Spring 2021 Update

A Letter From Our Board Chair and President

Dear HUC Community:

In 2017 President Aaron Panken (z”l) launched a strategic planning process that would aim to reshape HUC to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  Almost two years after his tragic death, we restarted the process with a renewed sense of urgency, as Covid forced us to accelerate this process of institutional transformation.

With the great technological developments of the early 21st century now accelerated by a year of Covid, this has become a critical moment for all institutions and another “Yavne” for the Jewish People.  In his Scriptions essay, HUC professor Steven Windmueller describes this disruptive moment as one in which “we will be shifting from a crisis-based and assimilationist-oriented framework of institutional practice…to a pro-active…Jewish marketplace.”  Most relevant to us, Windmueller writes that this moment “reminds us that 21st-century American Jewry is living with a 19th-century communal legacy system that operates as if we were a part of the 20th century.”

Last spring, as the stock market fell precipitously and we were projecting a $7 million budget deficit, we accelerated our strategic planning process. Throughout the past year, our various planning committees and working groups met through Zoom and consulted with our faculty, administration, lay leadership, students, and alumni.

At its meeting last month, our Board of Governors took a major step towards advancing a multi-year strategic plan.  As we complete this first phase, we present in the linked materials below its four key components:

  • Our strategic goals: developed in conversation with Governors, Administrators, Faculty, and Community feedback, which will guide our next strategic plan.
  • Quick-start initiatives: strategies that have broad consensus across our community and which we can begin to prioritize to help us achieve our strategic goals.
  • Internal capacity building: areas of internal work that will strengthen our organization and allow us to pursue our goals
  • Four task forces: created to address several significant open questions that we need to answer before developing other plans, so we can continue to have a transformative and sustainable impact.

We are grateful for the partnership of our Strategic Planning Advisory Committee of the Board, who – together with our internal teams – provided critical leadership and support to get us to this point.

Important work will now shift to the task forces, co-chaired by a board member and faculty or senior administrator, addressing our Real Estate and Facilities, Israel programs, Libraries, and the configuration of our North American Rabbinical School. They are charged with issuing recommendations to our Board by October.

As the task forces address sensitive areas that in the past have been contentious, the process requires us to approach this moment with an open mind, creatively and judiciously considering all ideas and options, and with a sense of kavod/respect for each other and the passion and commitment, we each bring to our work at the College-Institute.

Through our strategic planning process, we have been learning together about our strengths, our areas of challenge, and our individual connections to our mission. Over Hanukkah, President Rehfeld shared extended reflections on his own learning in a series of letters to our Board. We encourage you to review these writings about our beloved institution and the challenges we face ahead.

The $7 million projected deficit for FY ’21 has thankfully been reduced to about half of that because of PPP funds and supporters of the College-Institute.  Yet the underlying financial challenges remain.  The continued generous support of our URJ congregations through Reform Movement Affiliation Commitment dollars (RMAC formally MUM) that in 2006 amounted to almost $12 million per year is projected to be $5.5 million for the next three years.  This decline is on top of a structural deficit of $1.5 million per year over the same period, even as the real value of our expenses has declined by 18% over the same period.

We have confidence that with a clear awareness of our situation, and keeping our mission in full view, our community will have the strength, wisdom, and fortitude to envision and support a new path for HUC, a path that builds on our history and spirit without being anchored to the way things have always been.  In this way, we can envision a bold, new tomorrow in which we have the resources we need for our students, faculty, and staff, rebuild our facilities to reflect the noble purpose of our institution, and attract the resources to launch dynamic new programs to meet the needs of the Jewish People in the 21st Century.

HUC simply has too important a role for the future of the Jewish People to allow this moment to pass.  We commit to continue to lead with transparency and collaboration and look forward to hearing from you in the months ahead.

Sue Neuman Hochberg, Chair, Board of Governors

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., President