The movers are taking Baltimore Hebrew University apart, clearing faculty offices, piling high the boxes and unplugged computers, rolling up the lobby's Oriental carpet and marking leather chairs with stickers identifying their next stop: "TU." That's Towson University, now officially the new home of BHU's graduate courses and community programs.
The Maryland Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to approve the new partnership, closing one chapter in the life of the 90-year-old institution of Jewish learning and opening another. BHU will move with 55 graduate students, seven instructors and a library of about 70,000 volumes a few miles northeast from its building on Park Heights Avenue to the suburban Towson campus of more than 21,000 students.
BHU's graduate programs and the Joseph Meyerhoff Library collection will be in place at the public university this fall. BHU was forced into a move by declining enrollment and rising costs, but officials at both institutions are celebrating the partnership.
"I think it's very, very exciting," said Towson President Robert L. Caret. "It's an opportunity that just presented itself."
BHU's interim president, Erika Pardes Schon, said, "We are delighted by this decision. The faculty of BHU look forward to introducing a new tier of graduate courses at Towson University in the fall."
Earlier in the week, Schon conducted a brief tour of the mounting disarray that is Baltimore Hebrew University, which was going to have to move out of its 50-year-old building on Park Heights Avenue with or without the Towson merger. The building's owner and the school's chief benefactor, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, plans to raze the building and use the space for a parking lot for a new building planned across the street.
"Everything beautiful here is gone," she said, standing in the library, where furniture, rugs and display cases were already on a truck bound for Towson. The library's collection - said to be the largest array of Judaica in the mid-Atlantic region outside the Library of Congress - is to be moved in stages during the summer, with hopes to be open on the second floor of the Albert S. Cook Library at Towson University by the end of August.
BHU students were taking pictures off the lobby walls, pulling out stacks of folded cardboard boxes and rolls of bubble wrap.
Baltimore Hebrew University will close, but its work will live on in three master's degree programs and in the new Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson. With Schon as director, the institute will carry on BHU's community activities in offering adult continuing education, public lectures and scholarly symposiums.
At no added cost to the state, BHU's master of arts degree programs in Jewish studies and Jewish communal services will move to Towson's College of Liberal Arts, while the master's in Jewish education will move to the College of Education. The fate of its doctoral program in Jewish studies remains undecided.
While Towson has not been looking to expand its doctoral programs beyond the three it now offers, Caret said he's receptive to a proposal to continue the BHU program. The Maryland Higher Education Commission, which approved the partnership this week, granted Towson permission to propose a doctoral program, but also barred new students from entering the program for the next six years.
BHU held its final commencement last month. BHU master's and doctoral candidates still working on their degrees will earn Towson diplomas.
Towson officials are ready to welcome the new faculty members.
"It's a really nice marriage," said Raymond P. Lorion, dean of Towson's College of Education, adding that "the whole university" will benefit from the addition of the BHU faculty, whom he called "serious and productive scholars."
Lorion said that while Towson students work with both private and public schools, the addition of the Jewish education program will "expand the array of settings for which we prepare people."
Towson and BHU were founded to train teachers, and Lorion said both retain that primary commitment to teaching. "It's a great fit."
Hana Bor, associate professor of Jewish Education at BHU, said, "We're excited about the opportunity to be among other colleagues and to learn and to share" with a large pool of scholars in the field.
Still, she said, "We have to find ways to keep our identity and our mission to train teachers for Jewish schools."
BHU's mission has evolved since it was established in 1919 to develop Jewish educators. Over the years, it has served as a high school and college, and for the past decade has operated almost exclusively as a graduate school, taking a strictly academic approach to the study of religious text, culture and history. The school is not affiliated with any branch of Judaism.