OTD in History June 14, 1841, British Colonel Charles Henry Churchill wrote a letter to Sir Moses Montefiore supporting a Jewish state in Palestine

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OTD in History June 14, 1841, British Colonel Charles Henry Churchill wrote a letter to Sir Moses Montefiore supporting a Jewish state in Palestine



By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

unknown artist; Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885); Ramsgate Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-moses-montefiore-17841885-77099



On this day in Jewish history, June 14, 1841, British Colonel Charles Henry Churchill wrote a letter to Sir Moses Montefiore supporting the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Montefiore, was a British banker, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and philanthropist, who founded the first New Yishuv, Mishkenot Sha’ananim in 1860, the first Jewish settlement outside the walls of the old City of Jerusalem. Churchill served as the British consul to Ottoman Syria, which included Palestine, today’s Israel. Churchill, an evangelical Protestant, and ancestor of the future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was one of the first to suggest the political establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Montefiore spent his whole life living as part of the Western Europe’s Jewish elite and his adult life as the “the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth century” as Abigail Green recounts in her biography “Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero,” the most complete biography of his life. Montefiore was one of the 12 Jewish financial brokers in London in the early 19th century. Born in Italy to a Sephardic Jewish family, his family moved back to England, where Montefiore was educated.

Afterward, Montefiore entered the grocers and tea merchants’ trade, before going into the finance business and stockbroking with his brother Abraham. Montefiore’s profile and success in the business grew when he married into Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s family. Among the Jewish world, Montefiore’s business is not what made him well known and remembered, but his philanthropy and proto-Zionism in pre-state Israel. Montefiore retired young from the business world in 1824 at the age of 40 to concentrate the rest of his long life on his philanthropic efforts.

Montefiore’s first visit to Israel was in 1827 and it changed his life, specifically when he and his wife Judith Barent-Cohen prayed at Rachel Tomb for children; although the Montefiore never had any children. He subsequently visited Israel six other times, the last time in 1875 when he was 91 years-old. The moment led him to become religiously observant, he served as the president of the Beavis Marks Synagogue for 39 years and traveled with a “shohet” to ensure all the meat he ate was kosher as he extensively traveled.

Montefiore met Churchill in Malta in November 1840, when Churchill asked if he could serve as a courier to Damascus. Churchill arrived in February 1841 and the head of the Jewish community Raphael Farhi held a reception in his honor on March 1.

Churchill gave his first speech supporting Jewry to rousing applauds:  

“May this happy meeting be looked upon as … a forecast of such a connection and alliance between the English and the Jewish nation as shall be honourable and advantageous to both. May the hour of Israel’s deliverance be at hand. May the approximation of Western civilization to the interesting land be the dawn of her regeneration, and of her political existence; may the Jewish nation once more claim her rank among the powers of the world!” (Green, 206)      

Churchill would author two letters to Montefiore advocating “Jewish national regeneration in Palestine.” (Grief, 535) In the first letter dated, June 14, 1841, Churchill advised that the Jews should commence “agitation… to resume their [political] existence as a people.” Churchill believed with the “aid” of the “European Powers,” Jews would attain in the end ‘the sovereignty of at least Palestine.”

In his second letter, dated over a year later on August 15, 1842, Churchill seemed to backtrack stating that only as subjects of the sublime Porte could Jews “recover their ancient country or regain a footing in Palestine.” They would need the Five Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Austria, and Prussia) to advocate that the Sultan allow them to settle and “colonize” in Palestine, “under the protection of the Great Powers.”  Under Churchill’s proposal, Jewish colonies would be autonomous but would be required to pay a tax to the Sultan. Churchill concluded that “Judea” would be “once more a refuge and resting place” for world Jewry. (Grief, 535)

In addition to the letter, Churchill included a detailed proposal about how this colonization would be established. The first step was an application to the British Government to the attention of Foreign Secretary Lord Aberdeen. Aberdeen would send a person to Syria “a fit and proper person to watch over the interests of the Jews.” Churchill finished his letter writing “God has put in my heart the desire to serve His ancient people… I have discharged a duty imposed on me by my conscience.”  (Grief, 535)

Montefiore took Churchill’s two letters to the Board of Deputies of British Jews were he served as president. On November 8, 1942, they responded to Montefiore, that they would not be initiating Churchill’s proposal or any other for settlement in Palestine, but would participate if a Jewish community in another country would. In less than a decade, Montefiore would begin settling Jews in settlements in Palestine on his initiative and working with Churchill.

