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July 12, 2006
CONTACT: Ron Podell

Shichtman studies possibility of starting Jewish studies program at EMU

YPSILANTI - For centuries, Jerusalem and the land around it has been hotly contested for control by Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Marty Shichtman, a professor of English, finds the issue fascinating and would like to use the subject as a launching point for a future Jewish studies program at Eastern Michigan University.

To gain the knowledge to make that a reality, Shichtman will make the journey to the Holy Land this summer.

Shichtman is one of 21 faculty members, selected from various international academic institutions, who will attend the Third Annual Summer Institute for Israel Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and visit Israel.

The institute was created to train faculty members from colleges and universities worldwide in a range of subjects about Israel, including settlement, immigration, nation-building, cultural studies and ethnic and religious-secular divides. The goal is for the academics to use the training offered at the institute to introduce new courses in Israel studies on their campuses.

This year’s sessions are scheduled June 21-July 5 at Brandeis, the only nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored college or university in the U.S., and from July 7-13 in Israel. While in Israel, Shichtman said the group would divide its time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Shichtman is working with Jeff Bernstein, professor of political science, and Aaron Kaufman, campus director of EMU Hillel, to create a Jewish Studies program. The goal of Shictman’s seminar attendance is to initially create a course, preferably within a year, that focuses on the historical battle for control of the Holy Land and eventually develop enough courses to offer a Jewish Studies minor.

“His attendance at the institute is a way for him to gather curricular information and learn how to start a program,” said Hartmut Hoft, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

For the past academic year, Hoft said he has met with Shichtman and other faculty interested in starting a Jewish Studies program, which Hoft supports. The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Oakland University all have Jewish Studies programs, Shichtman said.

“Most large, urban-area schools like ours have a Jewish Studies program. We do not, but we should,” he said.

A current course, “Culture and the Holocaust,” taught jointly by Shichtman, Robert Citino,

professor of history and philosophy; and Joanna Scott, professor of political science; typically draws more than 100 students per semester. EMU Hillel, a campus Jewish student group, has grown steadily the past few years. So there is an emerging interest in the subject, Shichtman said.

To start a new course at EMU, a faculty member or group of faculty create a course, with a syllabus and goals. New course proposals go through a faculty input system, which includes a department committee and a college council that review and approve new courses. If approved, such courses often begin as “special topic” courses, Hoft said. 

“When there is enough student interest for a program, the same group of faculty will propose a set of courses for a minor in the order of 21-24 hours,” Hoft explained. “It could be a mix of existing courses and developed courses. A program would go through the same route for approval. It would have to be approved by a department committee and then go to a college council for approval. A new program would then be formally approved by the Board of Regents.”

All applicants had to write a proposal to be chosen and accepted into the institute, Shichtman said. In all, there were approximately 50 applicants, said Sylvia Fuks Fried, the institute’s executive director.

            The goal of the institute, which was started in 2004, is to foster Israel studies in universities and colleges by providing faculty with serious academic understanding of Israel as a civilization and as part of the larger history of the Jewish people and the Middle East, Fuks Fried said.

“There’s a dearth of teaching about Israel on American college campuses,” she said. “The study of Israel in the American university is an emerging field whose growth and development are limited by an absence of qualified academics.” 

The success of the institute is measured by an increase in the number of courses on Israel and by the number of students enrolled in them. In 2004-2005, institute alumni taught nine courses and 250 students were enrolled. In 2005-2006, 23 courses were taught, reaching more than 500 students.

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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