachelors of Arts degree in Jewish Studies. The degree proposal addressed issues of student interest, duplication of degrees across the university and faculty strength to teach in the program, Pitman said. A minor and bachelor’s degree currently exist for Jewish Studies.

“One must believe that the curriculum outlined in the proposal for the degree was considered rigorous, and the faculty in the Institute were of appropriate caliber to teach,” he said. “One wonders, then, how the Senate could approve that degree at that time but now take issue with the faculty and scholarly direction of the proposed department.”

Pitman worked with Richard Cohen, the director of the current institute, and other faculty members to begin working on the proposal to create a Department of Jewish Thought in spring 2014. The policy committee, which is the faculty governing body of the College of Arts and Sciences, approved the proposal before sending it to the Faculty Senate.

Pitman said some issues discussed during the senate meeting were not relevant to creating a department.

He said the subcommittee debated on the phrase “Jewish Thought” for the department, “arguing that a broader consideration of Jewish studies was more appropriate.”

“Nevertheless, no matter how interesting the question might be for intellectual discussion, it should have no bearing on whether or not a department – of whatever name – should be created,” he said

Faculty who opposed the move felt the institute wasn’t big enough to become a department or that there should be a broader department focusing on religious thought.
Pitman said the committee also objected to the format of the proposal because it did not conform to SUNY guidelines, but he said there are no SUNY guidelines for this kind of proposal.

Christian said there will “surely” be plans to revisit making a department of Jewish Thought in the future. She said she feels UB would benefit from having the department.

“There is real need for academically rigorous understanding of religious, ethical and historical matters,” she said. “Many in the Senate meeting want broader Religious Studies scholarship as well. Such departments are not easy to build.”

Pitman said students have shown interest in courses that are offered about Jewish Studies. He said the executive committee suggested creating a department of religious studies instead, but there was not enough discussion about students who would be interested, or the faculty members who would join the proposed department.

“Recognizing the Senate’s voice on the curriculum, however, is different from that body having a veto regarding the organizational and administrative structures within the College of Arts and Sciences,” he said.

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