FDU program breaks new ground

FDU program breaks new ground

We’ve had a longstanding relationship with the Israeli government,” said Thomas Swanzey – professor of English at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck and associate dean of the school’s Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies.

While FDU’s campus in Tel Aviv closed some seven years ago, he said, the school continues to offer courses to diplomats at the Israeli Consulate – and their spouses – who live in New Jersey, as well as to Consulate staff members.

As a result of this Israeli connection, said Swanzey, Fairleigh was approached several years ago by a group of rabbis who suggested that the school might be able to help post-secondary students in yeshivot – in both the United States and Israel – who are looking to earn secular college degrees.

In fact, the school already had a mechanism in place. According to the university’s Website, Fairleigh’s Bachelor of Arts in Individualized Studies degree program, structured to meet the educational needs of adult learners, “recognizes the value of life/work experience,” serving students whose previous training comes from a variety of institutions, whether military organizations, hospitals, or yeshivot.

Such programs are growing in popularity, said Swanzey, noting that the program “recognizes a large number of credits from post-secondary schools in courses like Talmud and Rabbinics,” accepting these credits under the rubric of “free electives.”

Thomas Swanzey, right, associate dean of Petrocelli College, answers questions from program participants Yisroel Gelbstein and Yisroel Soloff.

Swanzey said the program serves 1,000 students, several hundred of whom are from yeshivot.

Feeder schools – concentrated mainly in areas where there are large numbers of Orthodox Jews, such as Monsey, the Five Towns in New York, and Brooklyn – must be approved by Fairleigh Prof. Warren Blaker, who serves as liaison with the Israeli government.

“He must give the stamp of approval,” said Swanzey, noting that qualifying yeshivot are accredited by groups such as the Association of Advanced Rabbinic and Talmudic Schools in New York City.

Students accepted to Fairleigh, who generally pursue business studies – although a smattering take science courses in the hope of ultimately entering medical school – must have completed two or more years at their yeshiva, said Swanzey. Most courses are taught at Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck and at the Empire Corporation building in Montvale. Science courses, however, which require labs, are taught on the university’s Teaneck campus.

Most of the students, generally in their early 20s, are male.

“We’ve been told there’s some interest among women seminarians for this kind of program,” said Swanzey, pointing out that male students – in accordance with their wishes and those of their rabbis – choose to study with male instructors, although they may take an online course taught by a woman.

“We’re trying to reach out to women,” he said. He noted, however, that while the school would be happy to accommodate them, “we’re not salesmen.” He said that when “a critical mass of women – 20 or so,” expresses an interest in the program, the school will set up a system parallel to that available for men.

Since Fairleigh has been approached by interested students throughout the country, the school is developing an online program to accommodate them.

The Fairleigh program is unique, said Swanzey. “While Touro College honors some credits,” he said, “they don’t accept as many as we do.”

Rabbi Eli Allen, director of Hillel & Teen Connections of Northern New Jersey and rabbi and director of FDU’s Hillel group, agreed that the program is unique.

“I’ve referred dozens of people to it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for those who are learning in a yeshiva and want to get a college degree as well.”

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