The creation of the country’s first liberal arts college took a step closer to becoming a reality on Sunday, with the announcement of a $5 million donation from the Chicago-based Conduit Foundation to Shalem College, which is being spearheaded by the Shalem Center’s Martin Kramer.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last October, Kramer, who has been named the institution’s President-designate, laid out his vision for the college, which he agreed would be, “setting out to create a cadre of future leaders who see opportunities; a new elite that puts the collective good first.
“I am a great admirer of Israel’s universities,” Kramer said during the interview. “But they are focused on competing to enter the rankings of the top 50 universities in the world. That leads them to bolster the hard sciences and emphasize faculty research while essentially demoting the humanities and teaching, which count for less in rankings.”
Shalem College, on the other hand, will focus primarily on the humanities and social sciences, and take a broad approach towards its curriculum and admissions policies.
While the prospect of creating Israel’s first liberal arts college has received overwhelming support both domestically and abroad, financial backing for the venture, especially against the backdrop of the ongoing global financial crisis, had been a daunting prospect – until now.
The donation provided by the Conduit Foundation will allow for the college’s establishment and ideally, will help initiate additional funding from other sources.
“Our donation was made in order to provide the feed capital needed to establish Israel’s first liberal arts college,” Betsy Brill, the Conduit Foundation’s executive director, told the Post on Sunday.
“But it was also given as a means to inspire other donors,” she said. “It shows that we believe in the viability of the college, and also, that we believe this is the right investment at the right time.”
Furthermore, Brill added, the foundation also saw Shalem College as “an answer to the challenges that Israel faces coupled with the need for leadership.” “And it provides an exciting opportunity for the Conduit Foundation to get involved,” she continued.
“We believe [the curriculum that will be offered by Shalem College] will be an effective mix that will equip the next generation in Israel with the tools and breadth of knowledge to become more effective leaders.
“A liberal arts education sort of grounds a student in a perspective that is very different than a technical one,” she continued. “It lends a kind of holistic exposure and provides a perfect medium and platform for future leaders. If you look at the background of leaders on the world stage, many of them have had this kind of liberal arts component in their background.”
Therefore, Brill said the Conduit Foundation saw the donation as an “investment for the future,” remarking that it “reflects our foundation’s vision, which is the continuity of the Jewish people and the sustainability of Israel as a Jewish state.
“We see this as a perfectly aligned investment,” she said.
Shalem College President-designate Kramer, echoed Brill’s sentiments,
saying on Sunday that the Conduit Foundation had “rock-solid confidence
in Shalem’s proven ability to turn big ideas into living realities.”
“But it’s more than that,” he continued. “They really know Israel and
its most pressing needs.
“They are a model of the discerning Israel-centered philanthropist – a
select class of people who understand that no nation is better than its
undergraduate schools, and who recognize a superb liberal arts
education as the gold standard.”
“At this moment, promising young Israelis just can’t get that education
in Israel,” he said. “Thanks to this donor and the founders who will
follow them, Shalem College will set that gold standard in Israel.”
Thoughtful philanthropists are doing more than writing checks; they’re
joining us in writing Israel’s history to come.”
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