Montefiore’s most extensive philanthropy was towards the small Jewish community in Israel, hoping to entice more Jews to live there. He turned towards settling Israel in 1854 when he became the executor of American Judah Touro’s will; Touro wanted a settlement created with his money. Montefiore used his money and that of Touro’s estate to establish agricultural communities outside of Jerusalem’s Old City beginning the New Yishuv. Montefiore purchased an orchard outside Jerusalem to provide agricultural training to Jews in 1855 and in 1860 created the first settlement, Mishkenot Sha’ananim or the Inhabitations of Delight. Montefiore added incentives to encourage poorer Jews to settle despite the dangers. The first settlement consisted of “twenty-four apartments on the slopes of Talibiyeh facing Mount Zion.” (Blumberg, 60)

Afterward, he created additional neighborhoods, “the Ohel Moshe neighborhood for Sephardic Jews and the Mazkeret Moshe neighborhood for Ashkenazi Jews.” Montefiore also set-up the essentials for a growing community in Jerusalem, including health care, education and charity, some industries and essential factories, and the Montefiore Windmill to mill flour in Yemin Moshe, which still stands today. Montefiore hired Churchill to train the Jews in agriculture. According Arnold Blumberg in “Eretz Israel, Israel, and the Jewish Diaspora: Mutual Relations,” Montefiore, however, was “not interested in creating a Jewish state, he did regard the normalization of Jewish life through self-supporting labor, as essential.” (Blumberg, 60) While, Derek Penslar called Montefiore’s settlements “Palestinophilia,” the “establishment of philanthropic enterprises devoted to the social and economic transformation of Palestinian Jewry.” (Penslar, 63)  

The exchanges between Churchill and Montefiore and Churchill’s proposal helped develop proto-Zionism, the forerunners of Zionism. As Blumberg noted, “In Palestine itself, the old Yishuv seemed untouched by the currents of nineteenth-century thought. Nevertheless… the entry of western Jews upon the scene had laid the foundation for the new Yishuv. Long before the advent of political Zionism, a new spirit was alive in Palestinian Jewry.” (Blumberg, 61) Churchill’s proposal led to Montefiore taking charge and funding settlement beyond the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem’s old city, setting the stage for the new settlements and the aliyahs to Palestine that commenced in 1882.

Churchill’s letter to Montefiore, June 14, 1841:

I cannot conceal from you my most anxious desire to see your countrymen endeavour once more to resume their existence as a people.

I consider the object to be perfectly attainable. But, two things are indispensably necessary. Firstly, that the Jews will themselves take up the matter universally and unanimously. Secondly, that the European Powers will aid them in their views. It is for the Jews to make a commencement. Let the principal persons of their community place themselves at the head of the movement. Let them meet, concert and petition. In fact the agitation must be simultaneous throughout Europe. There is no Government which can possibly take offence at such public meetings. The result would be that you would conjure up a new element in Eastern diplomacy—an element which under such auspices as those of the wealthy and influential members of the Jewish community could not fail not only of attracting great attention and of exciting extraordinary interest, but also of producing great events.

Were the resources which you all possess steadily directed towards the regeneration of Syria and Palestine, there cannot be a doubt but that, under the blessing of the Most High, those countries would amply repay the undertaking, and that you would end by obtaining the sovereignty of at least Palestine.

Syria and Palestine, in a word, must be taken under European protection and governed in the sense and according to the spirit of European administration.

I therefore would strenuously urge this subject upon your calm consideration, upon the consideration of those who, by their position and influence amongst you are most likely to take the lead in such a glorious struggle for national existence. I had once intended to have addressed the Jews here in their Synagogue upon the subject, but I have reflected that such a proceeding might have awakened the jealousy of the local Government.

I have, however, prepared a rough petition which will be signed by all the Jews here and in other parts of Syria, and which I shall then forward to you. Probably two or three months will elapse first. There are many considerations to be weighed and examined as the question develops itself—but a “beginning” must be made—a resolution must be taken,”an agitation must be commenced”, and where the stake is “Country and Home” where is the heart that will not leap and bound to the appeal?

Supposing that you and your colleagues should at once and earnestly interest yourselves upon this important subject of the recovery of your ancient country, it appears to me (forming my opinions upon the present attitude of affairs in the Turkish Empire) that it could only be as subjects of the Porte that you could commence to regain a footing in Palestine. Your first object would be to interest the Five Great Powers in your views and to get them to advocate your view with the Sultan upon the clear understanding that the Jews, if permitted to colonise any part of Syria and Palestine, should be under the protection of the Great Powers, that they should have the internal regulation of their own affairs, that they should be exempt from military service (except on their own account as a measure of defence against the incursions of the Bedouin Arabs), and that they should only be called upon to pay a tribute to the Porte on the usual mode of taxation. I humbly venture to give my opinion upon a subject, which no doubt has already occupied your thought—and the bare mention of which, I know, makes every Jewish heart vibrate. The only question is – “when” and “how”.

The blessing of the Most High must be invoked on the endeavour. Political events seem to warrant the conclusion that the hour is nigh at hand when the Jewish people may justly and with every reasonable prospect of success put their hands to the glorious work of National Regeneration.

If you think otherwise I shall bend at once to your decision, only begging you to appreciate my motive, which is simply an ardent desire for the welfare and prosperity of a people to whom we all owe our possession of those blessed truths which direct our minds with unerring faith to the enjoyment of another and better world.

“Proposal of Colonel Churchill” August 15, 1842:

Human efforts preceded by prayer and undertaken in faith the whole history of your nation shows to be almost invariably blessed. If such then be your conviction it remains for you to consider whether you may not in all humility, but with earnest sincerity and confiding hope direct your most strenuous attention towards the land of your Fathers with the view of doing all in your power to ameliorate the conditions of your brethren now residing there and with heartfelt aspiration of being approved by Almighty God whilst you endeavour as much as in you lies to render that Land once more a refuge and resting-place to such of your brethren scattered throughout the world as may resort to it.

Hundreds and thousands of your countrymen would strain every effort to accomplish the means of living amidst those scenes rendered sacred by ancient recollections, and which they regard with filial affection, but the dread of the insecurity of life and property which has rested so long upon the soil of “Judea” has hitherto been a bar to the accomplishment of their natural desire.
My proposition is that the Jews of England conjointly with their brethren on the Continent of Europe should make an application to the British Government through the Earl of Aberdeen to accredit and send out a fit and proper person to reside in Syria for the sole and express purpose of superintending and watching over the interests of the Jews residing in that country.

The duties and powers of such a public officer to be a matter of arrangement between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Committee of Jews conducting the negotiations. It is, I hope, superfluous for me to enlarge upon the incalculable benefit which would accrue to your nation at large were such an important measure to be accomplished, or to allude more than briefly to the spirit of confidence and revival which would be excited in the breasts of your fellow-countrymen all over the world were they to be held and acknowledged agents for the Jewish people resident in Syria and Palestine under the auspices and sanction of Great Britain….

READ MORE / SOURCES


Adler, Joseph. Restoring the Jews to Their Homeland: Nineteen Centuries in the Quest for Zion. Northvale, NJ: Aronson, 1997.

Blumberg, Arnold. Zion Before Zionism 1838-1880. Jerusalem: Devora Publishing, 2007.

Green, Abigail. Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012.

Grief, Howard. The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel Under International Law: A Treatise on Jewish Sovereignty Over the Land of Israel. Jerusalem, Israel: Mazo Publishers, 2013.

Mor, Menachem. Eretz Israel, Israel, and the Jewish Diaspora: Mutual Relations: 1st Annual Symposium. University Press of America, 1991.

 

 

Judaism December 31, 2017: Adventures and disasters in online Jewish dating for marriage

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Adventures and disasters in online Jewish dating for marriage

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

The Jewish community is always lamenting the high intermarriage rates especially in the United States and Canada destroying the continuity of the Jewish religion, but there are deeper reasons why the rate continues to get higher. Enter the world of Jewish online dating for marriage, the last hope to find your Jewish soul mate, beshert or simply marry within the religion. The various websites include those that allow the single to meet individually other eligible singles. Others have personal matchmakers working to find you a potential match based on a set of criteria you provide. Both kinds of sites boast their success rates and the number of matches. What they never boast or advertise is the numerous horror stories that make any Jewish single understand why nearly half of North Americans choose intermarriage.

Intermarriage has increasingly become a problem in North America. The most recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project published in the fall of 2013 determined that 44 percent of American Jewish choose to marry someone outside the faith. The poll claimed the rates were higher for Jews who identified with the Reform or Reconstructionist movements, much less among Conservative Jews and almost non-existent in the Orthodox community. In Canada, the community likes to believe the rate is lower than their American counterparts, but not really. According to the Jewish Federations of Canada — UIA’s 2011 National Household Survey, “The intermarriage rate for couples under 30 years of age is 43 percent. More than 72,000 Jews live in intermarried households in Canada, including 15,490 children, more than half of whom are being raised without any religious affiliation.”

