Communication from Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D.: Decision About Fall 2020 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Communication from Provost Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D.: Decision About Fall 2020

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Message from Provost

Dear Students,

At this tragic, tumultuous time, we at HUC have been closely monitoring the unfolding COVID-19 crisis and collaboratively exploring our options for the fall. After a deliberative process, we have decided that all HUC-JIR stateside classes will be taught remotely for the fall semester and that we will suspend our residency requirements during this period. 

Please note that this decision only applies to the fall semester and only to classroom education on our Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and New York campuses. Because of the power of building community in person, we are committed to finding opportunities to bring our campus communities together next semester as public health allows.  We will make decisions about whether our campus facilities (including libraries and offices) will be open to students, faculty, and staff later in the summer as we learn more about the course of the pandemic. 

Reasons for this Decision

While sensitive to local conditions, our responses to the coronavirus have been based on science and driven by recommendations from public health authorities and a commitment to the preservation of life. In light of the almost certain lack of a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 before the fall semester begins, the most optimistic scenario would be to have students socially distant in classrooms and wearing facemasks. Since a significant number in our community—faculty and students—classify themselves as within vulnerable populations, they would be unable to attend class even under these circumstances.  

This means that, at a minimum, we would need to prepare for a hybrid situation with some people on a screen and others sitting in class, spaced apart and wearing masks, which would impair the educational experience both for those in the classroom and those joining remotely.  Furthermore, this less than optimal hybrid classroom situation might be disrupted at any point in the semester if a spike in COVID-19 cases occurs as predicted, thus forcing us to close a campus and suddenly shift to all remote activities, as we experienced in March.

Given that scenario, the HUC leadership team determined that it would be better to plan now for all classes on the stateside campuses to take place online in the fall semester.

While we have decided that classroom learning will take place virtually, we recognize that being in community with each other is an essential part of the educational process.  Over the summer we will make decisions about opening campuses for other components of campus life, albeit in a socially distanced and responsible way, which might include using the library and safely gathering for tefilah, small group study, or other meetings or restricted gatherings. 

Ramifications of this Decision

Making the decision now to hold fall classes exclusively online gives you as students maximal time and flexibility to determine your own best course of action. This also gives us as an institution time to prepare to provide you with high quality online teaching and learning by the time the fall term begins. There are a number of implications of this decision, which will have more of an impact on our residency-based programs.

  1. Residency

This decision means that students need not be in residence on a given campus for Fall 2020.  As noted above, we will look for ways to bring our community together on campus, in a manner consistent with public health; but anything we plan on campus in the fall will be discretionary, and not required.

  1. Fieldwork Requirement

We recognize that HUC is making this decision about residency before most synagogues and other institutions that provide fieldwork placements and other forms of employment have announced how they plan to proceed in the fall.  We will make decisions related to travel and fieldwork placements for the fall by July 1. 

  1. Fall Registration

Having made this decision, we are working with program directors and deans to adjust the schedule and reconfigure some of our course offerings to make an online semester manageable for you as students. At the same time, being online means that we can open up more classes (mainly electives) to students on all campuses. 

Now that you know that classes will be online, we anticipate that you might want to reconsider which classes to take and when to take those classes. Therefore, fall registration is temporarily closed. After we adjust some of the course offerings, registration for the fall semester will reopen on July 1 (more details will follow at that time).

  1. Preparations for Online Teaching and Learning

We recognize that simply moving classes to Zoom is not the same as offering well planned, effective digital learning.  By making this decision now, we are maximizing the time that faculty and administrators have to prepare for engaging, enriching online teaching and learning in the fall. To that end, we have established an Online Learning Task Force that is chaired by Dr. Sarah Benor and includes faculty, staff, and student representatives (the student representatives are Frankie Salzman and Mira Weller). The Task Force is developing plans to provide robust training for faculty during the summer and to prepare students for a successful semester of online learning. 

  1. Tuition

HUC remains committed to providing our students significant tuition support based on financial need even during these trying times.  Because of that, we are able to commit fully to the aid that you have been promised for this upcoming year.  Tuition costs that have been set for the 2020-21 academic year will remain the same as well. This allows us to invest in the additional training and technology costs needed to offer high quality online teaching and learning, in addition to the fixed costs of an HUC education that we incur whether classes are online or in person. 

  1. Student Support

The faculty, staff, and students on the Student Personal and Professional Well-Being Task Force, chaired by Rabbi Nancy Wiener, are focusing on student concerns and recommendations related to students’ personal, spiritual, and professional well-being in light of the pandemic (the student representatives are Libby Fisher, Alexandra Stein, and David White). This task force will address issues such as fieldwork, supervision, spiritual direction, learning accommodations, and out-of-classroom activities like tefilah and community programs. 

We welcome your voice in the Fall 2020 planning process and encourage you to complete the survey you received this week so we can learn from your experiences this spring. 

We are committed to addressing your needs and fulfilling our highest aspirations even under these most trying circumstances. We understand that you will have many questions about the fall and encourage you to be in touch with your program director, dean, or faculty advisor. Given the nature of the situation, we may not have all the answers; but we will do our best to provide you with information and guidance so you can determine your best course of action in the coming months. 

With best wishes for your well-being and peace for our world,

Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D.
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost
Associate Professor of Bible
Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion
 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu