In the fall, University of North Texas students will no longer have the option to learn Hebrew.
It is being eliminated because of low enrollment numbers and budget cuts, said Marie-Christine Koop, chairwoman of the department of world languages, literatures and cultures.
The Hebrew program has run into a deficit, she said, because there aren’t enough students to cover the cost of the classes.
“I’m surprised the university let this program go as long as it did,” Koop said.
Jean Schaake, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences, said it was a difficult decision, but the program has been steadily declining.
“We’re in tough economic times in higher education,” Schaake said.
Koop said the program was established to support the minor in Jewish studies.
“The program was never doing too well,” Koop said. “It was barely making it.”
It is a difficult language for English speakers to learn, she said, which made it difficult for UNT to attract students.
Ruthie Precker, the adjunct professor who taught the Hebrew courses, taught at UNT for 10 years, from the start of the program.
“It’s a unique language,” Precker said, adding that the language had a place at the university.
She started off teaching modern Hebrew but switched to teaching biblical Hebrew as registration declined.
Part of what may have caused the low enrollment over the past year, Precker said, is a glitch causing students registering for first-year classes to mistakenly think they needed a prerequisite for the course. She said she doesn’t know how many possible students were lost because of that.
“It was a problem done innocently,” she said. “We lost the first wave of registrants.”
Also, there were supposed to be two classes in the fall of 2012, but one of the classes only had six students, Precker said. UNT decided to close one of the classes and make the other class larger, but the classroom reserved for the class had a capacity of 24 students, and there were 28 registered, she said. This meant more students were turned away because there wasn’t a larger space available on campus, she said.
There were about 20 students who took Hebrew in the spring semester, Precker said.
The students were upset when they found out the program was being eliminated, she said.
Rebecca Goot, who was Precker’s teaching assistant for the last year, said she doesn’t think the Hebrew program is a drain on the university’s finances.
Goot took four years of Hebrew at UNT. She took the modern Hebrew classes for four semesters, and she took biblical Hebrew for four semesters.
“I think it degrades the university from a place where you can get inspired by things,” she said, adding that it shouldn’t be all about finances and money.
The students wrote a letter to Schaake, Goot said.
“They have no chance to study Hebrew at UNT anymore,” she said.
Schaake said UNT made accommodations for the students who were planning to take a second year of Hebrew but will no longer be able to do so.
The students will take a history and culture class to substitute the language classes and fulfill the language requirement, she said.
“We wanted to make sure the students in the pipeline were given accommodation,” she said.
Koop said UNT has an exchange program with an institution in Israel if students want to learn the Hebrew language.
Goot said UNT’s solution for those who want to pursue a second year of Hebrew isn’t a solution because the classes aren’t language classes.
While it was established to support a minor in Jewish studies, the course was never a requirement.
The director of the Jewish studies program didn’t want UNT to make the Hebrew language part of the requirement to complete a minor, Koop said, because he didn’t want it to be a deterrent to students pursuing a Jewish studies minor.
Even the Jewish studies minor has very few students, Koop said.
Precker said she thinks the quality of the Jewish studies program will diminish because of the elimination of the Hebrew program.
She said she thought the Jewish studies and Hebrew programs should have worked together.
Koop said it grieved the university to eliminate the Hebrew program.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” she said. “We were really sorry to do it.”
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.