Jewish Studies is the newest addition to the list of majors students will have to choose from this spring.
Last week, the Kansas Board of Regents unofficially approved the addition of the major. Formal approval from the Regents should come during its October meeting, and the process will be finalized after the Office of the Provost signs off in November.
According to the website, if the major is approved, the department will start issuing major declaration forms for students who have already completed the requirements.
The University will join two other Big 12 institutions in offering a Jewish Studies major — Texas and Oklahoma — according to the new degree request sent to the Regents.
Jewish Studies has been offered as a minor at the University since 2005, but the creation of a major validates the subject, said John Younger, director of Jewish Studies.
“What I’m really looking forward to is Jewish Studies acting like a department rather than a stepchild of another program,” Younger said.
Younger said has been advocating a Jewish Studies major for three years. He said the major would give the department an opportunity to exercise more freedom. He said Jewish Studies has operated under both the religious studies department and the Center for Global and International Studies in the past.
“In a sense we’ve always had to answer to somebody, so it will be rather interesting to be an independent unit — although still affiliated with this new institute [the Center for Global and International Studies] — and to start acting like an independent unit,” Younger said.
Jay Lewis, executive director of Hillel, said he believes the major would help diminish stereotypes of Kansas as unwelcoming to minority students.
“This is huge for the University of Kansas,” Lewis said. “What it does for students to study and dive into Jewish studies is great, but it also helps break down the stereotypes of Kansas. Not only can we say we have courses [in Jewish Studies], but the fact that there’s a Jewish Studies major says a lot about KU.”
Younger said he argued for the major in part because the University has about 2,000 Jewish students.
“I would never think of KU as a magnet for Jewish Studies, but apparently it is," he said. "A lot of that is due to Hillel — Hillel is very active — but obviously there’s something about KU being a Jew-friendly campus.”
Younger added that the department feels ready to deal with the responsibilities inherent in being a major program.
“Like any unit, I want to start development with a capital ‘D’ in a financial sense as well as having contacts," he said. "Looking down the road, very far down the road, we’ll have alumni, and we’ll want to nurture those contacts with our alums."
Samuel Brody, an assistant professor of religious students, said the department also plans to build strong relationships with other University humanities departments.
“Once Jewish Studies is really fully fledged as its own independent major, I think given the interdisciplinary nature of the faculty involved people can look forward to hopefully another stage of Jewish Studies working with other humanities programs on campus.” Brody said.
In addition to those interdisciplinary connections, Younger said he hopes to expand the program’s global connections as a result of having a major.
“The idea of any program is having students who you can send out to do study abroad work or internships, so that you feel like you’re the hub with spokes going out that have influence,” Younger said. “Being able to graduate majors with a BA in Jewish Studies will be another one of those spokes.