I am a Jewish woman in her mid-thirties, who for various reasons chose not to get married as the stereotypical 26-year-old as the majority of my peers did so conveniently many within weeks of each other. I wanted more in my 20s; I wanted graduate degrees, I wanted a career, professional notoriety, and for a while achieved the influence, I wanted. I also experienced personal disappointments, mental abuse, sexual harassment, and the dark sides of interpersonal and professional relationships, unfortunately in the hands of Jewish men. The bad experiences only pushed me further away from pursuing marriage.

There is something about the mid-thirties that makes every woman desperate to find a man to marry, to have children, even if that was never their priority. Opportunities were more tempting to date outside the religion, but as someone who came from a traditional Jewish home, went through the Jewish school system and even pursued graduate work in Judaic Studies, it never seemed an option I wanted to explore. For the past few months, I sunk so desperate as to attempt online Jewish dating for marriage and Jewish matchmaking services, with deep reluctance and not much hope and for good reason. In my journey, I met Jewish men from around the world, but particularly the US, New York, and Canada. I will be blunt you hear horror stories about online dating, and I believe I experienced some of the worst because the experience nearly killed me.

At the matchmaking site, I first encountered a matchmaker who found everything about my profile wrong, from my photo to my about me section and even my instructions to the matchmakers as to my criteria for a potential match. The matchmakers volunteer and come from a variety of professions one of mine was a lawyer, who approached matchmaking as only a lawyer could. From the start, she sent me potential matches without any thought to my criteria, a first look that makes you question the whole dating pool.

When I talked with my matchmaker in the mandatory phone interview I had bad flashbacks as a novice undergraduate having my papers reviewed by my professors explaining why I received that bad grade, but this was my dating profile and my personal views about my life. First, she told me I had to get my hair and makeup professionally done and have a professional photographer take the photos. She told me I was not getting a good response from my photo, ironically she did not realize the photos were from my 20s, I really do not look that different except for my hairstyle, and it was probably me at my peak and at the time I paid the most attention to applying a lot of makeup. She called my profile too arrogant for its bluntness, which was meant to weed out the weak and abusive men, and for my academic and career-mindedness. In other words, she wanted me to entirely dumb myself down for these men and bimbo myself to please them.

Our society frowns at body shaming of this sort, most advice tells women to be themselves, and definitely not change physically, intellectually or belief wise for any man. Jewish matchmakers, however, believe in the backdated notion that women need to sacrifice their integrity to get a man. To please her, as a writer I channeled my inner sarcasm and came up with a profile that included flippant lines like “Gone With The Wind inspired me to study real Jewish southern belles during the Civil War, the Jewish Scarletts, and Melanies. As for me as I am as fiery and determined as Scarlett, but as sweet, caring, and compassionate as Melanie.” With a sappy conclusion, I wrote “I am looking for my own bashert to make this journey through life even more meaningful,” although feminism teaches young women that life can be complete without a man.

All this to the please the males on the site, and what a dating pool it was, in a complete double standard the men were not forced to adhere to the physical ridicule the women were. I was looking for men older than me primarily. I was sent men upward to 50 who had never been married, who looked much older and generally creeped me out. The ones who were divorced and with children were even worse, one claimed to be very religious but had left his wife with five children under age 13 and was now looking to marry another woman and have more children with and then repeat the cycle.

The younger ones in the later thirties and early forties had secrets in their backgrounds; if you did a background search, they either were listed as married or had criminal records or families with ones. Many routinely lied about their professional degrees and jobs. One guy, who was one of six siblings from a religious family, had three of the siblings with criminal records. None of the men were lookers, and most of were not even interested in accepting a potential match, even when on paper it seemed perfect they refused, making a woman question them, their motives for being on the site and even their sexuality.

My worst encounter was with a local man who I previously encountered on another matchmaking site. Months earlier I initially refused him after his acceptance because he lied about his looks, weight, jobs and that he was a fulltime undergraduate student again as he was approaching his mid-forties. Here again, matchmakers other than my own were suggesting this same guy. I thought I had been too shallow the first time, and I thought I should have given him the benefit of the doubt I was wrong.

He was still lying about being over 300 lbs, and that he now needs two years to graduate. With talking to him I found out he been fired from a job that he had no qualifications for and should have been grateful to have instead he challenged every one of the institutions time-honored traditions. He failed to see he was wrong at all ever, just talked about himself and pretty much to himself. Two phone calls and emails were enough, but his matchmakers misinterpreted talking twice on the phone as a reason to be roped into marriage and started to stalk me and call me at all hours to force me to go with him. When I complained about it to the site’s support, I was the one kicked off the site, because one can never complain about the amazing Jewish men and their matchmakers.

