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Jewish Studies Struggling on Several Fronts, Study Says

Student enrollment in Jewish studies classes is declining, and newly minted Jewish studies professors are having a significantly harder time finding tenure-track positions, a new survey found.

More than half of those who earned their doctorates since 2010 are looking to change their employment situation, according to the online survey of some 2,800 professors, graduate students, scholars and Jewish studies teachers worldwide. The study, which received responses from 60 percent of the membership of the Association for Jewish Studies, was conducted by sociologist Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and sponsored by the American Academy for Jewish Research.

According to the survey, nearly four out of five of those who earned a doctorate before 1980 found a full-time, tenure-track position within one year, compared to only about half of those who finished between 1995 and 2009, and about one-third of those who finished since 2010.

While working in academia remains the overall preference of graduates (86 percent would consider working in academia), 55 percent of graduates are open to working in research institutions, 36 percent each in higher education administration and nonprofit institutions, 32 percent in museums and 31 percent at charitable foundations.

The survey found that 30 percent of respondents reported some decline in enrollment in their classes, and 21 percent some increase. The survey was conducted in 2014.

Overall, women comprise 48 percent of the Jewish studies field, but generally earn less than men — at their jobs and in supplementary outside income — the study found.

The most widely taught Jewish studies courses are in modern Jewish history, Bible, Holocaust studies, ancient Jewish history, Jewish thought and theology, and Jewish literature. The teaching of Jewish social sciences is declining.

“Some of these challenges parallel what we see in other humanities disciplines; others are unique to Jewish studies,” said Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna, president of the Association of Jewish Studies. “All need to be addressed.”

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