Israel accredits first liberal arts college

Shalem College in Jerusalem aims to prepare students for quickly changing society.

THE SHALEM CENTER in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Courtesy The Shalem Center)
THE SHALEM CENTER in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Courtesy The Shalem Center)
Israel’s first liberal arts college, associated with the Shalem Center, received final approval on Sunday from the Council for Higher Education to begin enrolling students next week. The approval is a culmination of a four-year accreditation process with the council.
The four-year bachelor’s degree program at Shalem College is modeled after small, liberal arts colleges abroad in Europe and the US, and aims to provide a broad education in humanities and philosophy.
The inaugural class of 50 students will get a double bachelor’s degree at the new campus in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moriah neighborhood, located at the Beit Milit building that previously belonged to the Jewish Agency.
All students will have two years of core curriculum in humanistic studies, and two years in either philosophy and Jewish thought, or Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.
The school hopes to eventually expand to 1,000 students and offer a wide range of degrees.
“The world is changing very fast, and the things we need to know now may be different in five or 10 or 20 years,” said Martin Kramer, the president-designate.
“A liberal arts degree is not training; it prepares you for change. Liberal arts schools are opening up from China to the West Bank; Al-Quds University has a partnership with Bard [College near Albany, New York]. If you’re narrowly trained, you’re likely to become superseded by changes in market and changes in technology. It is crucial to have skills of critical thinking and to have the skills to speak and to write,” said Kramer.
“The [education] system as it exists doesn’t produce versatile people; it produces specialized people,” he continued.
“Every economy needs specialized people, but a changing society is better addressed by people with a broader education.”.
Kramer said that as a student in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, he never took a course outside of his discipline, a fact that he regrets.
Registration will begin for the coming academic year on January 20. Tuition will be on par with other private colleges in Israel, at approximately NIS 30,000, though Kramer said generous scholarships will be available.
The college will be totally dependent on private donations and tuition, and will not ask the state for the per-student allotment given to other institutions of higher learning.
Kramer also stressed that the college will not have the same ideology as the Shalem Center, which is generally classified as a right-wing think tank.
The college originally planned to take over the campus of the Nature Museum in the German Colony in a few years, as the municipality wants to move the Nature Museum to the Museum Quarter next to the Science Museum. However, volunteers and community leaders with the Nature Museum vehemently objected to the impending move.
For now, the Shalem College will stay in Kiryat Moriah for at least the next decade, and the Nature Museum move is on hold.