Referendum Passes By Large Margin As YC Protests Cambodian Action (Vol. 35, Issue 14)
President Nixon's decision to expand the Indochina War into Cambodia and the four killings at Kent State University which resulted from a protest of this policy caused many students at Yeshiva to join with other college students across the country and terminate their semester about three weeks earlier than usual.
In reaction to the moral crisis at Yeshiva, YCSC sponsored a referendum on May 7 in which more students participated (over 95%) than in any election in recent YCSC history. Out of nearly one thousand ballots cast, 822 students, 84.3%, voted to permit students to withdraw from any or all of their courses and receive either a P or a grade in a course if their work has justified it. Approval of the instructor was made mandatory. An amendment proposed at the Senate meeting the following day by Mr. David Berger provided instructors with the alternative of giving a student an incomplete in a course. This temporary nomenclature would be changed to a grade on September 15 when the remainder of this semester's work must be completed.
In order to be eligible for the emergency academic provisions a student was required to sign a statement to the effect that he was morally compelled to direct his efforts to activities other than the daily educational process,
A Yeshiva College Moratorium Committee was organized under the leadership of Steve Bayme and Gary Rubin. Major emphasis has been placed upon petitioning signatures for the Hatfield-McGovern amendment and helping Representative James Scheuer in his campaign for reelection. More than 8,000 signatures have been obtained and at least 3,000 more are still expected.
Some elements in the student body felt that in times of crisis the traditional Yeshiva reaction has been to extend learning hours. The JSS “Ymei Iyun” Committee was formed to promote further learning as the expression of moral outcry. They successfully converted Rubin shul into a full-time Bet Medrash and have organized religious classes in the afternoon along with featured speakers in the evenings.
The first response to the Kent State tragedy came the following afternoon, May 5, when teachers randomly cancelled classes to attend a protest rally on Dancinger Campus. That evening an emergencv student council meeting was held. Members of council were troubled over United States foreign policy yet cautious as to how Yeshiva should react. The meeting was emotional and at one point President Sternberg had to raise his voice to restrain visiting faculty members from strongly denouncing each other.
Instead of taking any rash action council decided to boycott classes for the remainder of the week, an action which Dean Bacon approved the next day, sponsor a discussion of the issues the following afternoon and conduct the referendum on Thursday.
On Wednesday afternoon both YC and Stern students packed F501 with an overflow crowd of approximately 800. Prior to that assembly students picketed and sat-in at the entrance of Furst Hall.
Faculty members spoke on both sides of the Cambodia issue. Dr. Wurzburger was indignant at the United States move into Cambodia and the deaths at Kent State. But he was resolved to keep school open. Dr. Tendler declared we must “fight Nixon like Yeshiva students” and that it was not the Jewish way to boycott and picket with bongo drums. Dr. Weidhorn drew loud applause when introduced and the audience snickered when he cynically proposed a military predicament to prove the absurdity of President Nixon’s 21.7 mile limit of intrusion into Cambodia.
The most provocative speaker of the day was Rabbi Louis Bernstein who linked the fate of Israel with U.S. involvement in the Far East. He vehemently condemned Senator Fulbright of Arkansas for his statements concerning the Middle East and claimed that students do not differentiate between his anti-VietNam and anti-Israel speeches. Warning that President Mixon
even more than President Johnson will rebuke Jews for urging activism in the Middle East and opposing it in the Far East, he declared that “we have to think first as Jews.”
Dr. Simon, however, proposed that Jews discard their ghetto mentality. When asked about the possible effects on Israel he replied that we should not consider what non-Jews will think.
Students generally seemed dissatisfied with the lack of proposals forthcoming from the faculty.
In the evening YCSC proposed the referendum which was authored by Freshman President Freddie Marton. It was considered a compromise in that classes would be resumed yet students could end their school year immediately. Gary Rubin notified council that Rav Soloveitchik demanded that a signed statement by students be required in order to prevent them from taking an early summer vacation. An amendment proposed by Mr. Teitelbaum which would have forced students to quit all or none of their courses was rejected on the grounds that a student only may be able to give a portion of his time to the protest movement. The referendum passed council twelve to two.
The wording of the original referendum was broad enough to permit protesting for reasons other than Cambodia or Kent State, but Rav Soloveitchik demanded that the referendum be limited to these causes in order to prevent students from becoming involved in the Black Panther and New Left protest movements. In light of President Nixon’s reevaluation of U.S. Mideast policy he hoped that the Mideast issue would be deleted. By a poll vote council approved the Rav's requests.
The Senate discussed the referendum the morning after its passage by the student body. Dr. Kaufman called the referendum a tenable proposal, Chairman Zaitchik compared an attempt to frustrate the proposal to “a person saving someone and shoot- ing him in the leg.” Dean Bacon pointed out that there were no guarantees made during the 1967 Israeli war and recommended
that the same mode of action be taken here. Senator Bennett replied that what occured in 1967 may have been a mistake, He further defended YCSC’s attempt to protect the students who desire to lessen their academic loads. After Mr. Weinberg exhorted the Senate on how a college should train its students for citizenship, Dr. Miller lauded YCSC's action as responsible and advocated Senate approval of the referendum not only to protect students, but to deal with them maturely and train them for future life.
Mr. Berger then proposed his amendment and after short discussion the Senate unanimously gave its consent. After a five day mail poll the faculty failed to veto the measure. Thus the most radical departure from normal educational standards in Yeshiva College history became a matter of emergency school policy.