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Remarks at the Celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Partnership Between the University of Southern California and the Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion

by Steven B. Sample
President, University of Southern California
January 19, 1999

My wife Kathryn and I are pleased to welcome you to our home for this very special celebration of the 30th anniversary of the partnership between the University of Southern California and the Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion.

All of us at USC are proud of our 30–year alliance with HUC. In 1968, Norman Topping, the president of USC at the time, suggested to Jack Skirball and Rabbi Fred Gottschalk — then the senior administrator of the California campus of Hebrew Union — that they move HUC down from the Hollywood Hills to 30th Street near USC. In 1969, USC and HUC initiated the agreement between the two schools that has grown and prospered to this day.

HUC, in addition to being one of the world's best Jewish seminaries in its own right, has also become the de facto Judaic studies program for USC undergraduates. Today more than 600 of our undergraduates take Judaic studies courses each year through HUC and USC's School of Religion. And a number of our Ph.D. students in religious and social ethics have done extensive work with HUC faculty. Many of these students are Jews, but a substantial number are not.

In turn, HUC graduate students are enrolled in exceptionally rigorous and demanding double–master's degree programs that combine the resources of a private research university?s professional schools — such as our School of Policy, Planning, and Development, our School of Gerontology, and our School of Social Work — with the specialization of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service. Many of these double–degree graduates have gone on to hold key leadership positions in the Jewish community — not only in Southern California, but also nationally and internationally.

There are many other informal arrangements between USC and HUC. We share libraries and on–line information resources, and we share scholars, such as Dr. Rachel Adler, the first professor to hold a joint appointment at USC and HUC.

Our partnership has led to a broadening of both institutions' teaching missions and involvement in the larger community. We are very close partners in carrying out our core mission of providing the best possible education to students at our respective institutions. When I talk to parents of students at USC, their top concern is always whether their son or daughter is receiving a world–class education that will stand him or her in good stead in the next century. Thanks to interdisciplinary partnerships such as those between USC and HUC, we are indeed building excellence for both of our institutions at the highest levels.

USC's 2,500 Jewish students (about 10 percent of the total student body), our Hillel center, led by Paul Entis, and other organizations, all work actively to provide Jewish students with opportunities to celebrate their faith and their traditions at USC. We now offer Jewish students an education and an experience that most universities cannot hope to match — thanks in large measure to our strong bonds with HUC.

But that's not all. We now have a new Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life at USC, which builds upon the excellence of our relationship with Hebrew Union College. It is the first academic research center on the West Coast to concentrate on contemporary issues in Jewish life, and it is dedicated to the study of the role that the American Jewish community has played in the development of the United States in general and the American West in particular.

Faculty and administrators from HUC participated in the planning meetings for this Institute and continue to play an indispensable role in its implementation, thereby further strengthening the bonds between our two institutions. Planning for this new Institute is being carried out under the auspices of Provost Lloyd Armstrong, with leadership for overall development provided by Professor Morton Schapiro, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The Institute, directed by Professor Barry Glassner, works in conjunction with the many established community organizations in Los Angeles whose common purpose is to support and advance various aspects of Jewish culture and history.

Among the Institute's current activities are the Nemer lecture, a renowned annual symposium on the contributions of Jewish thinkers to Western civilization, and the new Louis and Carmen Warschaw distinguished lecture series, which will be launched this coming March.

USC has appointed the Institute's advisory board, many of whom are here this evening. These leaders will help define programs and identify priorities for the Institute. We are grateful for their wisdom and their commitment.

The Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life also reinforces two major thrusts of the university?s strategic plan: using Southern California as a laboratory for teaching and research; and developing strong interdisciplinary programs. The new Institute will advance USC?s academic mission and elevate it to a new level of excellence in coming years.

We all should thank Morton Schapiro for his leadership of this venture. I'm also proud of the support our alumni have shown for the new Institute. An anonymous donor has already committed $500,000. Carol Brennglass Spinner of the National Foundation of Jewish Culture, and USC trustee Steven Spielberg's Righteous Persons Foundation helped sponsor the Institute's first conference, which was held two months ago on the USC campus. Plans are underway to hold the conference in New York City next year. This is a great example of the East and West Coast working together to achieve a common goal.

The relationship between USC and HUC is unique in this country. Perhaps no other seminary and secular research universities in the nation can boast of closer ties. But in order for USC, HUC and the region's Jewish community to thrive in the future, we must continue to strengthen the sense of partnership among us. We must continue to make USC and HUC even better places for all of our students to learn about Jewish traditions, to meet a wide range of men and women from around the globe, and to be prepared for life in the 21st century.