Survey of Jewish Studies Professors Shows Deepening Challenges to Younger Scholars, Declining Enrollments

September 24, 2015

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


Jewish Studies professors are challenged by a diminishing job market and small but noticeable declines in enrollment in Jewish Studies classes in North America. These are among the key findings emerging from a world-wide survey of Jewish Studies professors, graduate students, researchers and other academics sponsored by the Association for Jewish Studies, and conducted by Professor Steven M. Cohen of HUC-JIR and funded by the American Academy for Jewish Research. The study draws upon an online survey of more than 2800 professors, graduate students, scholars, and teachers of Jewish Studies, conducted in 2014. The respondents constitute 60% of the AJS membership, an unusually high response rate. The survey report contains findings about course enrollments, salaries, retirement projections, productivity, time on the job market, careers outside of academia, and popular specializations.

Among the survey’s most significant findings:

  • 78% of those who earned a PhD before 1980 report finding a full-time, tenure-track position immediately or within one year; for those who completed PhD studies 1995-2009, that number had fallen to nearly half. For the most recent PhDs (since 2010), only about one-third found a full-time, tenure-track position within a year of graduating.
  • 55% of people who received their PhD in 2010 or later are looking to change their employment situation, testifying to the great opportunities for organizations and institutions outside of academia to employ highly trained and skilled scholars.
  • Reports of declining enrollments over the past three years exceed those of increasing enrollments. Overall, 30% of the respondents reported some decline as compared with 21% who reported some increases in enrollment. Reports of large declines exceed those of large increases by a more imbalanced 7% vs. 4%.
  • Women make up 48% of the field, but at all academic ranks except for emeritus and assistant professors, women earn less salary and less outside income than men.
  • Almost a third of all academics in tenure-track or tenured positions have endowments, testifying to the significant role of philanthropy in supporting the Jewish Studies profession.
  • The most widely taught courses are in modern Jewish history, Bible, Holocaust studies, ancient Jewish history, Jewish thought and theology, and Jewish literature; at the same time, the teaching of Jewish social sciences is declining.
  • About one-in-ten of instructors have taught one or more online courses. 
Updated: Oct. 07, 2015