Is the proposal to restructure HUC-JIR’s Rabbinical School being driven by the goal of educational excellence or financial sustainability?
The proposed changes to our Rabbinical School program are designed to help us achieve all of our strategic goals: advancing educational excellence, strengthening student support, growing our impact, achieving financial sustainability, and ensuring a sacred and respectful culture.
Restructuring our residential rabbinical program to two locations will allow us to create more vibrant and diverse learning communities, and advance desired innovations to the Rabbinical School curriculum. The development of a low-residency clergy program option will help us grow our impact, attracting more students and serving more areas of the country.
The recommended changes to the Rabbinical School will also enhance our sustainability in the years ahead and reduce our pre-COVID structural deficit by at least halfway through the reduction of costly duplications in programming and resources across our three campuses. This, along with the adoption of a centralized management approach, will enhance our ability to attract donors who are committed to training Jewish leaders for the 21st century and feel confident that we are responsibly managing the institution.
Does the recommendation to restructure the residential rabbinical program do enough to address HUC-JIR’s financial situation?
Restructuring the residential rabbinical program will play an important part in reducing the College-Institute’s annual costs and enabling other financial solutions to take place. However, it is important to understand that the educational and operational benefits of operating two larger residential rabbinical programs, rather than three smaller ones, are critical drivers of the proposal, in addition to the financial imperatives.
After average annual structural deficits of about $1.5 million per year in FYs 2010-20 and an operating deficit of nearly $4 million in FY 2021, HUC-JIR faced a projected 8.8 million dollar deficit in FY 2022. The proposed changes to the residential rabbinical program would result in annual savings of at least half of our pre-COVID annual structural deficits by FY 2026. Restructuring programs will also allow us to make important decisions about how we use our real estate, which we anticipate will lead to additional cost savings decisions in the future. Additionally, by consolidating our residential programs into two locations, we build confidence with philanthropists who have expressed an unwillingness to fund HUC-JIR because of our current three-campus Rabbinical School with the duplications and high overhead costs it entails.
How do the recommended changes improve HUC-JIR’s competitive position among liberal seminaries?
The consolidation of the residential rabbinical program into two locations will create greater student and faculty density, increasing the vibrancy and diversity of our campus learning communities. The choice of maintaining residential rabbinical programs in Los Angeles and New York is driven by the factors that contribute to rabbinical formation and training, and the projected impact on admissions of leaving either one of these locations at a time of increasing competition in those regions.
Liberal seminary students today, regardless of their denomination, are drawn to innovative, dynamic, flexible programs with diverse student bodies that are situated in geographical regions they find attractive. The proposal to maintain residential rabbinical education in Los Angeles and New York is also driven by a growing collaborative spirit among other Jewish seminaries in those regions, which we believe will be essential to the future strength of liberal seminaries in the next few decades.
How will restructuring of the Rabbinical School impact the Pines School of Graduate Studies?
An attractive feature of the Pines School of Graduate Studies is the opportunity for masters and doctoral students to study with rabbinical students in courses taught by the Rabbinical School faculty. We recognize that this feature of the Pines School would change if the Pines School were to stay in Cincinnati without a residential rabbinical program.
In the strategic planning process, we prioritized rabbinical education and decisions about the structure of the Rabbinical School as the first key step in the strategic decision-making process. Part of the reason we believe we can sustain a loss of rabbinical program in Cincinnati more so than in Los Angeles or New York is because we can offer a Ph.D. degree in other locations, and our co-located programs in Los Angeles and New York would be far more significantly impacted were the Rabbinical School to leave those campuses.
At a minimum, we believe we will be able to maintain our joint Ph.D. program with the University of Cincinnati in Modern Jewish History and Culture since it is tied to the American Jewish Archives. After the Board makes a decision about the Rabbinical School and we conduct a program review of the Pines School, we will evaluate our options for the best future for HUC-JIR’s Ph.D. programs.
