In 2005, the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) initiated a program to place visiting Israeli professors (VIPs) on university campuses in the United States. The program seeks to expose students at colleges and universities to serious academic study about modern Israel through the placement of Israeli academics in temporary positions, thereby enhancing student understanding of Israel’s culture, government, and society as well as the domestic and international challenges the country faces.
This study is based on a survey of over 200 students who took courses from an AICE visiting Israeli professor in spring 2011.The students were surveyed at the beginning of the course and a year later.
The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (CMJS) research team also visited eight campuses in fall 2011. During site visits researchers interviewed visiting Israeli professors, their department chairs and/or deans; observed AICE classes; and conducted focus groups and small group interviews with students.
The visits provided valuable background information and helped to inform the design of the survey and subsequent interview protocols. Data from site visits and surveys were further supplemented by interviews with more than 80 fall 2011 survey respondents. In the surveys, interviews, and focus groups, CMJS explored student responses to the courses as well as changes in their opinions and understanding of Israel in the year following enrollment. In order to contextualize their experiences in their AICE courses, CMJS also examined public discourse on Israel at the students’ universities.
The findings in this report point to the importance of continuing to make serious study of Israel a part of the curriculum of higher education. AICE provides opportunities for students to learn about Israel in academically rigorous classroom environments and engage with historical and political issues in a critical and respectful manner. Too many campuses do not offer this possibility. For universities struggling in the current economic climate, courses about Israel may be out of reach unless outside sources support visiting professors, graduate student development, and the training of faculty. AICE was established to promote the normalization of teaching about Israel in the academy. Although much has been accomplished, much remains to be done.