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Faculty Council Meeting Announces Beginning of Academic Refinancing/Restructuring

A Faculty Council meeting was held last Friday to discuss issues pertaining to tenure and academic changes that will take place as a result of the University’s difficult financial situation.  The topic of tenure was discussed in a meeting exclusively for the undergraduate units of the university.  A document outlining the procedure for faculty to receive tenure or promotions had been developed over a period of two years by the Faculty Council and was approved by a vote of the faculty of Yeshiva College, Stern and Syms. Over the summer, the Provosts and Deans had revised those documents. Dean Karen Bacon and new Provost Selma Botman were present to answer questions and concerns regarding these changes which the faculty of the undergraduate units will need to ratify once more.

One main concern voiced was the need for greater flexibility within the document that acknowledges disparities in resources and teaching loads between the sciences and the humanities and between certain majors in Yeshiva College and Stern.  It was suggested by Dr. Botman that the faculty present a document with all their questions and concerns which could be reviewed by herself and Dean Bacon as well as Deans Pava and Eichler who were not present at the meeting.

Questions relating specifically to requirements for receiving tenure within the sciences raised an essential question for the colleges in general: What vision for the undergraduate institutions are informing these standards for promotions?  To this, Provost Botman expressed her interest in hearing what the council and faculty envisioned for the direction of the University in general and it’s designation as a Research I institution and deferred this discussion to another meeting.

The next part of the meeting was open to the graduate schools as well and was designated to discuss the university’s financial situation.  Dr. Botman first gave a rundown of the university’s financial situation.  She expressed approval of Alvarez and Marsal (A&M), the global professional services firm that has been working with YU for the past eight months to refinance. With their help and that of the Office of Finances, the University significantly reduced debt by increasing efficiency and cutting costs from the non-academic side of the University.

The University Board of Trustees has directed the University to look at the academic side of the institution to help balance the budget. This step is part of the board’s Roadmap for Sustainable Excellence described by President Joel in an email sent out to the Yeshiva University community on Tuesday. “It is our mandate,” explained President Joel, “to ensure that Yeshiva University continues to thrive for generations to come.” While no guidelines or details have been given by the board outlining how to cut costs, the options inevitably will involve reducing the number of classes offered and increasing class size.  Another option that will be implemented is increasing blended classes, a substitute for coeducation in which a professor splits his or her time between two campuses while the other campus either learns online or livestreams the class.

Provost Botman further emphasized the need to reflect on the envisioned future of the University in order to make financial decisions regarding educational curriculum.  “What should the mission of Yeshiva University be?  Are we a Research I university?  Are we a university that is focused on liberal arts and science and Jewish education from an undergraduate point of view? How do we support the graduate schools that exist and how do they combine with the undergraduate schools?”

One professor was bothered that the discussion of financial restructuring did not seem to include the “12th and 13th floor,” namely, the administrative level of the University.  Dr. Botman responded by pointing out that administrative organization is not under her control and affirming that cost cutting applies to everyone.  She also mentioned that there are certain common assumptions about salary for high level administrative jobs and highlighted the fact that her colleagues are working with hardly - if any - staff.

Another professor raised a point that downsizing academics would degrade the quality of education and create more debt in the long run.  While acknowledging that cuts would need to be made intelligently and with the quality of education in mind, Dr. Botman stressed the fact that there is no way around these cutbacks, and that the faculty needs to start thinking of ideas to reduce expenses.  Some decisions will be made by the administration and some faculty but “none of this works if we’re on different sides of the planet. I just want to stress that this isn’t desirable work, it’s fundamentally necessary.  We don’t have a choice.  So the best thinking is to everyone’s advantage.”

It remains to be seen what academic changes will take place to alleviate the financial strain on the University. President Joel’s email outlined only that the “implementation of the Roadmap will take place with all deliberate speed, and will result in both constancy and change, as we advance toward long-term sustainable excellence.” At the very least, a basic outline of academic restructuring should be expected by December, when the Deans will report back to the Board of Trustees.  By then we should have a better sense of how these hard times will affect our educational experience, and quite possibly our University as we know it.