By:  | 

President Joel Town Hall Meeting

This past Wednesday, YU students, faculty, and staff braved the inclement weather to gather in the Heights Lounge for an informative Town Hall meeting, with President Richard Joel. After the usual lighthearted introduction, President Joel chose to keep his own remarks brief, instead deciding to keep the focus on questions from students.

After noting that the event was not as well-attended as in prior town hall meetings, President Joel turned his attention to more serious matters. He revealed that there were some attendees of a previous town hall meeting that misquoted or misattributed certain statements he made and shared them on public internet forums. He went on to exhort those present to keep whatever happened in the meeting private, though fortunately a special dispensation was made for YU’s premier in-house publications, the Commentator and Observer.

President Joel then began his discussion by calling higher education institutions such as YU “unsustainable.” He clarified his words by saying that while our institution’s current situation may seem to be bleak at times, we should remind ourselves that YU serves a higher purpose, and that he saw himself as a steward of a mission driven institution. While alluding to recent events that occurred at a Jewish institution in Washington D.C., he attempted to show how one should not associate the Orthodox movement with such values.

On a more positive note, President Joel reassured the crowd that YU has enough financial backing to stay open for another three years, assuaging the fears of those who predicted its imminent demise and bankruptcy. He also chose to praise his management team, and even mentioned by name a few of the celebrities on staff, like former Senator Joe Lieberman who will be giving a class during this academic year. While on the topic of politics, the President announced that former United States President George W. Bush will be speaking at the upcoming Chanukah dinner, albeit at $750 a plate for those who would like to attend.

In keeping in line with his promise of an abbreviated speech, the President then closed by joking that should anyone like for their parents to be honored at this year’s commencement on May 17th, then they were welcome to make a donation to the school towards that end.

The question and answer session was kicked off by Yeshiva College junior Zachary Weixelbaum. Mr. Weixelbaum referenced the President’s commitment to staying on course with modern educational practices, and asked, If computers have taken over the [modern] world, why has the computer science department remained the same?” After acknowledging the validity of the question, President Joel chose to refer the inquiry to the school’s provost and vice president, Dr. Selma Botman. Dr. Botman agreed with Mr. Weixelbaum’s position, and disclosed that there were plans in place to create an applied computer science program, though such plans are still in an “embryonic stage.” After further prompting from the President, Dr. Botman optimistically called short-term plans to expand the current computer science curriculum “possible.”

It would seem that the issues with the computer science department were not only limited to the scope of the classes offered, but their structure as well. YC computer science major Binyamin Lewis asked Dr. Botman how certain classes were selected to work towards the major, while other classes which may seem more relevant to students were only given as electives. Dr. Botman replied that requirements for each major are not chosen by the administration, but rather by the individual department itself. President Joel then called the area of computer science an “emerging one,” which suggests that as computers are a relatively new invention, the computer science department is still trying out different courses in order to find which ones suit students best in this competitive world.

Other questions tackled other questions about the curricula of the Syms Honors Program and the overall “Torah U’Maddah” mission of YU. The last question of the meeting was posed by Syms junior Avishai Cohen, who asked the president to comment on the recent article in the Forward titled “Yeshiva U. Reports First Sexual Assault On Campus in 12 Years.” President Joel immediately dismissed the journalistic integrity of the article’s author, calling it “creative fiction.” He explained that YU is required to document and make public every instance of reported crime on campus, and that there has not been any cases of sexual assault on the Beren or Wilf campuses - due in part to the important policies of separate dorms without visitation rights - and that there have been only two reports of sexual assault at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine) in the past twelve years. Citing the structure of AECOM’s campus having mixed gender dorms as playing a small role in both incidences, the article was simply looking to create a negative story out of positive statistics.

In closing the evening, President Joel enjoined the audience to “celebrate every day, and be partners with us [YU].”