From the Foundation Team

June 2010

June 14th, 2010

I have taken great interest in following Internet-posted responses regarding the Jim Joseph Foundation’s recent grant to Stanford University to renew its doctoral concentration in Education and Jewish Studies (see official press release), which was dissolved in 2002. I was encouraged to encounter several reasoned, thoughtful commentaries that looked reflectively at the Foundation’s philanthropy and put it in the perspective of JJF’s publicly stated strategic goals.

Seeing the strong responses JJF’s $12 million grant to Stanford University evoked in the community, I imagine JJF’s announcement of $33 million awarded to Hebrew Union College (HUC), Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), and Yeshiva University (YU) will evince an equally animated reaction (see official press release).

All four of these grants clearly align with JJF’s strategy to seed the field of Jewish education with highly qualified educators. From an investment perspective, the grants hold promise for populating day and high schools, camps, JCCs, congregations, and early childhood centers with professionally trained educators – the teachers of a next generation of Jews. We speculate that many of these individuals will become leaders of Jewish educational organizations, as well as researchers whose scholarship will influence policy-making in the world of Jewish education. The grants to these institutions offer enriched and/or new programs in Jewish education that will produce both practitioners and scholars who will serve the community in a variety of Jewish educational fields.

While tuition subsidies for students who will enroll in one of the many certificate and degree programs are a substantial part of this grant, JJF views the grant as even farther-reaching. First, funding allocated to Stanford, HUC, JTS, and YU for the management and administration of the grant supported programs is designed to firmly establish these programs as a permanent part of their respective graduate schools of education. Furthermore, over the long run, the unit cost of these grants will be significantly reduced if the newly credentialed educators assume and remain in professional positions in education.

JJF realizes that the grants to the seminaries are particularly big bets. JJF will be awarding millions of dollars to each of the institutions. We will depend on them not only to expand their current array of graduate Jewish education certificate and degree programs, but also to find ways to sustain the current programs that are successful. Given the complexity of these grants and the challenges contained in them, JJF has engaged a management consultant group to assess HUC, JTS, and YU’s project management capacity. JJF believes that it is prudent to conduct an assessment of this sort as part of the effort to fully understand the extent of the risk JJF may be taking with the grants. This assessment will alert the grantee institutions to the areas of project management, administration, monitoring, and evaluation to which they might want to devote greater attention as the initiative unfolds.

I have learned over the years from several experienced foundation leaders that, as Paul Brest and Hal Harvey note, “philanthropy is a field with poor feedback and messy signals.” There is nothing secret about JJF’s hopes to dramatically improve the supply of more highly-qualified Jewish educators who will lead the field in the future. Over the next six years, we will closely observe and independently evaluate the progress these institutions of higher education make in enabling JJF to attain this goal.