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Letter from AJS President Jeffrey Shoulson

Apr 21, 2021, 12:00 PM by Karin Kugel

The last few weeks have seen considerable turmoil within our association, culminating in the resignation of the president, Noam Pianko. I write to you in my new capacity as AJS president, having succeeded Noam as stipulated by our by-laws.

The Executive Committee and the General Board have spent long hours in meetings and in extended email exchanges processing what has transpired and identifying many of the core issues they have laid bare. I write now to offer some preliminary thoughts on our path forward, with the confidence that we can learn from these recent challenges and together forge a stronger, more resilient, responsive, and inclusive community of scholars and teachers.

Our starting point for any next steps should be our core mission, “to advance research and teaching in Jewish Studies at colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning, and to foster greater understanding of Jewish Studies scholarship among the wider public.” The mission guides us in any decisions we make, policies we adopt, or initiatives we undertake. That mission, and the means for executing it, are in turn informed by our core values:

  •    •  Academic Integrity and Scholarly Excellence
  •    •  Academic and Intellectual Freedom
  •    •  Community
  •    •  Diversity and Inclusiveness
  •    •  Ethical Conduct
  •    •  Exemplary Service to Members
  •    •  Good Faith

It has been suggested that these recent events have pitted some of these core values against each other, in particular the values of Academic and Intellectual Freedom in opposition to the values of Community, Diversity and Inclusiveness, and Ethical Conduct. I entirely reject such an opposition. I regard all these values as complementary and mutually constitutive. Members of our organization cannot enjoy the full extent of their academic and intellectual freedom if they do not feel that they are part of our scholarly community, respected, included and valued for their diverse identities, perspectives, backgrounds, and academic interests .

It has also become clear that the members of our Executive Committee and Board must do a better job of clarifying and communicating the special expectations we have for the people who occupy leadership positions. We must acknowledge that even when we believe we are acting independently, our actions can easily be construed as representing the AJS, however unintentional that might be. This is an additional responsibility that comes with leadership and we will be working to develop these expectations and guidelines for leaders in the coming months. 

In the meantime, I want to be clear about my commitment to you as president. I will continue to act with integrity and honesty. I will acknowledge my missteps and mistakes (and you can be sure there will be some) and seek to learn from them. And I am committed to remaining as open and accessible as possible. I may not always be able to give you the answer you want, but I will certainly do my best to respond to you when you reach out.

What’s more, the Executive Committee and Board will be working on developing means through which to make our leadership more available to the membership, receptive to inquiries, and responsive to concerns. We will be seeking ways to make our governance and policies more transparent and readily accessible to the general membership. We will be seeking to identify structural barriers and inadequacies that disadvantage or alienate some constituencies while favoring others. This will take time and collaborative effort, but I believe it is essential if we are to become the truly inclusive and diverse association we aspire to be. And I know that we will be enriched by such efforts, intellectually, professionally, and personally. 

In the spirit of openness and accessibility, I welcome your comments, questions, and concerns. I can be reached either through the AJS, at, or directly at my email,

I look forward to speaking with you about how we can work together to make the AJS stronger, more welcoming, and more supportive of all its members. And I especially look forward to seeing many of you in person at our next conference in December.


Jeffrey Shoulson