The second dating website eliminated the headache of matchmakers but left one more vulnerable to the crazies. From the start, I met one man who lied about being disabled and claimed he wanted to marry me but conveniently wanted me to pay for everything. Another man was a grieving overweight widower with children in his mid-forties, who thought I was older than I claimed by a year made an issue about it even though he was still 10 years older than I no matter what, and he was hiding a criminal past. I met another local guy, who knew all my peers from school, which goes against one of my rules of dating, he kept pursuing me by email even though I was not interested, and when I said we knew too many common people he flipped out and had a meltdown practically confessing his past sins on my email account. Never mind, discussing the countless other men whose stories and encounters I experienced that are not worth repeating.

Beware, however, the guy who pretends to be sweet complimentary and flattering. He contacted me the moment I started on the site literally. He was a little younger than me, which goes against another dating rule of mine, but seemed too nice not to talk to, we shared similar academic interests, he was religious, had attended a Yeshiva, made aliyah in his 20s, served in the IDF, but from the start there were red signs. He Facebook friended me after the first call, was telling me he loved me in the first week and saying he wanted to marry me within days. He was showing me all his graduate school essays for my critic, and I also suspected my rewrites. Soon, however, his multiple daily emails were becoming too demanding and time-consuming. For the first month, I kept him at bay, while I searched for someone more worthy and more compatible with me.

Getting kicked off of the matchmaking site, somewhat made me more desperate suddenly I was taking seriously the love declarations of the younger graduate student lothario who claimed to want marriage but seemed to be only desperate for sex. I committed to him, and he even bought me an engagement ring, we started planning a spring wedding, but the early issues only increased. He would email non-stop during the day, while he was at work, even while was in class and expected me to babysit him as he went home each night and then talk to him on the phone each evening. He had hissy fits if I did not answer within minutes. I was soon accounting for every break. My life was not my own, my work was going to the wayside, everything I built up my entire adult professional life. I had no time watch TV, to eat, or even shower.

Years before I knew a man who thought, I was unreasonable when I wanted a response to a single email within the professional 24-hour period or at least 48 hours and got annoyed if I emailed after 48 or 72 hours again. He was oversensitive as to what boundaries were; he should have known and experienced the chocking control I was without barely a minute to myself than he would have known the definition of harassment. I looked forward to Shabbat, not for the religious joys of the day, but because it gave me 25 hours of peace and not hearing from the guy I now felt trapped with.

It was not only his time control, the guy had sexual fetishes, he would not stop bothering me with, and drove me crazy explaining and talking about them. As I got deeper, his control extended to his sexual overtures. In the era of the #MeToo movement, he forced me to send explicit photos over the internet he used for a sexual act, or else he threatened to break up with me and end our engagement. It was my main boundary he crossed it, I never forgave him for it, and began distancing myself from him. I felt sexually assaulted and abused, and still, he was trying to force me to send more photos. The whole short and the now abusive relationship was taking a serious toll on my health. Finally, after one recent Shabbat he told me erev Shabbat he returned my ring for financial reasons, a ring that cost less than $2000, to begin with. Enough was enough, returning my engagement ring behind my back was the last straw. Over two months and 5000 emails later I ended it, but I remain with a deteriorated health, physically bruised and hurt by his deceit and abuse.

In a mere few months of online Jewish dating, I feel more beaten up then the years of normal dating. I always questioned privately intermarriage even as some of my peers from Jewish school chose that route. I was equally appalled at the intermarriage rate from the 2013 Pew poll as I reported about it in an article. I firmly believed in Jewish continuity through marriage, after my experiences I have greater sympathy and understanding for intermarriage, as see my peers who intermarried are happier than I am or even my peers who married within the religion and maintain a hypocritical showbiz relationship with Judaism.

My foray shows there are problems with the Jewish dating pool, abuse, insanity, and criminality, much can be attributed to the men as much as their parents especially the mothers who raised them to treat a woman as objects without any respect. Equally at fault are the matchmakers, whose mindsets are back 100 years before the emergence of the feminist movement and Betty Friedan’s “The Problem That Has No Name.”

