Cut the Core to Preserve the Foundation of Our Education
In 2012, Hostess, the parent company of Drakes and the maker of popular snacks such as Devil Dogs, Coffee Cakes, and Ring Dings was on the verge of bankruptcy. One of the causes of their mounting operating losses was increasing labor costs that had become unmanageable due to falling demand for their desserts. Several years earlier, they had negotiated a contract with some of their largest labor unions, but this contract turned out to be too costly for Hostess to afford. Hostess approached their labor unions, imploring them to consider a pay-cut and a reduction of benefits in order to ensure that the company stays in business and is able to continue to employ most of its workers. The bakers union, which represented 1/3 of Hostess’s workers, refused to concede to Hostess, assuming that this was a ploy to claw money back from the unions. Unfortunately, as Hostess had predicted, they went bankrupt several months later, thousands of employees lost their jobs, and the Hostess brand ceased operations. Today, Yeshiva University finds itself at a similar junction.
The administration has said that they have less than 3 years to close a $100 million budget shortfall, or the university will begin to default on some of its debt, and risks having to shut down. Even after shifting operational control of Einstein to Montefiore, YU still finds itself with a $40-50 million budget deficit. However, if the students continue to oppose changes to our education, we may find ourselves, like Hostess, in a situation where all students lose their school. We must, as a community, ensure that this doesn’t happen.
I join my fellow students in demanding that the administration and the board of trustees act transparently when proposing departments to cut and courses to eliminate. I sympathize with my professors who are concerned and intimidated by some of the rhetoric that they feel is coming from the Offices of the Provost and the President. I too believe that the university should make every effort to cut overhead costs and non-essential programming before cutting a dime from the undergraduate education. Although I am proud to be a part of a student body where so many students have spoken out to protect their education, no loud student voice has advocated for pragmatism, nor have many students publically suggested anything on how to improve the university’s finances, choosing instead to petition the administration and complain against cuts to our education. Assuming that the deficit is too large to balance by cutting only overhead and non-essential programming, students must be open to considering cuts to academic programming. Although cutting elements of our education may not be what we want, it may be what we need to ensure that our university can survive long-term.
The YC Core is one area where cuts should be considered, as many small classes are offered as part of the Core. Small class sizes is a significant cause of YU’s budget deficit. Although it has consistently been a source of pride for the university, we simply cannot continue to operate when, in 2013, almost 70% of YU courses had fewer than 20 students. Granted, YU has begun to make efforts to increase class sizes this year, but a quick look at course registration numbers this semester reveals that there are still many classes with fewer than 20 students. The only way to reduce the number of smaller classes is by merging classes together and eliminating some offerings. If the new YC Core curriculum is eliminated, and the old core curriculum is revived, YC will be able to reduce the number of courses offered in a way that will not materially affect the quality of a YC education, as there are ample opportunities within YC for students to receive a strong liberal arts education.
Prior to Fall 2012, students were required to take a variety of courses within various departments. There were two literature requirements, a social science requirement, a natural science requirement, and a humanities requirement, among others. This system, which is in place at virtually all American colleges (including Stern), allowed students to take introductory courses that already existed within YC’s various majors. As opposed to an INTC class, a student took an already existing English class. Instead of a CUOT class, a student might have opted to take a History or Political Science class that YC was already planning to offer in a particular semester.
The Core has necessitated that YC offer 29 courses this semester that cannot be used for credit for most majors (not including FYWR and FYSM courses). According to YU Banner, over 60% of this semester’s core offerings have under 20 students enrolled; some courses even have as few as 6 students enrolled. What if we allowed these students to divide themselves over YC’s already robust course offerings? Without core courses, YC would be able to accommodate students’ requirements with their already existing course offerings by increasing class sizes to 30-40 students. Although this is certainly not ideal, a course of this size is still smaller than it would be at most other colleges. Even if eliminating the Core might require an additional course in a few majors to absorb additional students, adding some courses would actually strengthen existing majors, as it would provide a greater course selection for students who are looking for diverse courses within that major, while still reducing the total number of course offerings.
In the face of ever increasing budget deficits, YC should be devoting its resources to continuing to improve the quality of the various departments. If the Political Science department is now as strong as it ever has been, why not allow any student to use a Political Science course as a core requirement? Is it really true that none of YC’s existing departments can successfully educate students as well as a core course? Moreover, it seems unlikely that students would gain a greater appreciation for the liberal arts by taking two interdisciplinary courses than they would by taking one History course and one English course.
Nonetheless, some students might still feel that allowing students to take an array of introductory courses would provide an inferior level of education to the new Core, which is the result of countless hours of planning and evaluation over the past several years. Some students feel that taking liberal arts courses that are not geared towards a specific major give them a greater appreciation for liberal arts. Even if that is true, I think that the costs of having an entirely separate Core outweigh the benefits. This semester, there are more core courses being offered than there are courses in the History, Philosophy, and Political Science departments combined. In the face of looming cuts, I think it is much more important that YC consider eliminating the Core before some of the smaller majors become affected, as recent rumors have proposed. Yeshiva University is trying to excel academically in four areas: morning Judaic Studies programs, academic Judaic Studies, a Core curriculum, and in individual majors. If one of those areas has to suffer, I strongly believe that the Core curriculum should be downsized the most, as even if it were to be eliminated, students would still have opportunities to receive a strong background in a variety of disciplines.
Some might argue that cutting a few professors who teach core classes will be just a small fraction of the total deficit, an amount too small to matter. While in terms of real dollar savings, that might be true, cutting the Core will also free some of the more senior faculty members to teach courses within their original departments, thus allowing the ripple to be felt across many areas of YC and allowing departments to operate with fewer contract and adjunct professors. After regaining time from some faculty members currently teaching a number of core courses, departments will be able to offer the same robust course schedule with fewer professors. Additionally, short of completely eliminating some majors or some large departments, most of the changes that YU will need to consider will be smaller. However, when considered together, each of these small changes can contribute to overall deficit reduction. Since the administration has proposed letting some contract professors go--who based on their teaching merits deserve to stay--cutting the Core seems like a way that allows YU to reduce the size of its faculty in a manner that is least harmful to its educational value.
Many students have been asking and emailing the administration with the question, “What will a YC degree be worth in five years if we allow YC to ruin its academic reputation?” I ask a similar question here, “What will a YU degree be worth in five years if the university is forced to declare bankruptcy less than three years from now?” Unfortunately, we are past the time where it is sufficient to assign blame for YU’s budget crisis. If students don’t come to terms with the reality that YU must make some difficult and unpopular cuts, we run the risk that we will lose everything. Although cutting the Core will most likely not balance the budget, it is a good place for the university to start, as it might have the least impact on education.
Finally, it is imperative that all stakeholders in YU work together to improve the university’s financial position. If we continue to act as though we have different goals, we run the risk of allowing YU to close. Hopefully, with a greater degree of transparency and a willingness by all parties to make some needed cuts to education, YU will be able to withstand this current struggle and remain a university dedicated to the pursuit of Torah study, academic Judaic Studies, and academic excellence for years to come.
Shaul Morrison is a junior in the Sy Syms Honors program, is a dual-major in Finance and Accounting, and is a business writer for the YU Commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments about this piece.