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FAU Holocaust Studies Center may close doors

May 7, 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, FAU Holocaust Studies Center may close doors, by Ian Squires.

The Holocaust Studies Center at Florida Atlantic University soon may shut its doors forever, a victim of the state's budget shortfall that resulted in a $19 million reduction in FAU's budget.

Founded in 1996, the center's primary responsibility has been to prepare primary and secondary educators to comply with the 1994 state requirement that schools teach a unit in Holocaust education.

The collateral damage of the closing will especially be felt by area schools that rely on the resources the center presently offers.

Rosanna Gatens has been director of the center for the last five years, overseeing its expansion. Today the center trains more than 500 teachers a year, preparing them to teach broadly on the Holocaust, genocide and human rights.

"So that when they go out into the classroom they're prepared with the background materials and the training to actually implement the mandate," Gatens said.

One measure of its effectiveness, she said, is the expansion of the Save Darfur campaign working to end the genocide in Sudan.

"We have eight or nine high schools between Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties that are actively engaged in the Save Darfur campaign," she said. "Almost all of those Save Darfur clubs came from students who took the Holocaust Studies elective or who completed their units on the Holocaust in high school."

Teacher Sharona Kay teaches a year-long course on the Holocaust at Boca Raton Community High School that depends on the Holocaust Studies Center for handouts, books, videos and more. Kay said her students need the center, which also arranges for at least one Holocaust survivor to speak at the school each year.

She borrows materials out of the center's lending library throughout the school year and it never has failed to supply her, free of charge, with exactly what she needed for her classes. Kay said she worries what the loss will mean for her students.

"It's going to kill my class," Kay said. "It's so, so depressing to think about. It will mean we won't have the resources available now."

FAU Provost John Pritchett said he is reluctant to end a center he and the university take pride in, but the school has fiscal responsibilities it can not shirk.

"That is a very important program to us. We have to face reality though, the first priority is teaching our undergraduates, history, science and mathematics," Pritchett said. "We have an obligation to the students enrolled and moving toward graduation."

Gatens said she worries the Holocaust Studies Center is approaching its demise, despite the school's attempts to locate private funding to save the program.

"If we don't find alternate funding before June 30, it will close. What was cut was the operating budget which was about $100,000, and that's what needs to be replaced," she said.

Few people know about the center's impending closing, Gatens said, and many of those who have heard about it have reacted in anger and frustration.

Pritchett insisted that the university is on their side and doing everything it can to save the center.

"I think people who are angry should be very happy that we are looking for alternative funding and maybe they will volunteer to help us find that funding," he said. "We are looking for help from any possible sources and funding."

Call Rosanna Gatens at 561-297-2929 or John Pritchett at 561-297-2011.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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