The Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville has been in existence for seventeen years, since 1993. Tremendous efforts under difficult conditions by courageous and dedicated individuals, primarily the late Arts and Sciences Dean Larry Ratner and Religious Studies Department Head Professor Charles H. Reynolds, in cooperation with the Knoxville Jewish community, made this dream a reality. On the whole, we have experienced support, appreciation, and growth over the years, but there are also some serious challenges.
Perception is Everything
There are twelve Interdisciplinary Programs (IDPs) in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UT); the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies is one of them. Since UT is a state institution, the measure of success for the accrediting body, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, is the number of majors in a given academic program. In terms of majors, Judaic Studies is a fairly small program (in 2009–2010 we had four majors). Compared to some other IDPs that have large numbers of majors, we suffer from the perception that our program is insignificant to the education of our students. Our challenge therefore is to demonstrate constantly the strength of our program to the administration. With a small Jewish population, our full classes clearly include many interested students who are not Jewish. Among them are a few students who take a Jewish Studies class out of curiosity, but most of our students take our courses because they satisfy college requirements (distribution for non-Western foreign culture). Judaic Studies thus provides a service to the college as well as the student population, but this factor is not part of the assessment that matters for state funding support.
The Issue of Identity
The Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies is housed in the Department of Religious Studies. During the founding days of the program, Judaic Studies faired very well. Over time, however, it became clear that IDPs are programs without teeth. Located in academic departments, most of the IDPs own no faculty and are strapped for space and resources. In some ways, Judaic Studies is more fortunate than others. We have solved the problem of programming resources by establishing a number of endowments that allow us to support public lectures, film festivals, Holocaust conferences, and faculty research. Teaching is, however, most sensitive. Most faculty who teach cross-listed courses are paid by their respective departments. Occasionally there may be a faculty member who is paid by an IDP, but that is the exception. Judaic Studies, therefore, is at the mercy of departments who allow their faculty to participate in this program. I am happy to say that we have excellent relations with relevant departments and faculty are willing to teach cross-listed courses and serve on our faculty advisory committee. There is, however, an issue of visibility for participating faculty, because they get little recognition by their home departments for the work they do for Judaic Studies, and the credit for teaching goes to the department, not to the program.
Related to teaching is the issue of recruitment. The primary advocate for an IDP is supposed to be the program director's department. However, in these harsh economic times, departments are fighting for their own existence. Last year, religious studies at UT was nearly merged or terminated solely on the basis of its own low number of majors. Under such circumstances recruiting for Judaic Studies majors among religious studies students seems suicidal. While there is a link on the religious studies website to the Judaic Studies program and a bulletin board by the department office for Judaic Studies information, it is solely up to the director of Judaic Studies to get out the word—to advertise our major and minor, our courses, our scholarships, our lectures, and other programs through any imaginable venue—the College Advising Center, our colleagues in religious studies and associated departments, and our website (http:// web.utk.edu~judaic). Still, students regularly complain that they only find out about Judaic Studies by accident and when they have already decided on a major. Thus, being an entity other than a department is tricky. Some students are unsure as to the nature of an IDP.
Funding for Necessary Language Training
At many universities it is a challenge to find funding for basic language training. Challenges, however, are also opportunities. For a very long time, Modern Hebrew at the University of Tennessee was only offered as a taped program in Asian Studies with a tutor in the classroom. Biblical Hebrew was taught in religious studies as an overload until the retirement of Professor Lee Humphreys. Since then it has been taught only once. We pleaded with the administration that an area program without a basis in the relevant language was unthinkable. But since the administration considers our student demand for Modern Hebrew to be too low, our request for an instructor in Hebrew was repeatedly turned down. For several years now we have waged a campaign to raise private funds in order to hire a Hebrew teacher. This initiative was successful and last year we hired a scholar with a PhD in Linguistics in religious studies to teach our beginning and intermediate classes in Modern Hebrew. Last fall, sixteen students completed first-year Hebrew, and the number compares favorably to other Judaic Studies programs. The instructor also maintained a Hebrew conversation table. While the funding is not indefinite, the commitment of the donors will suffice for several years. Complemented by three successive years of a Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, supported by American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), UT's College of Arts and Sciences, and the Jewish community, Judaic Studies offerings to students—majors as well as all those who take our classes to fulfill college requirements—are currently well rounded. However, continuing quality instruction in Modern Hebrew and Israel Studies will remain a challenge. It is, of course, our fervent wish that we might be able to add Biblical Hebrew as a regular course offering in the future as well.
With the uncertainty about the future of government stimulus funds, it is difficult to say what the future holds. We have flourished in large part due to a few large and committed donors and the many collaborations with the College of Arts and Sciences, other departments, colleges, and community organizations and individuals that have cosponsored and supported our programming over the years. We hope that the spirit of cooperation will survive even in difficult economic times and are optimistic for the future.