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Town Hall Meeting Reinforces Student-President Dialogue

Promised answers and refreshments, students and faculty of Yeshiva University crowded into the Heights Lounge at the Wilf campus last Wednesday to attend President Richard Joel’s biannual Town Hall meeting. After several important announcements, the president fielded questions from the audience for a little over half an hour. The meeting, which was scheduled just three hours after a similar event on the Beren campus downtown, featured enlightening news and clever jokes.

After reassuring the audience that they “could walk out whenever they wanted,” President Joel began with a few words of Torah, likening the town hall meeting to the Pesach Seder, highlighting that in both settings, the freedom to ask questions differentiates the liberated from voiceless slaves.

The meeting’s announcements largely focused on personnel changes. Echoing an email sent out by the administration last week, the President announced that Dr. Morton Lowengrub, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and University Provost, will be stepping from his position, while still “remaining with the mathematics faculty, continuing to teach and publish at Yeshiva University.” President Joel also announced the promotion of Rabbi Menachem Penner to replace Chicago-Beit-Din bound Rabbi Yona Reiss, and the hiring of Paul Murtha as the new Director of Security. Anticipating complaints about a series of recent internet malfunctions and outages, President Joel called upon YU’s Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Marc Milstein to disclose the university’s intentions to “outsource to a commercial carrier” to serve the ever-growing demands for internet services, an update that is scheduled to be accomplished over the summer.

With housekeeping issues taken care off, the questions began. Aryeh Younger, a senior, brought up the Forward’s recent article that made public Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Rosh Yeshiva and Rabbinic Dean Rav Hershel Schachter’s comments at a London lecture in February. The Forward published the transcripts of an audio recording in which Rav Schachter warned London rabbis to be extra careful about handing over community members accused of sexual abuse to the law because of the danger of being thrown into prison in a cell using certain racial slurs. President Joel, while immediately condemning the remarks, asserted that Rav Schachter “does not have one bone of hatred in his body.” Michael Osborne, a Sy Syms sophomore, commented on the issue afterwards, agreeing with the President and arguing that that the cited remarks were, “taken out of context, tarnishing the reputation of a highly respected Rabbi.”

Several questions were standard. Complaints about the crowded fitness center and inconsistency of the Morgenstern Residence Hall computer lab were promised, “to be looked into,” while other issues questioning the new core curriculum, health center, and summer housing were addressed and explained. One computer science senior criticized the serious deficiencies of his major and his resulting lackluster academic experience. In reply, President Joel “could not disagree” and mentioned that a possible benefactor was looking into sponsoring updating the quantitative fields of mathematics and computer science at YC.

Other questions were less predictable. One student’s appeal for a mikveh on campus was denied due to financial budget constraints. “That proposal is ridiculous,” Aaron Miller (YC ’15) remarked afterwards. “It would waste funds when the financial focus must be on supporting academics, the teachers, and improving the classrooms from which we all benefit.” Another student, Eli Lehman (YC ’15) mentioned a recent article in The Commentator, “At YU’s Model UN, One School’s Antics Push the Limits,” claiming that it did not represent the student body’s opinions and insulted a huge YU feeder school. While President Joel defended the newspaper, responding that its “uncensored” content is a product of “its best judgment,” Lehman was not satisfied. “While I agree that The Commentator should not be censored, as the official student newspaper it must accurately present the voice of the students.” Lehman continued, “These controversial articles are ill-received by the public and promote negativity.” Drawing the event to a close, President Joel wished the audience a happy break and ended with words once again paralleling the event with the Seder: “L’shana Haba’a b’Yerushalayim.”