It Took Three Leadership Models to Merge BHU and TU

Dr. Hana Bor presents the findings of hers and Dr. Rebecca Shargel’s sabbatical research about the 2009 merger of Towson University and Baltimore Hebrew University to a group of students, colleagues, family and friends on May 1. (Connor Graham photo)

On May 1, Hana Bor, professor and director of the MA in Leadership in Jewish Education & Communal Service at Towson University, presented the findings of her fall 2018 sabbatical research to a group of students, colleagues, family and friends in a lecture hall in TU’s Liberal Arts Building.

Before becoming a TU professor, Bor worked for the former Baltimore Hebrew University and was a participant in the process of merging the two institutions in 2009. The school is now known as the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University. During Bor’s sabbatical with Rebecca Shargel, associate professor of education at TU, the professors analyzed the overlapping circumstances that brought the universities together, and plan to publish an academic article with their findings later this year.

“We’d been talking about the sabbatical for a while, but it took some time, because we needed some time to let the merger happen,” Bor said. “We’ve been here for nine years, there have been a lot of changes and we felt that now was the time to reflect and look at what happened.”

The Baltimore Hebrew College and Teachers Training School was founded in 1919 with the purpose of disseminating Jewish education and training Jewish educators. Having become an accredited university in 1987, it changed its name to Baltimore Hebrew University, and was the only college in Maryland that focused solely on Judaic studies.

In 2009, BHU learned The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore would phase out its funding allocations to the school, at the same time that TU was envisioning its future as a university with a larger student body, providing access to more graduate programs including religious studies.

Bor asserts that the merger’s success was based on the convergence of three leadership models: the visionary leader, the transformational leader and the servant leader. In this case, TU’s then-president Robert L. Caret had the vision to merge the universities as part of his larger vision for TU as a whole. Caret (the visionary leader), delegated the task of constructing the framework for the courses to BHU interim president, later first BHI president Erika Schon (the transformational leader), who then tasked the team at TU registrar’s office (the servant leaders) with making the courses available for students.

Dr. Barry Gittlen, professor of Biblical and Archaeological Studies at TU, is one of the few professors remaining who also worked at BHU before the merger. Gittlen was present for Bor’s sabbatical presentation

“I thought Hana did a masterful job of collating all the data, and pulling in the various trails and connections that were developing between our staff and the Towson staff,” Gittlen said. “She did a great job of bringing it all together and making visible what we all went through. It shows how we worked together to meet a common end because both sides were very interested in making this happen.”

Bor hopes that in addition to serving as a document of the historic merger, the research can provide a template for other institutions making similar decisions.

“There are other mergers, and institutions that are considering ways to improve their mission for the long run,” Bor said. “I think this could be a model or an example or a case study for other mergers in higher education.”

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