I begin to question the commitment of Orthodox rabbis to Jewish continuity, when the rabbi I contacted after being kicked off the matchmaker site, never responded to me although I pleaded and pledged my dedication to marrying Jewish, but was now without options to find a Jewish mate and needed his help. The community, the rabbis, the matchmakers, the parents not only educators are responsible for the rising intermarriage rate. When they make it unappealing and impossible for a Jewish single to find a Jewish mate, the single Jew stops caring and dealing with the problems and decides on the easier route intermarriage rather than remain single trying to find another Jew.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Education July 17, 2017: Concordia University’s policies purposely delay graduation dates

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Concordia University’s policies purposely delay graduation dates

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Concordia University is plagued with enrollment issues delaying students’ graduations and potentially ruining their prospects for graduate and professional school. Wikipedia Commons

We are now in the summer with this year’s convocation ceremonies celebrating university graduates just ended, while new incoming students anticipate the start of their higher education journey. However, how many students who start university end up at the finish line? The question is the reason why graduation rates are an important part of choosing a university, but some universities hide their problems. One such school is Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Concordia has long faced questions about their graduation rates, but now a reason has emerged, the University has been purposely pushing students to delay graduation.

An April 9, 2017, article by local Montreal radio station CJAD entitled “Over Enrollment Blamed for Class Crunch at Concordia” exposed that the university has over enrollment issues in key requirement courses. Instead of dealing with the longtime issue, undergraduate advisors are convincing students to delay graduation by taking a reduced course load, which ruins students’ graduate school prospects if they look to go outside of Concordia. The psychology department is not the only department experiencing these types of problems they happen elsewhere within the university. The issue is also not exclusively a problem plaguing undergraduate students, deterrence tactics also common at the graduate level.

The report by CJAD and authored by reporter Shuyee Lee delved into some of the reasons there are problems with Concordia graduation rates, over enrollment in courses and advisors telling students to take lighter course loads. In what has been going on “for years” unreported, students face problems enrolling in popular courses that are also part of the major or specialization requirements to graduate or even proceed with next level courses. The courses often offered once a year do not have enough spaces, filled up quickly, and have long waitlists, in the end, many students are shut out. Students have to take longer to graduate and fulfill their requirements. The even problem, the university’s cover-up, many academic advisors are trying to convince students to take lighter course loads, make the students believe it is better for their academic future to do so.

One of Concordia’s most popular majors, Psychology was highlighted in CJAD’s report. Student Paolo Drago, the representative for the Concordia’s Undergraduate Psychology Association spoke to CJAD about the problems within his department, he and fellow students face. Drago explained, “Some courses are only offered once a year, by a particular professor, so you can imagine people who want to take a specialization class that really caters to what they want to research or study, they might not be able to get into that class for a whole year because the class is full, it’s usually a class of 60 so they start lagging behind on the classes they want to take.”

Concordia might be able to keep students enrolled longer and garner additional fees, but it is to the academic detriment of its students. Delays in graduation, taking longer than the average time to complete a degree and taking lighter course loads are frowned at in graduate and professional applications. Students trying to be admitted into law, medicine, and graduate programs at other universities are having problems being admitted and the explanation, they were only listening to the advisor’s does not work. Drago told CJAD, “People are kind of blindsided when they start applying and they don’t get accepted, ‘Well, I did everything the academic advisor told me to do and it’s not paying dividends.’”

Instead of finding solutions, the university’s faculty and administration are denying that there are even any problems. Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota denied there are any over enrollment issues. Mota said, “There are a few programs where opening extra sections of a course is a challenge.” Still, the university plans to increase the minimum average for acceptance to their psychology program, and increase course sizes for the popular required courses. Nevertheless, what about the greater problems in other programs that was not part of CJAD’s report?

This is not the first time Concordia faced a controversy about graduation rates. In 2014, Concordia faced a controversy when the Montreal’s French language paper La Presse wrote an expose claiming a drastic fall in the university undergraduate graduation rate. Concordia quickly pressured La Presse to retract the story. In the original story published on January 3, 2014, entitled “ PLUS DE LA MOITIÉ DES ÉTUDIANTS DE CONCORDIA NE DÉCROCHENT PAS LEUR DIPLÔME “ reporter Hugo Pilon-Larose claimed that only 48 percent of students who started degrees in 2006 had completed them by 2012. The number was a fall from the 75 percent, who had started their degrees in 2001 and finished them by 2007. The troubling number was supposed because of the higher proportion of international students and part-time students.

The university was outraged, almost immediately La Presse was forced to retract their original article. Another article was published four days later on January 7, 2014, entitled, “Taux d’obtention de diplôme: Concordia maintient le cap” and written by Pilon-Larose. The New correction article now claimed that Concordia’s 2007 graduation rate was 75.5 percent and 2012, and it was 74.2 percent for students who commenced their studies six years before. Benoit-Antoine Bacon, vice-president, and vice-president of academic affairs at Concordia University boasted about the rate in the revision. Bacon said, “Our graduation rate is close to or even above the national average. We are very satisfied. But we can always do better, and we are working hard to increase it. But to do so, we face financial and academic challenges.”

