More than a marriage of convenience

The Baltimore Sun

Over its 90-year history, the Baltimore Hebrew University has educated thousands of professionals to serve in Jewish schools, service groups and charitable organizations. And its distinguished scholars, such as Harry Orlinsky, a leading biblical translator and authenticator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have made important contributions to the world's store of knowledge.

But in recent years, BHU has struggled with declining enrollments and an uncertain future. Last year, it registered only 118 students, most of whom were enrolled in its graduate program.

That's why a proposed partnership between BHU and Towson University makes a lot of sense. A merger would allow a venerable Baltimore institution to continue serving the community, albeit in slightly different form, while greatly enhancing the academic offerings at Towson, which is eager to expand its Jewish studies program.

Baltimore Hebrew University is a secular liberal arts institution. Unlike rabbinical schools such as Yeshiva University in New York, BHU is nonsectarian and nondenominational and treats Jewish history and culture as an interdisciplinary academic field of study rather than as preparation for a religious vocation.

Merger talks are still in the early stages. Some tinkering probably will be needed to bring the schools' tuition and fees into line. And any merger must be approved by the state Board of Regents, the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the regional accreditation body.

None of these should be an insurmountable obstacle. Towson's current Jewish studies program attracts a growing number of students, and its Hillel society, which organizes campus cultural, artistic and community service activities, is well-established. A merger with BHU would augment those assets in line with Towson's offerings in other multicultural interdisciplinary programs, such as African-American studies, Asian studies and women's studies. If the plan goes through, the result will be a win-win situation for the schools and their students.

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