After more than a month of speculation about which two of its campuses would be forced to close, the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion will keep all three, after all.
Trustees of the financially strapped institution decided last week to consolidate faculty and staff and conduct more online classes as a way to begin making $3 million to $5 million in cuts over the next five years.
Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC’s president, had said earlier this year that the school might have to close two of its three campuses as part of what he called a “radical” restructuring. But after the trustees met last week, Rabbi Ellenson said HUC’s campuses in New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles would remain open
and that the school would dip into its reserves to close its budget gap.
He explained that HUC has “more than $10 million in an unrestricted endowment” and that it would draw upon $2.5 million this year and $3 million next year — believed to be the first time it has had to dip into those funds to balance the budget.
Using the reserves gives HUC time to “make structural changes over the next five years and have a balanced budget by 2014,” Rabbi Ellenson said. “The budget for the coming year is $33 million” and it must be reduced to about $28 million to $30 million.
He said there would be fewer administrators and that programs would now have one director even though they would be taught on several campuses. In addition, faculty on the three campuses would no longer work independently but rather would “constitute one faculty with a uniform curriculum and employ long distance learning.”
“We have already begun to use electronic modes of teaching and we hope to increase that in the years ahead,” the rabbi said.
It is expected that each campus will have a similar number of faculty and rabbinical students. Rabbi Ellenson said he believed there would be a hiring freeze for new faculty and perhaps some program reductions at its Jerusalem campus.
Faculty at HUC’s New York campus had sent the trustees a number of suggestions to help persuade them to keep open the campus here. Rabbi Ellenson said that one of those ideas, developing a campus for the Reform movement here, was under active consideration. He said it would be home to the HUC, Union for Reform Judaism (the Reform movement’s congregational arm), the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Reform Pension Board.
In addition, Rabbi Ellenson said discussions would be launched with “sister institutions at our present sites to see about even greater collaborations.” The New York campus is located next to New York University, the Los Angeles campus is situated amid the University of Southern California, and the Cincinnati campus is near both Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.
The increased collaboration could result in the leasing of some HUC buildings to those schools. Rabbi Ellenson noted that HUC owns all of its buildings and that it could even sell those that are no longer used after the consolidation. In addition, he said the building in New York might be reconfigured or sold if the trustees opt for a single campus to accommodate other arms of the movement.
“We are certainly going to maintain a presence in New York,” Rabbi Ellenson said. “Exactly where is up for discussion.”
Since disclosing HUC’s financial plight, he said there has been an outpouring of support by people in favor of keeping open the three campuses.
“I have heard from literally thousands of persons about how crucial the college is to every part of North America,” Rabbi Ellenson said. “There is no question that HUC is much more than an academic institution.”