By:  | 

Directors replace deans in SYMS, enrollment down

Last spring, University President Richard M. Joel held a Town Hall Meeting during which he debunked the myth that Yeshiva University planned to close its business school. He emphasized that he looks forward to a bright future for the Syms School of Business (SYMS). However, students seem to have gathered independently that the status of SYMS, recently, has been unstable and unclear.

One inherent tension within the business school stems from its pre-professional nature, which does not necessarily represent many understandings of Torah u-Madda. Vice Provost Schiffman dismisses this concern. He explains that only in the American university system do people study subjects outside of their actual profession, and the new integration of SYMS into both YC and SCW will allow students greater access to the liberal arts offerings of the college.

SYMS enrollment numbers have been declining over the past few years. This year witnessed a 22% drop in the number of students in SYMS on both the Wilf and Beren Campuses. Dr. Ariel Fishman, YU Director of Institutional Research, and a member of the SYMS faculty, points out that this statistic does not tell the entire story. One of the problems with assessing the number of students in SYMS relates to the manner in which one joins their undergraduate school-of-choice at Yeshiva. When students “check” the SYMS box on their applications, it does not bind them to matriculate into the business school. Typically, students by default join YC or Stern, and only if and when they declare a business major are they officially enrolled in SYMS.

Interestingly, Fishman explained that the number of credits, a drop of “only” 15%, was a better metric by which to evaluate the shrinking of SYMS. The toll on the women’s campus has been more pronounced, with a 50% drop in the size of the SYMS student body from Fall 2008 to this semester. One reason for this loss may be attributed to the short time most women spend on the Beren Campus, giving them less time to change their major to one in SYMS. The drop could be also a result of reduced interest in business among women.

None of these numbers bode particularly well for the program, but the Admissions Office is working to fix this. According to Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) Dean Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Admissions is trying to address the dip in student body size of SYMS and YU as a whole. He explained that under the Re-imagined structure, SYMS will smoothly fit into YU’s “undergraduate tapestry.” The question remains if this will be enough to boost the size of the student body.

Another concern about SYMS is that the hopeful growth of the student body will be spurred by students who are appropriate for the program—that in order to expand, SYMS will not decrease its admissions standards. Vice Provost Schiffman explained that this has not been a major concern, as these weaker students who are accepted to YU under probation usually grow to attain major success in the university.

In terms of recruitment, neither the Wilf nor Beren Campus Open House featured Dr. Moses Pava, Director of SYMS, as a keynote speaker. Some worry that this detracts from the level of attention and seriousness that SYMS deserves. At the Beren Campus open house, this was particularly problematic because only SCW Dean Karen Bacon spoke. Director Pava was in a side room with the heads of departments. Rabbi Murray Sragow, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions, explained that Dean Bacon is like the “ba’alat habayit [woman of the house] at Stern,” being one of the longest standing deans in any university position.

This semester, SYMS is lead by Director Moses Pava and Associate Directors Michael Strauss and Avi Giloni. The title of “Director,” as opposed to “Dean,” reflects the division of labor enacted by the Office of the Provost. Vice Provost Schiffman explains that, together, all three of these men fulfill the role of SYMS dean. The addition of these directors seems to substantiate rumors that Associate Dean of SYMS, Ira Jaskoll, will be leaving in February on early retirement. Additionally, Dr. Joel Hochman is no longer an Associate Dean of SYMS, but a professor.

This semester, as discussed in SYMS Student Body President Benjamin Blumenthal’s letter in Issue 76.2 of The Commentator, SYMS has moved to revamp its image, which Associate Director Michael Straus stresses was mostly a “problem of perception.” Strauss explains that SYMS boasts almost the same lineup of professors as it did last semester. This may not necessarily bode well for a change in image. There are, however, a few new professors starting this spring. Dr. Charlie Harary, Adjunct Professor, is teaching the ambiguously-titled “Success,” and Dr. S. Abraham Ravid, Professor of Finance, and Dr. A. C. Sondhi, The Henry Kaufman Visiting Professor of Financial History, have joined the SYMS staff.

Professorial additions have not been the only change-oriented action taken at SYMS. Professor John Malindretos, for example, left because he did not receive tenure. A trend noticed by a second-year SYMS student is that many famously “easy” professors that taught many of the introductory courses in his first year are no longer teaching at the intro level, or at all, in Spring 2012.

The accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is well underway, as well. SYMS will be “on the table” for discussion at the Association’s next meeting, according to Dr. Pava.

SYMS student reactions to the changes have been wide-ranging. Interestingly, Gilad Besterman (SYMS ’12) notes that the program seems much more research-oriented. “When Murgie [Dr. Murgie Krishnan] gave his talk,” says Besterman, “it was the first paper I’ve ever seen presented in my three years in YU.” Besterman also spoke highly of Benjamin Blumenthal, SYMS Student Body President, who, along with his SYMS student board, has created numerous helpful events for the students. Student involvement and attitude seems to be key in the growth of SYMS.

Directors Pava and Strauss hope that the growth of SYMS follows an upward trajectory. In the short term, the new SYMS Honors Program in Entrepreneurship will hopefully draw motivated students to the school and earn accreditation, too. In the longer term, Pava hopes that there will be joint programs with other Yeshiva graduate schools, like Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, that afford future doctors and lawyers a business-oriented edge. “Often, five doctors or lawyers will graduate from Yeshiva and want to start a practice or firm, but they have no idea where to start on the business end. SYMS will be able to address that.”