By: Yaakov Sebrow  | 

President Joel Hosts Somber Town Hall Meeting

President Joel Hosts Somber Town Hall Meeting

By: Yaakov Sebrow

On Wednesday, March 19, President Joel hosted his semi-annual Town Hall Meeting with students at Yeshiva College. Upon his entrance to the packed Heights Lounge, there were murmurs around the crowd, many wondering how intense this meeting would be. The President has been recently been facing extraordinary heat over proposed academic cuts and was recently debased by a “no confidence” vote by the majority of undergraduate YC faculty who participated.

President Joel began the meeting by embracing the uniqueness of YU. He remarked that even though Yeshiva University has its set of challenges, this enterprise is special and no matter how much we make fun of the mantra “Nowhere But Here,” it truly holds. He explained that the most important subject in YU is “you”: your academic experience, your success, and your sheleimut. President Joel continued that he cannot imagine a Jewish world without us helping it.

Before taking questions, the president delved into the specifics of some of the upcoming changes in the university. He first spoke about the appointment of Dean Karen Bacon to lead the effort to unify the undergraduate faculties at Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women. He explained that combining the departments and curricula would allow not only in a more efficient but also a more valuable learning experience for students in Yeshiva University.

He then went on to express his optimism for YU Global, YU’s upcoming online based blended learning initiative, which will “enrich Yeshiva University’s status as a global force” while providing much-needed revenue for the university.

Getting into the crux of the state of YU’s finances, President Joel explained that there are several changes that are needed in order to ensure the financial security of the university. The first is to develop superior monetary technology systems in order that they could more efficiently keep track of their finances. The second is to finalize the agreement between Einstein and Montefiore Medical center which has made great progress and will relieve approximately $100 million of the $150 million of debt. In addition to expected revenue from YU Global, the other $50 million will have to be relieved by budget cuts, some of which will be hard to bear by students and faculty alike.

Many students asked questions about the budget cuts, in particular how much would be cut from the budget and what exactly those cuts would entail. President Joel explained that under the guidance of Alvarez & Marshal, the consulting firm that has been advising the administration, the university evaluated the minimum amount of the budget that was needed to be cut so that, in the president’s words, they would be able to “maintain excellence.” President Joel declared that he was convinced that students will hardly notice anything next year and that incoming students will receive the same quality of education as students have enjoyed in the past.

According to President Joel, the administration had decided to cut between $5 million and $6 million in the academic realm and between $20 and $30 million for non-academic departments and programs.

Some of the announced changes to take place in the academic department are as follows:

  • There will be fewer class offerings along with larger class sizes.
  • Some requirements will be cut, including the first year writing seminar of the new core curriculum. Though not finalized, there will most likely be reductions in the requirements  for Hebrew studies and academic Jewish studies, while increasing the offerings of electives.
  • A large amount of contract professor will be replaced with adjuncts.
  • Students may now be required to stay for four years on campus, as opposed to the normal three-year plan.
  • Summer courses will be expanded to be open to both YU and non-YU students.

President Joel also saluted the faculty for their commitment to YU’s academic standards, noting the unfortunate reality that the faculty have not received raises in five of the last six years.

Regarding the Torah Studies program at YU, President Joel explained that Rabbi Penner and board of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary is working hard to make sure “every nickel counts.” He said there is an existential mandate for the yeshiva to continue the way it is, even though there will certainly be cuts in certain areas. Despite the smaller budget, this coming fall there will be two additional shiurim for students who want the MYP level of learning but require an extra “push” to get them there. This seemingly will continue to blend the connections between the BMP and MYP programs.

Non-academic cuts will affect some of the following departments:The President’s office, the finance department, maintenance, housekeeping, the Center for Jewish Future, and the athletics departments.

President Joel acknowledged that some of these changes will be painful to many “but it’s time to move on.” With regards to the downsizing of the amount of contract faculty, he explained that in order for the university to thrive they had to “rightsize” the amount of faculty. He said additionally that they had to “rightsize” the university in terms of income and expenditures. Contrary to the thoughts of faculty and many others, President Joel proclaimed that YU is not supposed to be a great research university but rather a “faith-based liberal arts and science university and to be the best at that.”

As more news develops, it will certainly be interesting and important to forecast how the budget cuts, both academically and non-academically, will exactly impact how the Wilf Campus will look in the years to come.