Full-service university

The new Shalem College, the grounds of the Jewish Agency’s Kiryat Moriah educational complex, will focus on liberal arts and community engagement.

MK Yair Shamir 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
MK Yair Shamir 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Shalem College, which had its gala opening last Sunday night, may be focused on the liberal arts, but it does not have a liberal cell-phone policy. At a media conference held several hours before the opening by Shalem College president Dr. Martin Kramer, executive vice president and provost Dr. Daniel Polisar senior vice president Dr. Daniel Gordis, it was announced that no cell phones will be allowed in classes and that tablet or laptop computers – without Internet connections – will be used only at the discretion of the faculty member teaching the class.
Located in the grounds of the Jewish Agency’s Kiryat Moriah educational complex, Shalem College aims to give its 70 students a well-rounded education, in which they might compare something in the Bible or the Koran with what they may be reading in The Iliad.
It is mandatory for all students to study the curriculum of the core course, which is an amalgam of courses giving students as broad a base as possible in Western, Jewish, Islamic and Christian culture.
“We need deep thinkers and broad readers who can address the challenges of Israeli society,” said Gordis.
The aim is to create an environment where students are keenly involved in the issues of the day together with Aristotle and Plato, he added.
“We want students to vehemently disagree with each other while showing deference to each other.”
There are no classes on Tuesdays because Tuesday was the only day in the story of Creation on which God twice said it was “good,” and is thus reserved for community service.
“Every student has to be involved in the community and to put his fingerprints on society,” said Gordis. This includes working with the Arab community, not just the Jewish community.
The college is located in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood, and members of both communities congregate in the local park. There are also recent immigrants who need help acclimating to their new environment. The students will work with all three communities.
The people heading Shalem are trying to make it a justiceoriented environment, or as someone from the Jewish Agency put it in Hebrew, “Campus Tzedek.” While community involvement and responsibility will be greatly encouraged, Kramer, Polisar and Gordis made it clear that the focus will be on extraordinary pedagogy, and that class attendance is not optional.
While Kramer voiced the hope that several additional courses would be introduced over the next decade, Polisar was adamant that student population growth will be limited. While the college remains small, he explained, individual attention can be given to each student. Eventually, possibly as early as next year, Shalem will try to recruit students from abroad.
The current crop comes from diverse backgrounds, including haredim, people who live across the Green Line and people who won’t cross the Green Line. The college is privately funded, mostly by North American and Canadian philanthropists who are themselves liberal arts alumni. Tuition is NIS 36,000 per annum.
The pioneer students have been asked to pay NIS 6,000, and instead of paying the balance, most of it will be given to them as a monthly stipend so that they will not have to spend too much time working to pay for their living expenses. Those who do work for additional income will be permitted to work a maximum of 12 hours a week, because the college board wants them to concentrate on their studies.