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  October 23, 2000

Consortium Enables UConn to Offer
Master's Program in Judaic Studies

The Master of Arts Program in Judaic Studies welcomed its second intake of full-time students this fall and will graduate its first two students in May.

The program, which is administered by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, is offered with the University of Hartford, drawing on faculty from nearby colleges and universities, both public and private, as well as from UConn.

"The master's program is the only one of its kind at a public university between Boston and New York," says Arnold Dashefsky, a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.

"We are one of only a handful of public institutions in the country that offers an M.A. in Judaic Studies," he says. "There are many places where the subject can be pursued, but in the context of other disciplines or other programs."

The master's program is also distinctive because it relies on professors from institutions other than UConn. This "adds strength and depth," Dashefsky says. The pooling of academic resources allows the program to draw on a distinguished faculty from UConn, Trinity College, the University of Hartford, the University of Massachusetts and Wesleyan University, who hold appointments in sociology, history philosophy and modern and classical languages.

"Collaboration and coordination are going to become increasingly important in higher education, because resources are finite and expertise is highly specific," says Valerie Lewis, interim commissioner of higher education.

There are presently four full-time and two part-time students in the program, plus several additional students who are non-matriculat ed or who are in other fields. The program started in 1995. Among the courses available to students are: Jewish Wisdom Literature, The Religion of Ancient Israel, The Bible and Archaeology, History and Literature of Talmudic Palestine, Medieval Jewish Mysticism, Modern European Jewish History, and Sociology of American Jewry.

Stuart Miller says the program's novelty is its strength. "We're pulling colleagues from different disciplines and different institutions enabling students to study with a broad group of scholars and to study with other students from diverse backgrounds and places," says Miller, associate professor of modern and classical languages and associate director of the Center for Judaic Studies. For example, the Hartford Seminary has offered a three-year program in Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and UConn students were able to take advantage of it.

Last year, Lawrence Schiffman, a world-renowned scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls, taught a course on the topic at the Hartford Seminary through the University of Hartford. UConn students raved about it.

"I learned so much from that class," says Rebekah Shapiro, a graduate student from New Jersey who is completing her course work in December. Discussions were lively because of the diverse backgrounds of the students. There were Christians and Muslims in the class, unusual for a class in Judaic Studies, where most of the people are usually Jewish, she says.

Ilana Cone, a graduate student from Seattle, also plans to complete her course work in December. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Judaic Studies and teach at the university level. This semester, she is taking courses on The Bible and Archaeology and Arabs in Israel.

Of the interdisciplinary approach to the program she says, "I think it broadens the courses available to us. Not everybody is necessarily coming from a Judaic Studies perspective."

James Henkel says the consortial arrangement works well for a specialized field with a small number of students. "We don't have a critical mass of people to offer a program such as this and there are several universities in the immediate region that have a small presence in Judaic Studies, but none of them has a critical mass in the subject. So it made sense for the various universities and colleges to collaborate, to provide a greater amount of instruction," says Henkel, associate vice provost, research and graduate education.

"We have been encouraged by the Department of Higher Education and the Legislature to think creatively about graduate programs that are cost-effective, and programs like this certainly fall into that category."

Dashefsky agrees. The consortial relationship doubles the size of the faculty available to teach the basic topic areas in the program, he says: "There are five eras of Jewish civilization. Through our UConn faculty, together with colleagues from neighboring institutions, we are able to cover all of these five major epochs."

Dashefsky and Miller say the graduate program could be a model for other interdisciplinary areas that do not yet provide academic opportunities to do graduate work. "I think the Department of Higher Education in Connecticut finds these interdisciplinary programs attractive and the public likes the idea of cooperation, both conceptually and financially," Dashefsky says.

Commissioner Lewis says collaboration benefits everyone. "Whenever you can bring together the best of expertise in a geographic region and share programmatically, you achieve both efficiency and effectiveness." It benefits everyone, she says, "not just the students, but the faculty members who have the opportunities to work together in new ways across institutions and the institutions themselves that are able to mount offerings that otherwise they might not be able to do."

Sherry Fisher