Announcement of the
HUC Presidential Task Force on
Safe and Respectful Environments

Over the last few years, we have seen a growing awareness of the problems that result from unsafe and disrespectful environments. This awareness has increased our collective sensitivity to a range of behaviors from bullying and harassment, to discrimination and even violence that in earlier times may have been accepted, ignored, minimized, or dismissed. While some of these behaviors have received international attention related to the #MeToo movement, the behaviors exhibit considerable range beyond those specifically addressed by that movement.

Given our commitment to training the next generation of religious leaders and scholars, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion must maintain our commitment to meeting the highest ethical standards throughout our institution. The month of Elul, a month directed toward self-reflection and taking stock of our actions and individual moral character, provides an important opportunity for us to consider how HUC can strengthen its already strong foundation.

As we now approach the New Year and the inauguration in October of a new era at Hebrew Union College, we are pleased to announce the formation of a Presidential Task Force on Safe and Respectful Environments for all of our stakeholders.

Jointly reporting to the Board Chair and President, this Task Force will be charged with ensuring that HUC maintains and strengthens safe and respectful environments for all who work, study, and connect with our institution, both on our campuses and in the field. Once formed, the Task Force will evaluate the effectiveness of our policies and training in creating clear expectations of our stakeholders, as well as our support for and response to any stakeholder who experiences disrespectful or unsafe behaviors caused by others.

The Task Force will be co-chaired by Rabbi Dvora E. Weisberg, Ph.D., Aaron D. Panken Professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew Union College and Richard Feldman, Ph.D., former President and current University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Rochester.

Weisberg, a recognized expert in family and familial relationships in the Jewish tradition, currently directs the Rabbinical Program on the Skirball Campus in Los Angeles, where she helps to shape campus life, interactions with our Board and Overseers, and guides student pulpit experiences in the field. Click here for more information.

Feldman, an internationally recognized philosopher, brings over 40 years of teaching and leadership at one of America’s finest universities, where as Dean and then President he received national attention for his focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Click here for more information.

The choice of these co-chairs reflects our commitment to upholding the very best of what HUC represents by drawing both on internal knowledge and external independent expertise. We are grateful for their partnership and leadership for the betterment of our institution, the Reform Movement, and ultimately the broader Jewish community.

Weisberg and Feldman have been charged with doing their work with as much transparency as possible while respecting the privacy and confidentiality appropriate to the issues they will be addressing. To this end, we have asked them to set up a process by which individuals will be able to share their experiences at or with HUC that might help inform their aim of strengthening our current safe and respectful environment.

The work of the Task Force is expected to begin in early 2020 and will conclude no later than June of 2021. This fall, the co-chairs will constitute the Task Force in a manner that represents the broad diversity and experience of our key constituencies. Once underway, the Task Force will be asked to issue quarterly reports about its progress. Reporting directly to the President and the Chair of the HUC Board of Governors, it will be given the authority to issue recommendations for changes at HUC at any time it finds a matter that needs to be addressed. The 18-month time period, along with quarterly and ad hoc reporting, ensures that the members of the Task Force will have the time to do their work properly, while addressing any immediate suggestions for improvements along the way.

Since this area of work is ever evolving, we anticipate there may be additional phases of this Task Force. As the first phase of work nears completion, the Task Force may recommend additional activities and shifts in the Task Force membership to continue to address evolving needs of the College-Institute. Our commitment to maintaining and strengthening safe and respectful environments for our stakeholders precedes the start of this Task Force and will be a continuing priority for HUC that aspires to the very best of our tradition.

As President and Board Chair, we are jointly empaneling this Task Force to reflect the importance of this work to HUC right now. We begin this important work now, with the spirit of renewal and reflection that marks the High Holy Days. We extend our best wishes for a sweet new year blessed with fulfillment, joy, and peace.

Sue Neuman Hochberg
Chair, Board of Governors

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.