From the Executive Director

Rona Sheramy

Dear Colleagues,

How can AJS best serve the needs of its members in the shifting landscape of higher education and the humanities? What role should Jewish Studies and AJS play in the community outside the university's walls? How are digital and social media transforming the work of the scholar and the learned society? And is the learned society model of supporting its activities through membership dues, conference fees, and publications still relevant and viable? These and other questions drove AJS's first formal strategic planning process, which began in the fall of 2012 and ended recently with the AJS Board of Directors' overwhelming vote of support for its findings. Spearheaded by AJS President Jeffrey Shandler and directed by Marta Siberio of Marta Siberio Consulting, the strategic planning process yielded a set of priorities, listed below, which will guide AJS's activities and resources for the next three years. These priorities focus on expanding the services AJS provides its members, building AJS's capacity to collect and share data, and enhancing AJS's infrastructure to enable it to do even more for scholars and the field in years to come.

AJS could not have completed this project without the wisdom and work of an exceptional Strategic Planning Committee. I am grateful to have worked alongside: Beth Berkowitz (Barnard College), Mark Kligman (HUC-JIR), Rebecca Kobrin (Columbia University), Hartley Lachter (Muhlenberg College), Joshua Lambert (University of Massachusetts, Amherst and National Yiddish Book Center), Vanessa Ochs (University of Virginia), Adam Teller (Brown University), Shelly Tenenbaum (Clark University), and Jeffrey Shandler (chair, AJS President, Rutgers University). Likewise, many of you participated in focus groups at the AJS Conference in Chicago and our offices in New York; thank you for sharing your time and ideas. We also owe thanks to several learned society and foundation professionals, as well as experts in academic publishing and the state of the humanities, who agreed to be interviewed by Marta.

Strategic Priority #1: Enhance AJS's engagement with its membership

Goal 1: Devise and execute a meaningful digital media strategy to increase AJS's year-round relevance to members.

Goal 2: Utilize Perspectives as a platform for an enhanced digital presence, engagement with members, and interaction with people outside the academy.

Goal 3: Create more professional development opportunities to support members, especially early career scholars, in their efforts to secure positions, advance professionally, and assume new roles in the profession.

AJS has a multigenerational membership with different approaches to communicating, getting information, conducting research, and teaching. Owing to their experiences with larger learned societies, and as participants in online culture in general, many members expect AJS to engage with them digitally, offering more robust online services— including an interactive website, discussion platforms, original online content, and research and teaching resources—in highly accessible ways. To address these member expectations, AJS will create a cohesive digital media strategy that: 1) makes AJS the foremost resource on all news related to Jewish Studies and 2) draws members and potential members to a more interactive website that invites greater engagement with the organization.

Many members also turn to AJS for guidance on professional matters, including: approaching the job market, developing a Jewish Studies program, undergoing a program review process, and negotiating controversial issues. AJS can significantly expand its engagement with members by expanding its professional development and advice resources, including: creating a Professional Development Committee, providing enhanced content on its website, and offering workshops on select issues in the Jewish Studies profession. AJS should also tap the great interest of graduate students to participate more significantly in the organization by creating a Graduate Studies Committee and a graduate student seat on the Board of Directors. Taken together, these efforts will demonstrate AJS's value throughout the year and will allow AJS to communicate with members in an up-to-date fashion.

Strategic Priority #2: Become the authoritative source on the field of Jewish Studies and Jewish Studies professions

Goal 4: Systematically collect data about AJS membership and the field of Jewish Studies.

There are major changes underway in academia that pose a threat to the humanities and a liberal arts education, to the working conditions of current faculty, and to the career trajectories of those entering the profession. These trends have had an impact on most AJS members, some more severely than others, and have created a growing demand for information on the state of the field. AJS can play a critical role by collecting and sharing data on the field of Jewish Studies (hiring trends, enrollments, funding sources, etc.); the professional conditions facing its members (salary ranges, teaching requirements, years on the job market, etc.); and PhDs working outside of academia, a group about whose activities and needs little is known.

AJS will invest resources to conduct periodic, comprehensive field and member surveys and to analyze and share those results with the membership and beyond. AJS will also conduct surveys to better understand its own membership patterns—for instance, surveying lapsed members to understand why they have not renewed their membership.

Strategic Priority #3: Strengthen AJS personnel and infrastructure to ensure successful implementation of the strategic plan

Goal 5: Expand AJS personnel and infrastructure.

Goal 6: Create a development and fundraising culture in AJS.

Goal 7: Expand revenue-generating activities.

AJS needs to make targeted investments in its staffing and infrastructure in order to ensure the organization's continued relevance, responsiveness, and sustainability. These investments include: the judicious expansion of personnel to launch the other strategic initiatives detailed in this plan and to further cultivate the AJS membership base (outreach to lapsed members, research on potential international membership constituencies); initiation of formal fundraising and marketing activities, with a focus on the Distinguished Lecture Program; and the implementation of new governance mechanisms to increase Board engagement with the long-term sustainability and operations of the organization.

Please let us know what you think about these priorities; you will certainly be hearing more about these initiatives in the months to come.

Rona Sheramy
Association for Jewish Studies