By: Yechiel Schwab  | 

YUNMUN and Admissions: A Curious Relationship

Since September, the Office of Admissions has been hard at work preparing for this year’s YUNMUN (Yeshiva University National Model United Nations). Now entering its 25th year, YUNMUN is a yearly conference that YU hosts for hundreds of students from across North America, and oftentimes other continents, to discuss and debate real issues. This year’s conference was hosted at the Stamford Plaza Hotel, with over 450 high school students participating from forty-four schools, including students from South Africa and Brazil. Months in advance, the students are each given a country and put into one of fifteen different United Nations committees run by YU students, who present topics for the students to prepare and then debate and create resolutions at the conference.

In previous years Moshe “Ziggy” Zharnest and Heidi Fuchs played instrumental roles in organizing YUNMUN from the Admissions Office, but since both no longer work in Admissions (completely unrelated to their roles in YUNMUN), a new staff took over this year. Matt Schwartz, Associate Director of Admissions, explains that “The admissions office has a smaller staff this year so each member of the team is taking on additional roles. The different responsibilities of the conference were divided up amongst various employees, who added these new projects to their pre-existing portfolios.” This staff includes Rachel Shandalov, Martha Decaille, Dena Feigenbaum, and Menachim Lewis, who have been coordinating with the high schools, the hotel, the caterer, the buses and airports, and many other logistical issues. Matt spoke very highly of his predecessors, explaining how organized they were, and how that made it easy to follow the structure they laid out. Rachel mentioned that she has been in constant contact with Ziggy, who has been extremely helpful to her, especially since she has taken on a large portion of the YUNMUN organizing.

While the Admissions staff organized the logistics of the event, arranging the programming itself and the topics discussed lay in the hands of the YU students. Aaron Portman YC ‘16 served as Secretary General, and, along with his three undersecretaries, Dovi Nadel YC ‘16, Hadassah Tirschwell SCW ‘15, and Danielle Orenshein SCW ‘16, was in charge of creating the schedule, selecting the staff, and producing the atmosphere of the conference. The rest of the student staff worked on the committees themselves to maintain decorum during committee sessions, or in the media center to help with social media and other issues which may have come up outside of committee sessions.

Despite the large role that the Admissions staff plays in organizing YUNMUN, many have questioned how effective YUNMUN is as an Admissions event. And last year, research done by the Office of Institutional Research seemed to confirm these suspicions. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Vice President for University and Community Life, oversees the Admissions Office, and with it YUNMUN. He explained that “we try to bring measures and metrics” to everything we do and “evaluate all programs on a regular basis.” In line with this idea, the Office of Institutional Research ran a study about four Admissions events: YUNMUN, Sarachek, Wittenberg, and the Open House. They compared the application rates and matriculation rates of similar students, and found that the Open House had a significant positive effect on students attending YU. For the other three events, “they couldn’t prove it made a difference,” explained Brander. Despite these results, however, the Admissions Office ran YUNMUN again this year, with little change to its programming, and with employees still investing hours of work, as well as a substantial financial cost to the Department. A closer look at the goals of YUNMUN, and at the distribution of money among YU offices, will explain this decision.

Rabbi Brander, the Admissions staff, and Portman expressed similar aims and goals when discussing YUNMUN. Brander explained that he was most excited about two things. Firstly, “Students from high schools across North America coming together and working on important social issues through a prism of civil society and Halacha… that is nowhere but here. Secondly… I think it’s great and unbelievable that our students have the opportunity to shape a program for 500 high school students, and they choreograph it… YU students who want to communicate the importance of being public intellectuals, who engage in Torah and responsibilities to humanity. There is no better way to advocate what YU is.” The Admissions staff similarly pointed to these two aims, explaining how the program itself affords an intellectual yet Torah-safe environment that only YU can provide, and how the YU students who run and attend the event serve as excellent role models for these students. Portman echoed these themes, discussing the unique social and intellectual opportunities offered by a conference like YUNMUN.

