Student Council Presidents Hold Town Hall Meeting
Presidents of the Wilf Campus undergraduate student councils held a town hall meeting in Rubin Shul on the evening of February 15. Interim President Aryeh Minsky and Presidents Akiva Koppel, Tzvi Levitin, and Shua Brick spoke their respective councils and fielded questions from those present.
Tzvi Levitin and Shua Brick began planning the event last semester in an effort to allow students easy, direct access to their student council presidents. Brick said he enjoyed the forum, calling it an “honest and open conversation about issues on campus.”
“Our campus is incredibly close knit and it is easy to get your voice heard as long as you show up,” he remarked. “We have already started working on suggestions brought up at the meeting, or at least made sure they were under review.”
The town hall meeting, which offered a modestly stocked ice cream counter, drew a crowd of approximately 25. Phil Goldfeder, YU’s Assistant Vice President for Government Affairs attended, as did seven resident advisors, one of the co-chairs of the Student Life Committee, the editor-in-chief of The Commentator, and other interested students.
Chayim Rosensweig, a Yeshiva College senior who asked the presidents a question about increasing student engagement with the councils, thought it was “commendable” that the students council presidents “made themselves so accessible to student input and questions.” He also suggested that the town hall model, which he faulted with the small turnout, could be enhanced with a live stream video “to involve more students at future town halls.”
Max Hoffman, who was moderating the meeting, introduced the event briefly. Then, each president spoke about his council’s purpose and the events it had already run or will run in the future.
Aryeh Minsky became Interim President of Yeshiva Student Union at the beginning of the semester following President Jacob Herenstein’s sudden departure from his position “due to personal reasons.” Minsky characterized the organization as the “umbrella student council, representing all the undergraduate students of the Wilf Campus.” He mentioned that his council’s counterpart on the Beren Campus is the Stern College for Women Student Council. He also highlighted events such as Screen on the Green and Chanukahfest, and spoke about a future cholent cookoff as well as the the “Yoms,” referring to the commemoration of Yom Hazikaron (Israel memorial day) and the celebration of Yom Haatzmaut (Israel independence day).
Akiva Koppel said the goal of his council, conventionally abbreviated SYMSSC, is to “allow students to develop professional relationships in the field and develop future business leaders,” as well as giving students better familiarity with specific professions. He noted that SYMSSC is uniquely coed, with the Wilf and Beren Campus councils working closely together. Koppel mentioned that the annual Syms Dinner, a large-scale, popular event planned by his organization, will be coming up and will take place this year at Citi Field.
Tzvi Levitin characterized the Yeshiva College Student Association as the “representatives to the Yeshiva College administration,” advocating for the creation of more interdisciplinary minors, changes to course offerings, and the enforcement of breaches of academic integrity. Levitin showcased some new clubs registered to his council, including the environmental action society and the continental philosophy book club. He anticipated that this year’s festival of arts and sciences will be even better than last year’s, serving to celebrate the publication of several annual undergraduate journals associated with Yeshiva College.
Shua Brick introduced the Student Organization of Yeshiva as the council responsible for religious activities on campus. He highlighted several ongoing and future initiatives, including the free shabbat meals in the Caf, a student-cooperative new siddur project for the campus synagogues, and the renaming of Talmud courses to names that look more attractive on transcripts.
After each president presented, Max Hoffman opened the floor to questions. First to ask was Yair Strachman, a Head Resident Advisor of the Rubin Residence Hall. He inquired what the presidents were doing to create a sense of community, noting that many people on campus have expressed that they feel that such a sense is lacking. The presidents of SYMSSC, YCSA, and SOY alternated in responding. Their approach had two main thrusts: sometimes, they denied there was a lack of community, offering alternative perspectives on the sense of community that students could feel. In a different vein, the presidents suggested that changing the underlying culture that leads to this feeling is a task greater than the student councils’ powers.
The next question came from Julien Saka, who asked about the presidents’ efforts to create more diverse event offerings on Shabbat that would allow students to have a shabbat-on-campus feeling for students who do not enjoy the traditional programming. Saka gave the specific example of opening the Furst gymnasium so that students could “shoot around” with each other. SOY President Shua Brick responded that this would probably not happen in the near future due to resistance from Rashei Yeshiva who argue that this would change the feel of shabbat on campus, and because “things are best done, and most successfully done, when they are done in smaller steps.”
A handful of other questions were raised, including one about Minsky’s transition from Vice President of Clubs to Interim President. “It hasn’t been the easiest of transitions,” he said, noting he was transitioning “in the middle of the year while still involved in the things I’m involved in.” He did, however, say he does not have “very different visions than what the status quo was.”
Another question asked the presidents to disclose the councils’ operating budgets. The presidents declined, concerned that disclosing the budget could jeopardize the policy of treating each club event funding application on a case-by-case basis. SYMSSC President Akiva Koppel offered a rough breakdown of the funds used by his council: 40% to 50% is spent on the dinner, 20% - 30% is spent on food for events, and the rest is for schoolwide programs. He noted that SYMSSC does not pay guest speakers. YCSA President Tzvi Levitin offered the breakdown for his organization, saying that 50%-60% of the budget goes to food for events, with the rest going to the events run by all the councils. He estimated that 8% goes to the debate team and that 15% will go to the Yom Haatzmaut celebration. The presidents said they would explore the possibility of sharing more information about the budget in the future.
YU President Richard Joel has been holding biannual town hall meetings for a number of years. On some occasions, they have been contentious; recent ones, however, have been more uneventful. The student council town hall meeting, perhaps modeled after those of President Joel, is the first event of its kind in recent years and may serve to improve communication between elected student leaders and their constituents.