$2 million shortfall at JTS

Guest post by Editor Man

Stewart Ain of the New York Jewish Week reports that the Jewish Theological Seminary is facing a $2 million budget shortfall:

Although the seminary hired two new senior faculty members this year — Evyatar Marienberg and Michelle Lynn-Sachs — it was made clear that a hiring freeze is now in effect and that adjuncts and those faculty who have contracts that end next year should not expect to be rehired.

In addition, the faculty was told that those earning more than $100,000 would not receive a cost of living increase or a raise next year. Those who earn less than $100,000 would receive a cost of living increase and a 2 percent raise, according to those who attended the meeting.

Elise Dowell, the seminary’s senior director of communications, said she did not attend the meeting but understood it was a “somber meeting in a respectful way.”

She said the steps proposed were “what any responsible administration would do.” Dowell stressed that there are “no plans for future cuts at this time,” but added: “We constantly review where we are, and to be financially responsible we will be looking at the institution at large and identifying ways to deal with the current economy.”

Asked about the $2.2 million budget shortfall, Dowell would say only that the seminary would be taking “slightly over $2 million” from a “rainy day fund.”

The bleak economic picture comes at a time when the seminary is still searching for a development director to succeed Rabbi Carol Davidson, who recent left.

The article reviews the seminary’s mega-budget crisis from several years ago, and highlights the degree to which the institution has declined to share basic information about its finances:

Nor would Dowell disclose the size of the operating budget, how much money was in the “rainy day fund,” whether the seminary had ever tapped it before and whether it was different from the reserve fund from which the seminary borrowed millions just a few years ago.

Nor would Dowell disclose the size of the operating budget, how much money was in the “rainy day fund,” whether the seminary had ever tapped it before and whether it was different from the reserve fund from which the seminary borrowed millions just a few years ago.

In December 2004, The Jewish Week reported that the seminary was facing a debt of about $50 million, had imposed a hiring freeze and had to sell land at Amsterdam Avenue and 100th Street it had bought four years earlier for graduate housing. In addition, it sold two apartment buildings on 122nd Street adjacent to the campus that had been used to house students. Graduate students are now tenants there.

The seminary has been circumspect in its finances and it is not known whether all of the money borrowed from the reserve fund — estimates of the amount taken range from $26 million to $50 million — has been repaid.

As this story unfolds, it will be interesting to see if JTS Chancellor Arnie Eisen will be any more forthcoming about the financial details than his predecesspor, Rabbi Ismar Schorch, was.

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