Within these aims, we can begin to understand what distinguishes YUNMUN from an event like the Open House. The Open House’s only goal is to attract students to YU. YUNMUN, within its two functions (affording high schoolers on the one hand, and current YU students on the other hand, the chance to lead and to express themselves) can be divided into an Admissions component, and a non-Admissions component. Portman asserted that even if YUNMUN had no effect on Admissions, it would be important for YU to run due to the amazing opportunities it gives the students (both collegiate and high school) who attend. When asked about why they attended YUNMUN, high school students cited these reasons. Lily Gelman from Beren Academy explained that she came to YUNMUN because “it teaches really good skills like public speaking and confidence, and it really builds good character in the students that go.” Becky Portman from Columbus Torah Academy said she came because “I want to learn what it’s like to be an advocate, and to be able to express my opinions and how I feel about certain issues, and to be heard.” Ari Marder YC ‘16, Chair of COPOUS (Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space), said that YUNMUN is a unique extracurricular activity for YU students, since “you can not only be for yourselves, but be role models for others, which gives a profound opportunity both for us (YU students), and for them (high school students).” Aside from its Admissions purpose, YUNMUN achieves other important results.

This dual purpose affects how YUNMUN’s Admissions message is created and perceived. The YU students who chair the committees are responsible for maintaining the atmosphere of the event, and therefore when speaking about the importance of YUNMUN emphasized the positive effects it had for high schoolers, not its Admissions aspect. Rachel Rolnick SCW ’16, Chair of ICC (International Criminal Court), felt the most important part of YUNMUN was “watching students present something they have worked so hard on, where their care, effort, and preparation are evident.” Josh Nagel YC ’16, Chair of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), said his number one goal was “for kids to have a serious experience where they can delve into topics, and I can make them think about issues, but also they can have a great time.” Though they acknowledged that through these aspects, they hoped to fulfill YUNMUN’s Admissions-related goals, their answers indicate that YUNMUN is less about students recognizing YU as a college which fills all their needs, and more about having a positive experience that they associate with YU.

But why did this positive experience not show up in the research? Brander explained that after he received the research from OIR, he contacted Noel-Levitz, a world renowned research firm that YU had recently hired, which explained that despite the research, YUNMUN, Sarachek, and Wittenberg still had important uses to YU. The effects of an event like YUNMUN extend far beyond the students who attend. When the participants at YUNMUN have such an incredible time and gain a positive perspective on YU, this perspective is transferred to their friends at school. Since YUNMUN is such a popular event, even those students at schools that do not attend know about it, and their friends return from YUNMUN and speak about how much they enjoyed YUNMUN. This explains why the research wouldn’t indicate a significant increase in participating in YUNMUN; this message extends far beyond the participants. There may be students who are influenced to attend YU because of their experience at YUNMUN, but their classmates may have had similar thoughts without ever stepping foot inside the Stamford Plaza, which is why the research showed no difference.

Brander further asserted that even if YUNMUN was not categorized strictly as an Admissions event and was instead run by some other department, the Admissions Office wouldn’t get to keep the “pot of gold.” He explained that the budget and personnel on the Admissions staff is proportional to the events and programs they run. So if YUNMUN was run through another department, that department would receive the funds and personnel necessary to run it. Whether or not to run YUNMUN does not necessarily depend on its direct Admissions effect, but whether it is a program the University values. Between its positive effects on high schoolers and YU students, and the message it communicates to schools around the country about YU, Brander is committed to running YUNMUN. Furthermore, for an event as well-known and well-liked as YUNMUN, Brander might also have considered the negative effects of cancelling it, and the message this would send to high schoolers about our university’s financial status. Though the effect would be short-lived, and some students may look past it, it would leave a bad first impression on students to cancel an event like YUNMUN due to budget cuts, and though Brander didn’t mention it, this may have been part of the consideration.

In explaining why YUNMUN has remained an Admissions-run program, Brander maintained that he still views the event as having an important Admissions component. Further, both he and Portman spoke extremely highly of the Admissions staff and the effectiveness with which they ran this year’s event. Portman described Rachel Shandalov as “maybe the most talented logistic[s] person I have ever met. It was incredible working with her.”

Much to the appreciation of high school students across the country, as well as current YU students, Brander concluded that YUNMUN would continue running through the Admissions Office despite the results of the research. The research did, however, impact Brander’s approach to the event and its aims and goals. Curiously, neither the Admissions staff nor the YU students in charge of producing the atmosphere of the event seemed aware of this research, its results, or the proceeding discussions with Noel-Levitz. Though the research did not result in cancelling YUNMUN, the Admissions staff and the Secretary General should be aware of the research and its results, and determine from there what changes, if any, should be made to the programming. Nonetheless, high school students and college students alike had glowing reviews for Portman and the Admissions staff and greatly enjoyed and benefited from YUNMUN XXV, though assessing its effectiveness as an Admissions event may be more difficult than we thought.