Touro College, a New York-based Jewish university, came under pointed questioning by curriculum experts after the Forward revealed that it granted academic credits for an online course put together by a pro-Israel advocacy group.
Touro offered students credit for taking Israel Inside/Out, an online class cobbled together with materials like interviews with pro-Israel activists and professors provided by Jerusalem Online U, a pro-Israel education and advocacy web site.
“I am not coming up with anything quite like this, where one side has a point of view and an institution has decided to partner with them,” said Russ Poulin of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Cooperative for Educational Technologies, or WCET, which promotes effective standards and practices for on-line learning in higher education. “It doesn’t mean that it isn’t out there. It just means I’m not aware of it.”
“If Touro College has pretentions to be a serious academic institution, this is not a course that students should get credit for,” added Zachary Lockman, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, about Touro’s Israel Inside/Out course. Lockman reviewed the course syllabus on the Forward’s behalf.
The Touro professor who approved Israel Inside/Out rejected the criticism of the course. “I see no reason to be ashamed of it,” said David Luchins, chairman of the political science department, while adding it was not his decision to partner with Jerusalem Online U.
Touro College, a Jewish-oriented institution that reaches out especially to Orthodox students, offered students nationwide a chance to earn academic credit by completing the course.
Jerusalem Online U is an advocacy group originally affiliated with Aish HaTorah, an ultra-Orthodox religious outreach program. Aish HaTorah’s founder, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, convinced Touro’s founder, Bernard Lander, to adopt the program in 2008.
While officials at Touro insist the material meets academic standards, a Forward investigation found, among other things, that the program’s syllabus, posted at Jerusalem Online U’s website, told students, “This course will train you to be an Israel advocate and arm you with the knowledge necessary to combat anti-Israel rhetoric.” Jerusalem Online U removed this advisory soon after the Forward inquired about it. In several instances, materials used by Jerusalem Online U in its Israel boosterism reappeared in Touro’s academic offerings.
Despite the debate, students are getting credit for the course. According to Jerusalem Online U founder Rabbi Raphael Shore, 150 students have received college credit for courses taken through the program. (Touro officials estimate a lower number: between one and two dozen students per year for the past three years).