In comparison, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) a comprehensive school like Concordia had a 68.7 rate in 2007 and 71.3 percent in 2012. McGill University and Université de Montréal (UdeM), the city’s medical and doctoral schools had higher rates. McGill had 84 percent in 2012 for students starting in 2006, lower than in 2007 when they had 86 percent graduation rate for students who commenced their studies 2001. Université de Montréal (UdeM) graduation during the same period dropped only slightly from 80.2 percent in 2007 to 79.4 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Concordia countered with a correction to LaPresse’s story. The university claimed that LaPresse compared full-time rates from 1999 to part-time rates for 2012 leading to the discrepancies. Concordia indicated that the full-time rate is down only slightly from 74.5 percent to 74.2 percent whereas for all cycles is down 75% to 75.9%.

The truth is the graduation rate is much higher than La Presse’s number but not nearly as high as Concordia claims. University rankings claim the number is in fact, nearly 5 percent lower that Concordia boasts. Maclean’s Magazine profiled Concordia in 2016 for their annual university ranking where Concordia held the tenth position in the Comprehensive University category. According to Maclean’s Concordia has only a 70.5 percent graduation rate, but an 85.9 percent retention rate, showing students keep going and going at Concordia without completing their degrees.

Aside from clarifying the La Presse controversy, Concordia does not publish graduation rates only the number of graduates each year and the number of students enrolled each academic year.
In 2011–12, there were 35,848 undergraduates, 23,390 full-time and 12,458 part-time enrolled at the university. There were also 7,314 graduate students, 5,294 full-time and 2,020 part-time. Meanwhile, that year 4,889 undergraduate received the diplomas, and 1,593 graduating students graduated. In 2015–16, there were 35,616 undergraduate students; the divisions between full and part-time were not disclosed. Meanwhile, 5,213 undergraduates received a diploma and 1,901 graduate students. Although there are more students graduating in the previous academic year, no data was released to indicate when they started their studies and how long it took them to graduate.

Concordia does fare well in world university rankings, partly because they are a comprehensive university focusing or some professional and graduate degrees, but are not a full research, medical doctoral university. In Canada, according to Maclean’s Concordia is 10th in the comprehensive category. On the world stage, the university cannot compete with Canada’s bigger names.

According to the 2018 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings released in June, Concordia is 431–400, having moved up 30 spots. In comparison, the University of Toronto is now Canada’s top university in the QS ranking replacing McGill coming at number 31. McGill is now second in Canada at number 32. Although McGill ranks first in Canadian rankings in international ones the University of Toronto usual takes that honor. Canada’s third University in the top 100, the University of British Columbia is now number 52. In Canada, Concordia was in 16th place of all Canadian schools.

Meanwhile, in the Times Higher Education’s (THE) 2017 World University Rankings, Concordia came at between 501–600 th position. The school did better in the 2017 Young University Rankings, were ranked in the 101–150 th position. The University of Toronto again topped the Canadian universities on the list. The University of Toronto took the Number 22 position. The University of British Columbia was tied for 36, while McGill University was number 42.

The revelation of Concordia’s deterrence methods came close to home. I had two degrees from the neighboring McGill University before entering Concordia University. I had a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies before starting a second Masters degree in Judaic Studies with a thesis, at Concordia’s Religion Department from the start I was pushed to relax my course load. I came with plans to move full speed ahead and finish the program in two years and then on for a doctorate, but at every turn, there were obstacles that slowed me down. The following is my own experiences and observances while I was a student at Concordia.

At McGill, I completed a Masters degree by course and finishing the 48-credit degree in two years by taking a full load of four courses each semester. In Concordia, I was cautioned to take only two courses a required seminar and independent course in my first semester. In my first semester, I tried to stay strict with deadlines but saw professors being lax about deadlines as if it was not unusual, and it was not. For final research papers in seminars and independent courses my professors routinely recommended continuances that lasted up to two months into the next semester. With weekly readings and some short writing assignments throughout the semester it becomes easy to need the extra time a complete a research paper for a course, and if you start down that path, you continually need the extra time.

The research papers I completed for each course were sometimes upward to 50 pages in final presentation form. With the sheer amount of research for the papers plus reading throughout the semester, it is easy to take advantage of light course loads and extensions because they are approved and even advised by the faculty and your program advisor. Students fall into the trap, made so easy by your department but it ends up being destructive to graduating on time and realizing your academic goals.

