The Philosophy and Religious Studies Department, a department that has eight full-time professors and fills a significant percentage of classes with visiting and part-time instructors, has recently taken a further blow from the financial crisis facing St. Mary’s.
The Ike Weiner Chair of Jewish Studies, an endowed position, will no longer be filled. Devorah Schoenfeld, the last professor to occupy the position, left the school in 2010. In an email correspondence with junior Keith Colson, President Urgo said, “the endowment that has supported this faculty chair is not generating sufficient funds for it to continue at present.”
Endowed chairs are one way for private donors to support the college, as they are funded from an outside source and are not part of the college’s operating budget. A private donor sets up an endowment fund, usually for some type of special or particular interest, which funds a position specializing in that area.
The Ike Weiner Chair of Jewish Studies was a position that the SMCM academic catalog describes as “established through the generous support of June Weiner Auerbach in honor of her father.
The Ike Weiner professor is to be a distinguished researcher with broad expertise in Judaic studies, an eminent scholar and gifted teacher who provides academic leadership, and is an individual capable of providing intellectual and cultural leadership in the region.”
If the endowment fund no longer provides enough money for this position, it would be yet another cost added onto the school’s already taxed operating budget where no such cost existed before.
For the Philosophy and Religious Studies department, this position helped to round out the course offerings to give Religious Studies students a good grounding in the three Abrahamic faiths.
With the position gone, Urgo wrote, “the Religious Studies Department may be able to place some of the courses in Judaic Studies into its course cycle, to be taught by other faculty members.”
Junior Keith Colson learned about the discontinuation of the chair from one of the visiting professors in the department. A Religious Studies major, he is concerned about the quality of education that the department will offer without the chair.
He says, “We are an already small department….You would not ask an astronomy professor to cover for a geology professor and expect their expertise in the one field to be sufficient to cover the other. Religious studies is no different.” Keith also said he was worried that he had to find out about this position being discontinued from word of mouth, rather than from a school-wide announcement.
He said, “This really affects my education, and I would have liked to have heard someone address this.” Keith has been organizing an email-writing campaign to Urgo “to let him know that we care that this is happening….Concerned students can write an email to President Urgo to let him know this is something we care about.”
There are a number of other endowed chair positions at the College, according to the academic catalog, but the Judaic Studies endowed position is the most specific and specialized of these positions. The other positions, in contrast, deal more broadly with honoring faculty with achievements in the liberal arts and sciences.