Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No Jewish Studies classes for me

This week I found out that a total of four students has registered for the two classes I was supposed to teach in spring. Needless to say, they will probably be canceled. Considering that a third Jewish Studies course on the Holocaust has also been closed for lack of registration, I am now wondering if my school is really ready for the Jewish Studies Program we are planning to set up.

If students are not even willing to watch Shoa movies, a topic hugely popular with American teenagers, what chance do my far more pedestrian courses have?

Certainly, a number of factors came together: Because of the recession, my school is implementing minimum requirements for courses, and many, many courses have been canceled to cut costs, especially in the Humanities. But a number of these classes fulfill mandatory requirements, and not everybody can have switched to Accounting, so what is going on?

And yes, as a newcomer, I still have a reputation and an audience to build but this also works in my favor, not enough time to scare off potential students. Our classes are perhaps not yet sufficiently cross-listed, no PR etc. But my main question remains: has my school done its homework? Is it sure that this program is viable?

Or are Jewish Studies so fabulously popular that is simply assumed that the program will fly? And if so, why? Because ethnic studies are so popular? Or to attract Jews and Jewish money, as some have suggested?


Veronica said...

It does sound as though the reason for the Jewish Studies major is to attract new students, not to satisfy currently felt need...so yes, I'd say it's a ploy (sorry I mean strategy) to attract Jewish students. The Inside Higher Ed article does a great job summing up the factors that make this seem an attractive option for colleges...one thing they don't discuss is that it's considered relatively easy to find donors to support named chairs in Jewish Studies.

I get the impression your own position is not quite at the fully-funded named chair level (yet). Good luck landing one of those!

Jendeis said...

Veronica's comment is interesting. I was going to suggest that Jewish Studies is not exactly the greatest name for marketing such a concentration either. There's still lots of benign anti-Semitism in America. At Brandeis, they call it Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. That incorporates comparative religion in there, so it might be more palatable, marketing-wise.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'm still boggling at the fact that the *Holocaust* course, of all things, was cancelled due to low enrollments.

Getting a new program off the ground always takes time, and colleges have to go into it willing to run things at a loss for several years. Cross-listing might help get things off the ground, as would convincing profs in other classes to pitch the Jewish Studies classes to their students.

(btw, sorry I've been out of touch. It's been kind of silly around here.)

hominy said...

I have a 3 year contract and I intend to go up for tenure within this time period. Yes, that's ambitious but this isn't exactly Yale and it should be possible. I am also not so sure that my school is willing "to take a loss" so to speak. People have hinted that this is where the Jewish community might come in handy. But honestly, a Jewish Studies Program should be more than the validation of a particular community or the attempt of a college to "attract Jews", be it students or money. I just don't like this idea.

Veronica said...

Of Course Jewish Studies is more than just validating a particular community BUT the money has to come from somewhere. You might see it as fortunate (I do) that the Jewish community develops in people of means the desire to participate in and strengthen the academic study of Judaism and Jewish history. Your job (if your an academic benefiting from this state of affairs) is to honorably make use of these resources without compromising the integrity of your research. I think it's obvious that Jewish Studies gets a lot more academic play (apart from the named chairs business) than, say, East European Studies in this country
and that the interest of the American Jewish community in that is AT LEAST a factor.

hominy said...

Yes, Eastern European Studies are as good as dead, as are a number of European lit fields that have come to be lumped together as CompLit. But my job, and that's one of the things I liked about it, a state-sponsored job. For sure, the school is expecting "Jewish money" to flow in, but so far, it's all been the school only. We'll see where that leaves us.