Students from UM-Dearborn at the JSO Shabbat Dessert Sampler in April 2018.

The university is working to secure outside donations for the program instead.

Photos courtesy of Hillel of Metro Detroit

For twelve years, the University of Michigan-Dearborn helped fund a Hillel presence on their campus.

That changed in December 2019, when the school ended its annual $25,000 contribution to Hillel of Metro Detroit (HMD).

HMD is a regional Hillel chapter that coordinates Jewish student life across six different Metro Detroit universities. In addition to UM-Dearborn, it has a presence at Lawrence Technological University, Oakland Community College, Oakland University, University of Detroit Mercy and Wayne State University.

Miriam Starkman, executive director of HMD, told the JN that they are still currently going to UM-Dearborn occasionally, once a month or so, and are still in contact with the students but do not have the presence now that they once had.

“As a graduating senior who has worked so hard to fight for Jewish students’ rights on this campus, it concerns me,” UM-Dearborn senior Jordan Wohl said. “Hillel enabled the perspective that Jewish students were and are welcomed on this campus. They were the consistent body that students needed at UM-Dearborn.”

Jordan Wohl alongside other UM-Dearborn students at the JSO Pre-Hanukkah/Holiday Movie Night & Party in December 2017. Courtesy of Hillel of Metro Detroit

Ken Kettenbeil, vice chancellor of external relations at UM-Dearborn, said in a statement to the JN that the school was working to secure HMD funding through other means, and that it had received a lead gift from an anonymous donor.

“We are still continuing to try and find a matching gift for that lead so that we can rekindle the relationship with Hillel and ensure that we would be able to continue to fund campus engagement here at UM-Dearborn,” Kettenbeil said.

Shortly after the April 2019 appointment of Domenico Grasso as UM-Dearborn’s new chancellor, according to Kettenbeil, the university revealed that they were experiencing budget difficulties, primarily related to a decline in the number of students. The university’s budget was reevaluated and, according to Kettenbeil, cuts were made across the university, including the $25,000 for HMD.

Grasso’s predecessor as chancellor, Dan Little, had been the first to establish Hillel’s presence on campus in 2007.

Starkman told the JN that HMD’s funding typically comes from their own fundraising efforts, as well as an annual allocation from Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. HMD has two part-time development directors who work to secure larger gifts from the community.

“We have different relationships with each university that we serve,” Starkman added. “With the case regarding UM-Dearborn, we were not previously serving them, but they wanted to bring our presence to campus. The funding they gave us went directly to serving UM-Dearborn.”

Starkman remains optimistic that there will be an opportunity to continue HMD’s presence on campus.

“We hope that there will be some way to salvage something moving forward,” Starkman said. “The reason Chancellor Little decided to create a formal Hillel presence on that campus was because he recognized that there was a need, and I believe that need is still present today.”

HMD’s website currently has no upcoming events scheduled at UM-Dearborn.

“Non-existent on campus”

Kettenbeil noted in his statement that UM-Dearborn would continue to fund student-run groups, including its Jewish Student Organization (JSO), which is currently allocated $2,000 annually.

“University funds must be used to benefit all students,” he said.

Kettenbeil also pointed to UM-Dearborn’s Center for Social Justice and Inclusion (CSJI), which works with groups including the LGBTQ+ community, veterans and interfaith organizations to help provide programs and activities that seek to unite the Dearborn community. One of the key programs for the CSJI is interfaith initiatives.

But Wohl, who served as president of JSO during his sophomore year, said the organization “is becoming non-existent on UM-Dearborn’s campus.”

“They haven’t held an event throughout the 2019 school year, have yet to coordinate one this year and they still have myself listed as president even though I am no longer in that position,” he said.

Wohl voiced concern that the decline of the JSO, and now the withdrawal of support for Hillel’s presence on campus, may affect Jewish UM-Dearborn students.

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