University alumnus Lyle Berman gave the school an early Hanukkah present this week.
Berman created a $2 million endowed chair for the Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible programs of the Classical and Near Eastern Studies department. The position is the 20th endowed chair in the College of Liberal Arts and the 241st such chair at the University.
An endowed chair is a professorship funded by an endowment of private money rather than by the University’s normal payroll.
CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone said the endowment will allow the program to recruit a senior scholar with an international reputation in Jewish and Old Testament Hebrew studies who can help lead the program. Rosenstone said the college hopes to hire the new professor by fall 1997.
“This will be a search conducted on an international scale,” Rosenstone said. “Spectacular teachers help build programs, class offerings and enrollment. (We want) someone who will be a superb undergraduate and graduate teacher.”
A six-member search committee has already begun looking for the person who will fill the new position. Philip Sellew, chairman of the committee, has already received several inquiries about the chair.
Rosenstone hopes CLA will also hire an assistant professor in the 1997-98 school year to help increase the program’s course offerings and research.
Like many other CLA programs that have faced budget cuts, Classical and Near Eastern Studies programs have fought to maintain faculty positions and class offerings. Department chairman William Malandra said the college has reinstated the position the department lost when the University fired Professor Tzvee Zahavy in April 1995 for holding faculty positions concurrently at the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Also, Malandra said the department is searching for a professor to teach archaeology and art history. He said the holder of the endowed chair will play a big role in that hiring process.
Rosenstone and Malandra hope this will help keep the programs, especially those involving Jewish and religious studies, strong.
“Having a chair places a field of study on a very firm foundation,” Malandra said. “This will give us an extremely strong basis for a program in Jewish Studies. The college has confidence in (Classical and Near Eastern Studies) programs. And to have in a community people who care this much about aprogram is really very wonderful.”
“This gift represents a commitment by the college and the Berman family to make that possible,” Rosenstone said.
Malandra said that although the current tenure controversy makes hiring new positions difficult, he doesn’t think it will play much of a role in this situation. He said many potential employees of the University question whether or not the school is the kind of place they want it to be, but because department and program heads are guaranteed their pay, they don’t have to worry about being laid off.
But even though the endowed chair will have job security, some applications may still have concerns about departmental continuity. “People wonder, Are my colleagues going to be there next year?’ but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Malandra said.
Malandra said the new position will give the department much more flexibility regarding the number of courses it can offer and who can teach them. He also said the department’s new strength will help it achieve its goal of reaching out to the Twin Cities Jewish community.
Rosenstone said the gift showed the foresight of the Berman family. Rosenstone said he hopes students who will be exposed to the new faculty members will realize just how generous the family has been.
Berman is currently the chairman and chief executive officer of Grand Casinos, Inc. His wife Janis and his parents Nathan and Theresa Berman are also University alumni.
“My family and I are very proud to establish the Berman Family Chair in Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible,” said Berman. “The endowment was fueled by my mother, who instilled in our entire family the importance of education. Our goal is for our gift to be only the start of a growing and long-lasting initiative at the University.”