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Despite Sandy, Town Hall Meeting Convenes as Planned

On Wednesday, October 31st, as the New York region scrambled for some sense of normalcy in the immediate wake of Hurricane Sandy, President Richard Joel ascended the podium in the Heights Lounge of a relatively unscathed Wilf Campus to begin the semester’s highly anticipated Town Hall meeting.

The President opened by addressing the most pressing issue of the day: Hurricane Sandy. While the Wilf campus emerged from the storm with only one broken window, its sister Beren campus was without power or transportation. President Joel first thanked security, staff, and students for their cooperation and patience in pulling through the storm, and then told the assembled students—to much applause from the men of Yeshiva—that the Wilf campus would house the women of Stern in the unused Strenger dormitory and open homes uptown. The Wilf Campus would resume its normal schedule, while the Beren and Brookdale campuses would not until power was restored.

Continuing, President Joel announced that 14 professors had gained tenure. The President then revealed the formation of two new groups within Yeshiva—a Jewish Studies Task Force dedicated to finding the proper work-load balance of Torah and Madda “so that it works for you and doesn’t kill you,” and a committee involved in creating one set of rules across all of Yeshiva University’s undergraduate programs.

Before moving to the open forum, the President addressed the Gilad Shalit event and its detractors within Yeshiva: “We didn’t set you up. I’m very happy we did it. You have no idea what it meant to him, and to them.” The floor was then opened to questions—or “attacks” as President Joel wryly referred to them—a homage to previous Town Hall meetings.

Michael Heino (YC ‘13) asked about the new internet filter and its effect on overall internet speed and stability: “Why can’t I get internet in the dorms between 9 PM and 1 AM?” The President immediately proffered the microphone to Marc Milstein, VP and Chief Information Officer, who explained that the network is not yet fully equipped to handle the particularly large load felt by the university, and that students should be considerate of others in using large amounts of bandwidth for movies or video games during peak hours. On November 9, YU students received a follow-up e-mail from Mr. Milstein that announced the appointment of a new task force dedicated to the issue.

Next, Mordechai Gilbert (???) asked why his ideas to save money at the university had fallen on deaf ears. President Joel shot back, “What was that?” to laughter from the audience, before telling Mr. Gilbert to forward him a list of ideas that he would then send on to the appropriate faculty.

Adam Neuman (YC ‘13), Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA) president, asked the President for his reaction to The Commentator article that outlined certain issues within Yeshiva University and laid much of the blame at President Joel’s feet. In a response that would be repeated—and to some applause—the President told Mr. Neuman: “I do not respond to anonymous screeds. I won’t play.” And on an optimistic note: “I know what a special place this is; Yeshiva University increasingly speaks for itself.”

A few minutes later, Evan Schwarzbaum (YC ‘13), editor-in-chief of The Commentator, broached the topic again: “To attack the faculty for voicing their concerns anonymously is unfair. The arguments stand for themselves. People have families to feed, and it is their right to remain anonymous.” President Joel responded, “Anyone who believes that expressing criticism for the President of this university is subject to sanction, is off their rocker,” and later: “Do you think they’re going to be persecuted after publicly putting their names out? It strikes me as strange.” Although the President repeatedly expressed that he would not go into detail, he did say that he believed the information in the article was almost completely inaccurate.

Another recurring theme among students was that of security. Chesky Kopel (YC ’14) expressed concerns with security inconsistencies including locking the upper Heights Lounge unnecessarily and the unpredictable reservation list for the inter-campus Shuttle. President Joel immediately referred Kopel to university Chief of Security Donald Sommers to address the issue together. Kopel later told The Commentator that in speaking with Mr. Sommers, he was told that his specific concerns were one-time mistakes and would not happen again.

To end the Town Hall meeting, Rena Thomas (SCW ’15) inquired as to the firing of Benjamin Joslin, former cross-country coach at Stern College. Thomas also raised the larger issue of athletics at Yeshiva amid broad budget cuts across the university. President Joel replied by explaining the need for a budget balancing both intramurals and teams, and reminding the crowd of Stern College’s strong steps in enhancing the athletics program, most recently by hiring a new athletic director.

President Joel then thanked the crowd for coming in on such a difficult day, and closed the Town Hall meeting.