Director’s Forum: Administering Freedom

For this inaugural Directors' Forum—a new occasional feature in AJS Perspectives—we asked a range of scholars involved in the administration of Jewish Studies programs on college and university campuses to offer personal and/ or professional reflections on the theme of freedom. We gave our colleagues liberty to define the issue as they best saw fit. As you will see, those who responded to our invitation speak to a wide spectrum of issues from a variety of different perspectives. Contributors address the unique freedom to pursue interdisciplinary work afforded by small liberal arts colleges, describing situations in which the restraints of chasing enrollments can inspire curricular innovation. They discuss the mission of public scholarship to forge interinstitutional alliances. They focus on constraints to freedom of speech and academic inquiry that can arise from relations with donors and advocacy groups outside the university—and much more.

Several of the directors whom we approached declined our invitation to participate. Some cited time constraints. As a former and a current Jewish Studies director, we certainly appreciate this challenge! Equally understandably, other colleagues cited a different type of lack of freedom: a reticence to write publicly about experiences with limits to academic freedom for fear of the difficulties that a contribution to this forum might create for the programs they manage.

We are grateful to the six Jewish Studies directors who draw on their experiences below to offer such candid and far-reaching reflections on what freedom can and should mean for Jewish Studies programs on the ground today. The views here are by no means comprehensive, and obviously, not everyone will identify with every position represented here. We encourage our readers to continue the conversation, including with those who did not feel free enough to participate.

—Jonathan M. Hess and Laura S. Lieber

Freedom and Collaboration ~ David M. Freidenreich
The Freedom to Teach across Boundaries ~ Cecile E. Kuznitz
Liberating the Conversation on Academic Freedom ~ Jeffrey Shoulson
Jewish Studies and Academic Freedom ~ Todd Samuel Presner
To Hillel and Back: One Jewish Studies Program’s Sojourn on the Borderline between Jewish Community Professionals and Academic Freedom ~ Benjamin Schreier