It is important to note that all students currently enrolled in the Pines Graduate Studies Program will be able to complete their studies in Cincinnati. The faculty will continue to support students through the completion of their dissertations.
Can the American Jewish Archives (AJA) and Klau Library thrive without local students in residence?
The AJA and the Klau serve HUC-JIR through their extraordinary collections and exceptional staff, which will remain in place regardless of the presence or absence of a residential rabbinical program in Cincinnati.
Based on data compiled by its staff, fewer than 17 percent of all researchers at the AJA have a connection to HUC-JIR. That 17 percent includes HUC-JIR Board members, donors, AJA council members, and faculty and students from other campuses. The actual number of faculty and students in Cincinnati who use the AJA for research is a much smaller number. The AJA has established itself as an international center for research and scholarship on the American Jewish experience thanks in part to its growing digital presence and educational programs, and nothing in the administration’s current recommendation threatens this work. Additionally, students and faculty from our New York and Los Angeles campuses currently utilize Klau’s collections for both research and teaching through remote access.
Put simply, the AJA and Klau do not depend on local students in residence to remain at the intellectual heart of HUC-JIR. Both are used widely by our communities on all stateside campuses and beyond.
Isn’t closing the Cincinnati residential rabbinical program just one step toward the closure of the Cincinnati campus?
Absolutely not. Our vision for the Cincinnati campus is to continue a different kind of rabbinical education there and expand the research impact of the already strong AJA and Klau.
This administration is committed to a vibrant future for the Cincinnati campus and believes that a wide range of scholarly programs are possible on the campus, with or without the residential Rabbinical School. Our Cincinnati campus will remain home to the Klau, AJA, and Skirball Museum — which are treasures to HUC-JIR, the broader academic world, and the broader Jewish community — and we want more students to benefit from their collections, even if they are not in residence on a full-time basis. We also envision the campus as a site for future college, high school, and congregational learning opportunities.
Why not consolidate to one residential Rabbinical Program, rather than maintain two?
While we explored this option, we concluded that the potential advantages of operating our residential rabbinical program on a single site would be outweighed by the potential disadvantages. We believe it would be a mistake at this moment to reduce our rabbinical program to a single location because of its potentially detrimental impact on co-located academic programs, admissions (if we leave a competitive regional market), our ability to cultivate donors, and our current and potential institutional partnerships.
Why keep all three North American campuses instead of selling a campus?
We see tremendous potential for future development in all three stateside cities where we currently operate. In Cincinnati, specifically, the Klau, AJA, Skirball Museum, and our back office are significant parts of HUC-JIR’s operations and without duplication anywhere in the system.
We intend to conduct a review of all our programs to ensure they can operate with the greatest mission impact. As we do, we will be able to assess our facility needs, recognizing that right now we have too much infrastructure for the programs we offer. As our Real Estate Task Force completes its evaluation and brings proposals to the Board, we should expect changes in how we use our infrastructure.
Will currently enrolled students be able to complete their studies in Cincinnati if the Board approves this recommendation?
Yes. We are committed to supporting current Pines School and rabbinical students, as well as those accepted for admissions in the Fall of 2022 until they complete their studies. We anticipate that many of HUC-JIR’s senior faculty will stay in Cincinnati, which will enable them to teach and advise Pines School and rabbinical students until they complete their degree programs.
Won’t this proposal harm midwestern Jewish communities and congregations where our Cincinnati-based students currently serve?
While our primary goal as an institution is to provide an outstanding education for our students, we take our responsibility to the communities where our students serve in congregations, religious schools, and community organizations extremely seriously. If we transition out of the residential rabbinical program in Cincinnati, we will look at a range of solutions to continue serving midwestern and other communities throughout the country, including ensuring students on our New York and Los Angeles campuses can travel to serve pulpits in other regions, creating summer residency opportunities for students to serve in a diverse range of communities throughout the country, and exploring the creation of a low-residency rabbinical program to allow students to train as rabbis in communities across North America.