The Centre for Jewish Studies at a big London university appealed for support this week as coronavirus-related cuts threatened its teaching provision.
An online petition launched by the British Association for Jewish Studies to save the professorship in Jewish Studies at SOAS, University of London, attracted more than 1,600 signatures, as the Centre said savings would need to be made across the institution after the pandemic.
Dr Yair Wallach, a senior lecturer in Israel Studies who heads the Centre, which is based at Russell Square, said the department realistically needed around £100,000 in funding for the professorship, currently held by Prof. Catherine Hezser.
“Covid-19 has put us under huge pressure, with the need to restrict the curriculum and move our teaching online,” he said, speaking to Jewish News on Monday. “It’s a moving situation and we will only know the impact in the next few weeks.”
The Centre, which is home to the Jewish Music Institute, currently offers students modules in Hebrew, Jewish music, Israel Studies and Jewish Studies, with specialisms such as the Holocaust.
“SOAS management has committed that both Jewish and Israeli studies will remain part of the curriculum, this currently includes 21 modules,” said Wallach, but other areas may face cuts, with less than ten students taking Hebrew.
Asked about the petition, he said: “We welcome the concern but we’re also worried that the petition was launched on the basis of partial information and paints an exaggerated picture.
“SOAS is under financial pressures, like many other universities, due to the effects of coronavirus. Management plans to respond to this through a restructure that would involve some job cuts and voluntary redundancies. The cuts are planned across the board, and do not target Jewish Studies specifically.
“All SOAS staff are potentially at-risk. At the same time, most people will keep their jobs and I hope Prof Catherine Hezser will be one of them. Communal fundraising could certainly help and would be very welcome.”
The petitioners said: “SOAS has a responsibility to protect vulnerable subject areas. It must recognise that the breadth of Jewish history, religion and culture is critical for a full understanding of perspectives on the Near and Middle East.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact of this decision on UK provision of Jewish Studies and the reputation of SOAS as a widely recognised provider of this discipline. We call upon SOAS to reconsider this decision and secure Jewish Studies as a vital part of its internationally renowned provision in the Near and Middle East.”
A University spokesman said SOAS had “absolutely no plans to cut Jewish Studies” but did not commit to making no cuts in the department.