(JTA) – When Reform Judaism’s leading educational institution adopted a controversial plan last year to discontinue rabbinical seminary studies at its flagship Cincinnati campus, leaders were insistent that other graduate programs would still be on offer there.
That no longer appears to be the case, as Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s president has announced that the school will shutter all of the full-time degree programs based in Cincinnati.
In a letter to the school community sent Tuesday, HUC-JIR President Andrew Rehfeld announced that the four-campus school would discontinue four programs: the doctoral and master’s degree programs in Jewish studies that are based in Cincinnati, as well as a doctoral program in interfaith ministry in New York and a master’s program in educational leadership in Los Angeles.
Rehfeld cited “financial constraints” and enrollment among the reasons for discontinuing the programs.
HUC-JIR’s rabbinical and cantorial programs remain intact, although Rehfeld said the schools would each soon adopt a new curriculum and a “new hybrid pathway that will help us attract and retain highly qualified and dedicated individuals and be more responsive to the diverse needs of our students.” Rehfeld had previously indicated that HUC-JIR would make itself more hospitable to students who cannot or do not want to commit to a five-year course of study in New York or Los Angeles.
Rehfeld said the educational leadership master’s degree program would admit its final class in 2024 and cease operations by 2026, while the school would be “supporting all current students in these programs through the completion of their degrees.” A part-time, non-residential doctor of Hebrew letters course for ordained rabbis that has been based in Cincinnati is not being discontinued. A master’s degree program for Jewish day school educators and an array of certificate programs for teachers and nonprofit professionals who wish to enhance their training also remain.
“We are committed to supporting both our current students in completing their programs and our accomplished alumni — their dedication to HUC-JIR and to advancing Jewish learning is an inspiration to all of us,” Rehfeld wrote in his email. He also said the institution would hire an executive director to oversee the remaining elements of the Cincinnati campus — the American Jewish Archives, a library and a museum — which the school collectively dubs its “Research Center.”
A spokesperson for HUC-JIR did not immediately return a Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for comment. But the board’s decision last year to stop training rabbis at HUC’s 148-year-old flagship Cincinnati campus, in favor of investments in its New York and Los Angeles outposts, opened up fault lines in the Reform community and some political opposition from Ohio officials. Rehfeld’s own faculty openly rebelled against him, as did a large network of HUC alumni, many of whom said the Reform movement was abandoning the middle of the country and its own history with its plan.
Proponents of the plan argued at the time that HUC’s declining enrollment and the Reform movement’s overall challenges with financing its programs necessitated a changes. The campus’s graduate programs had limited enrollment as well, with Rehfeld telling JTA last year that only 13 students were enrolled there at the time. Rehfeld had promised the board would be “doing an evaluation of our graduate program” in its first year of phasing out the rabbinical program.
“I just think already much of the education is being done outside of Cincinnati,” he said at the time.
A page on HUC’s website meant to advertise its Cincinnati campus was sparsely populated as of Tuesday.