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MYP Double Secret Probation

Academic probation. A heinous retribution for an equally unspeakable crime. In most universities throughout the country, poor academic performance can lead to collegiate restrictions, from a limit on the number of courses the offending student may take in the coming semester, to removal from extra-curricular activities or sports teams. Yeshiva University, ever with the times, has an academic probation system all its own. The Yeshiva College (YC) program is fairly straightforward. Any student who maintains lower than a 2.0 cumulative average, or fails every class in a given semester, is limited to 14.5 credits and is susceptible to various academic penalties. The real kicker, however, is the Mazer Yeshiva Program (MYP) Academic Probation policy. Any student whose shiur average falls below a B- (!) is subject to Full Academic Probation, even if the student has opted not to take shiur for credit! Additionally, the online catalogue notes that a student is subject to MYP Probation even if his average is above a B-, if his shiur attendance record is “unsatisfactory.” The precise nature of “unsatisfactory” is a secret as mysterious as the probation itself.

The MYP Double Secret Probation, as I’ve dubbed it, consists of all of the usual tortures. If you fail to receive a grade of B- or better in shiur (remember, even if you are not taking it for credit) then of your 17.5 Yeshiva College credit limit, 3 credits must be transferred to MYP for the next semester. That is, you may only take 14.5 credits of general Yeshiva College requirements. If the problem continues (of course, the “problem” being a C+ in a class that you are not taking for credit), you are subject to full academic probation, complete with a 13.5 credit limit, 3 credits of which must be transferred to MYP.

Do the math. That limits you to 10.5 Yeshiva College credits. In fact, it is more economic to fail every single one of your Yeshiva College classes than it is to get a C+ in an MYP shiur. Whereas failing 3 YC classes will subject you to a 13.5-credit limit, getting a C+ in MYP subjects you to a 10.5 credit limit. If you can’t make a B- or better in your MYP shiur (or if you can get an A, but have “unsatisfactory” attendance), you’d better begin looking into that fourth- (and fifth- and sixth-) year scholarship. You’ll need it.

While it should seem ridiculous enough to any YU student that the consequence for getting a C+ in an MYP shiur is so much worse than failing 3 YC classes, MYP students in particular can appreciate the sheer hilarity of the situation. MYP students found out just last year that, in fact, the Judaic Studies transcript has become entirely inaccessible. I visited the Office of the Registrar, where I was cheerfully informed that while they could print out a hard copy of my Judaic Studies transcript, it could not be sent to graduate schools like my regular transcript. Prepare to enlist a courier service if you’d like your MYP transcript sent anywhere that you can’t reach on foot.

A ridiculous situation emerges. MYP Talmud is a class that is not taken for academic credit, does not figure into your GPA, and goes on a transcript that cannot be sent to graduate institutions, yet you must keep above a B- and attend regularly or you risk full academic probation. It’s like failing every one of your major requirements in Yeshiva College, except that YC classes are for credit, figure into your GPA, can be sent to graduate institutions, and can only cause a 13.5-credit limit. If something has got to give, the choice is now clear: students are heartily encouraged to fail every YC class in a semester before they dare score below a B- on a shiur final.

And it’s a probation with such impunity that you’ve never even heard of it. As opposed to Yeshiva College academic probation, a concept that we all expected to exist even if we were unsure of its precise parameters, few in MYP could have ever dreamed that a class that YU seems to care about so little could wreak such havoc. And frankly, YU doesn’t seem to care all that much about MYP shiur. While every other class in YU is required to submit the dates of their final exams at the beginning of each semester, MYP shiurim are famous for throwing an exam together, giving a week’s notice orally to a group in attendance that day, and requesting that the students “spread the word”. YU students are busy, and a lot of us take 17 credits every semester (or 10.5, depending on our recent shiur performance). It would be really helpful to have advanced notice about the exact date of our exams, so that we could plan accordingly. YU has made the MYP exams a farce and the MYP transcript meaningless. One would never have expected MYP to place a student under full academic probation for getting a C+ or missing a few classes. For that matter, one wouldn’t have expected MYP to have an academic probation at all.

And yet, they have one. And the letters went out in the middle of June this year. We got a hold of one letter from an anonymous source (anonymous because the shame in getting a C+ in a class not taken for credit is immeasurable). The letter has a cute preamble, “We have reviewed your record for Spring 2011, together with your Rosh Yeshiva…Based on your unsatisfactory performance this past semester, you are subject to the following restrictions for Fall 2011.” Then, the restrictions are listed. In the case of the letter in our possession, the offender was subject only to partial probation. The list reads, “1) You must take shiur for 3 credits this upcoming semester. 2) The total number of other credits may not exceed 14.5 credits…you may need to drop a course or courses for which you were previously registered. 3) You must attend shiur and seder regularly. 4) You must…receive a grade of at least a B- in shiur…[to avoid] full academic probation…”.

Never saw it coming? Well, that’s the beauty of Double Secret Probation. Looking for a second chance? Good luck. I met with MYP Administrator Rabbi Bronstein, and asked a few questions about the MYP Double Secret Probation. When I asked why students had no warning about such a severe punishment, Rabbi Bronstein shrugged and told me that students should be aware of what is written in the MYP catalogue. Fair enough. I went and checked the catalogue online, and after digging through (and cursing that annoying new format), I finally found it. I’m quite confident that I am the first man to ever lay eyes on this document, and indeed, it is abundantly clear. But terribly unfair. This probation is serious, and it should not be hidden in the back of a website on a page that students don’t know how to find. The catalogue strikes the reader (at least, struck me) more as a document that can be thrown in the face of a shocked and sputtering probation candidate than a cautionary article. MYP should make these specific rules more accessible to students. MYP does send out an email at the beginning of each semester with general guidelines for shiur, and an idea of probation is suggested, but a better description is necessary.

We then asked Rabbi Bronstein why MYP finals were not given a precise date like other YU courses. Rabbi Bronstein assured us that there was in fact an online calendar that highlighted a precise date for the MYP final exams. Another daunting search ensued as we scoured the university website. This one is partially true. In 2011-2012, three days are marked as potential days for shiur finals, but no single date is given. My question remains. Why can’t they tell us when our finals are going to be in advance, so that we can plan accordingly? We need to pull off a B- or else, and some advanced notice would be helpful.

So the policy stands. A Yeshiva College student who fails every single course in a given semester is subject to less punishment than a hapless guy with a C+ in shiur. MYP Talmud is a program that is not taken for credit, has no bearing on your GPA, has a grade that cannot be sent to graduate institutions, refuses to schedule an official date for final exams, and has never informed students of its academic probation, outside of a feeble mentioning in an obscure online catalogue. The probation is too severe, the administrators are too unclear, and the punishment by no means fits the crime. An institution that considers a C+ in a non-credit class more egregious than failing every single credited class in a semester requires serious review, and perhaps, a more accessible website.