Another unreported problem in Concordia is the amount of time it takes graduate students to complete their degree. A warning sign was hearing how long some of the students in the Religion Department were taking for their degrees, an average four years for the masters and upward to ten years for the doctorate. Concordia gives longer maximums for completing a graduate degree than neighboring McGill. The longer maximum time for full-time students is a leading indicator is would take longer to complete the degrees. The masters’ degree I was enrolled in the Religion Department resembled more of a mini-doctorate program at that time, with not only a thesis but also two comprehensive exams, it was impossible to complete it in the usual two years a Master’s degree should take. The degree has now been curtailed with the comprehensive exams removed as a requirement.

Concordia’s graduate programs have students paying a set schedule of fees regardless of the number of credits a student takes each semester. Therefore, one can take two courses and still be a full-time student. After the degree is paid, and if a student has not completed their degree they pay continuance fees. In comparison to Concordia’s, fee schedule, at McGill even in graduate study students pay by the number of credits per semester. In the end, after the three years, I completely paid off my degree plus three semesters of continuance fees, but with only 18 credits completed on my transcript.

Another way to deter students was making them repeat courses they had previously received credit for at another university. I faced another added burden, unlike the majority of students in my program I came with a Masters degree already under my belt, something the department repeatedly tried to forget. Whereas in McGill if a student already completed a research methods course, they were exempted from the requirement, it was the opposite in Concordia. I had taken an entire degree on research methodology, librarians are expert researchers, the ones helping students conduct research and find sources in the academic libraries, but the department was insistent I take a repetitive course or would not graduate.

The research methods course consisted of visits to the libraries and archives to hear about how to research. During my MLIS programs, I worked in libraries. Prior to entering Concordia, I had just put on an exhibition of a collection I cataloged in Canadian Jewish history as part of work I did at McGill’s University Archives. The department ignored that I completed a degree in research at the nation’s preeminent university. In my experience, the entire cycle was one I could not escape except leave the program without graduating. Therefore, after three years, 18 credits, an unsubmitted completed thesis, and a 3.95 CGPA I left Concordia’s MA in Judaic Studies program.

Like CJAD’s report on the psychology department’s deterrence methods, my experience was more the fault of the Religion Department than the university’s policies although they did facilitate them since departments have more control over graduate students and programs. As I observed a majority of the graduate students accepted to the Masters and even the Doctorate program came from different disciplines. I came from a related one history and was focusing on American Jewish history, but did not have Judaic or Jewish studies major beforehand. Other students came from even more different degrees and disciplines. Sometimes the students were required to take extra courses to obtain a background other times not, like me.

A majority in the department were also mature students returning to school after years in other professions. A minority were students continuing through the different academic cycles, I was one of the youngest in the program despite having completed another Masters before. I frequently saw favoritism for the mature students. Favoritism, in general, ran rampant, and it had nothing to do with grades or GPAs, rather personality but also research interests. Unlike psychology, religion is not usually a popular discipline; especially Judaic studies where there were only a handful of graduate students. University politics plays a factor, allocation of funding from the university depends on departmental enrollment. Promises of fellowships and awards attracted students like me for the money but mostly the prestige and honor. Keeping students in the department longer makes a larger student population. All these factors and some external ones were a recipe for students to take longer completing their degrees.

The reveal in CJAD’s report just touches on advisors recommending reduced course loads. Unfortunately, the advice is even more detrimental to graduate programs. Concordia’s policies do everything possible to slow down graduate students making them spend double the time and money. Departments are pushing students to take longer to graduate to increase their number of students and make sure the university collects more fees and that they get larger budgets. Instead of finding solutions, the administration chooses to ignore or better yet shut down any report that might indicate a problem at the university. LaPresse quickly withdrew their story in 2014 and CJAD’s report in April never went further with a followed up or covered by any other news outlet.

As their graduate rates suggest, maybe a majority of Concordia University’s students eventually graduate, others are fed up with the high costs, lengthy times and slow career movement. Either way, students are the ones that lose out from the university and department politics and policies. Longer times to graduate at the undergraduate or graduate level give students wishing to continue their studies little options outside of Concordia, which seems an intentional part of the cycle. For those who discontinue their studies, they are left few choices to continue graduate school, except return to Concordia or years of explaining why they did not complete their degree. Now at least thanks to CJAD’s reporting students and ex-students do not feel alone, it a common unresolved occurrence at Concordia one that desperately needs remedying.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.