What are the three biggest challenges you face as director of a Jewish Studies program?

Deborah Starr

Cornell University

Jewish Studies, like other ethnic, religious, and area studies programs and departments, benefits from the richness afforded by interdisciplinarity. Yet, with interdisciplinarity also come challenges in finding common ground among scholars with diverse interests and scholarly orientations. At Cornell University, the Jewish Studies program grew out of the Department of Near Eastern Studies (formerly the Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures), which continues to serve as the center at Cornell of faculty teaching and research in Judaica and Hebraica. Near Eastern Studies is also where a core group of the program's faculty hold appointments. Yet, other members of the Jewish Studies faculty are spread over many departments including American Studies, animal science, Classics, comparative literature, English, German, history, linguistics, Romance Studies, and Russian literature. The faculty's research and teaching interests represent a broad array of disciplines and historical periods. One challenge has been to forge a shared sense of an intellectual community that cuts across this diversity of academic interests. Since faculty affiliated with the program are physically spread out across the campus, we have had to work to create venues where we can interact, share ideas, and learn from one another.

The Program of Jewish Studies offers an undergraduate minor. Despite its relatively modest requirements, the minor attracts a small number of students. At the same time, Cornell University has a large and active Jewish student population, supporting dozens of Jewish student organizations. This population of Jewish students represents a significant possible constituency for our academic mission. One ongoing challenge for Jewish Studies has been to translate student energy and interest in Jewish life on campus into an interest in Jewish Studies as an academic field—both by encouraging enrollment in Jewish Studies classes in the minor in Jewish Studies.