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No Education Without Representation

In the most recent Town Hall Meeting on the Beren Campus, as I listened to women bemoan the loss of the Schottenstein Cultural Center and the limited number of liberal arts classes, TAC President Leora Niderberg (SCW ’11) asked President Joel about the case of a professor – beloved by all her students – who was denied tenure. Niderberg expressed her frustration that the sentiments of the students were only a small portion of the concern that featured in the debate over which professors would receive long-term positions within the University. Meanwhile, these students have banded together in ardent protest, requesting that the case be re-examined due to the horrible loss that would be incurred by this professor’s absence from the faculty.

Unfortunately, there is nothing they can do to persuade the administration that their pleas be heard. Without presumptuous claims regarding how the administrative process surrounding tenure functions, I wondered to myself: who really matters here and what are we trying to accomplish?

As a bright-eyed FTOC (first-time-on-campus student), I recall the feeling of being energized by the aura of Yeshiva University, a place where the students were given genuine agency to work with administrators and teachers to craft an institution that they could all be proud of. I watched Student Council and TAC Presidents revolutionize what a good event truly means, and I saw Shabbat on the Beren Campus evolve from bland to enthusiastic and invigorating. I read newspaper articles chronicling achievements and overheard countless conversations about meetings where a single student made a concrete difference in his or her environment.

Not surprisingly, this ignited my own desire to participate in the gamut of extraordinary opportunities for student leaders within the university. From the Torah Activities Council to Model UN to The Commentator, I wanted to get my hands on anything and everything that would enable me to participate in the evolution of this great institution. While I am the loudest and proudest proponent of Student Life on campus, and its immense significance in a student’s college experience, the fact remains that YU is first and foremost an academic institution. The strange juxtaposition of the student’s role within the University, and their minimal place in the development of a better, more integrated curriculum recently dawned on me, leaving me baffled.

The stories of Academic Advisement appointments gone awry and classes that serve as nothing more than a time for endless Gchat conversations or catching up on sleep are not few in number. The word “Re-imagining,” despite its questionable etymology, rings in our ears, harmonized by the slogan “Nowhere But Here.” With all of our achievements, all of our nachas, why do these almost-laughable anecdotes of academic and institutional dissatisfaction continue to pepper student conversations? Where are the “Oligarchists” – the students who facilitate almost every event at Yeshiva University – as they were called in a 2011 Observer article, when we need them to don their spandex-dress-code-appropriate uniforms and save us? Planning events, perhaps.

Interestingly, while no conclusive data has been confirmed to support this hypothesis, it seems to me that many of Yeshiva’s student leaders (particularly on the Beren Campus) engage in academic endeavors within the liberal arts, rather than the sciences (with, of course, numerous notable exceptions). In a recent conversation with a friend of mine who finds himself in the throes of medical school interviews, I was surprised to find how seldom he had ventured outside of his comfort zone in the Biology Department. When I mentioned several events and situations that are, in my mind, common Yeshiva University knowledge, he stared at me blankly, suggesting that he had not explored the lands beyond the beit midrash or science laboratories during his tenure at YU, seldom, if ever, engaging in Student Life activities or other events.

Certainly, when he is accepted to top medical schools, we will add him to our statistics-presentations and hail his accomplishment, holding his acceptance letter up to validate our success as an institution—and we should. But should his complacency and satisfaction with his science and Talmud education be enough for us? Perhaps these students are the academic 1% (despite the fact that they make up a bulk of the institution), sitting in their Wall Street-esque laboratories, while we Renaissance men and women leave the library disappointed that our intellectual hunger was not satisfied because we could not find the book we were searching for. What of the man who switches to another university because he wants to study art, or the woman who is afraid that her application for a PhD in history will be overlooked because she has not taken the right courses, or the student who finds him or herself wondering what to take next semester because s/he has already taken all the good classes in his or her major? Perhaps these students are the ones who find themselves diving into student life, looking for something to grab on to and make their own, when frustration about their education bubbles up within them, threatening to compromise their love for YU.

While I am not going to medical school and may not be the Orthodox community’s next gedolah hador, I am a Yeshiva University student, and I am extremely proud. My one request, modestly made, is that someone from the capable and competent board of educators ask me, the lowly English major and Women’s Studies minor, what I would like to be Re-imagined. How I would like my education improved. Which teachers have enabled me to expand my academic horizons so I can learn to use my mind in ways that I never thought was possible. Which classes to put on a course list to ensure that I am excited to leave my dorm room each morning, clutching my books. While President Joel suggested, in the aforementioned Town Hall meeting, that a committee be created in order to smooth the lines of communication between the administration and the students, perhaps a similar committee might be created – composed of students, faculty, and administrators – to improve communication about the quality of education. Thanks to a few of the professors that I have been lucky to learn with, I know what genuine education feels like, looks like, and sounds like. Now guess where I learned that?

From my professor who was denied tenure.