For the first time in its 132-year history, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America will have a female provost.
Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz will assume the position in July. She previously served for 25 years as the dean of the seminary’s Albert A. List College, the undergraduate dual-degree program with Barnard College and Columbia University, and eight years as the dean of its Gershon Kekst Graduate School.
Schwartz says there have been many other examples of female leadership at JTS, but acknowledged the significance of her appointment as provost.
“From the volume and tenor of the comments I’ve received from alumnae and colleagues out there in the world, from faculty, there is a great sense of excitement,” Schwartz said. “There is a glass ceiling that has been shattered. You know, that’s lovely. Will my leadership be different? It will be different because I am different. Each provost brings their leadership and style to the role. I’m a known quantity around here.”
Provosts traditionally work as the chief academic officers of schools, with the role varying by institution. Schwartz said she will be essentially serving as the dean of faculty, and aims to further strengthen the academic core of JTS.
“We have a terrific faculty, and I want to showcase our faculty, and I want them to know that more than they already do,” Schwartz told the Forward.
Schwartz also served as a professor of American Jewish history throughout her time at JTS, and said that she “absolutely” plans to continue teaching and researching while serving as provost. Her academic focus dovetails with her goals for the position.
“I think there’s something important and unique about any institution that brings together kind of serious critical study of Jewish texts with a deep concern for the Jewish people, for the Jewish future,” Schwartz said. “Why do we do what we do? Why are we what we are today? It’s kind of that anchor in the experiences of the Jewish people, in the critical texts of the Jewish people. It’s so important for those who are going to lead us into the future.”
Talmud professor Judith Hauptman said that Schwartz’s academic experience and decision to actively remain in the classroom will only benefit faculty.
“Faculty is the core of JTS, it’s an institution that exists for students to study with professors,” Hauptman told the Forward. “Faculty are hoping that that attitude will continue, which it will because Shuly Schwartz is part of the faculty now.”
To Hauptman, Schwartz’s appointment is not an issue of gender, but rather the appointment of the candidate most qualified for the role.
“JTS is appointing an extraordinarily talented person who happens to be a woman,” she said, adding, “I’m virtually certain she was by far the most excellent candidate.”