By: Binyamin Goldman  | 

Dedicated Professor Yair Shahak Chooses to Leave YU

Professor Yair Shahak, a remarkable and renowned professor in the Hebrew Department, will be leaving YU at the end of this year.

As a student at YU, Professor Shahak triple majored in Jewish Studies (with a concentration in Bible), Hebrew Language and Literature, and Music. Shahak started working toward an M.A. in Bible from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies while still an undergraduate at YU and completed both his B.A. and M.A. simultaneously. Shahak is currently completing his final examinations at the Belz School of Jewish Music for a Cantorial Diploma. Additionally, Shahak won the US National Bible Contest for Adults this past November and represented the United States at the International Chidon HaTanach (Bible Contest) for Adults in Jerusalem.

[caption id="attachment_4055" align="alignnone" width="186"]2013 Professor of the Year Yair Shahak, who won the 2014 National Bible Contes, will be leaving YU next year. (Photo Credit Maxine Dovere) 2013 Professor of the Year Yair Shahak, who won the 2014 National Bible Contes, will be leaving YU next year. (Photo Credit Maxine Dovere)[/caption]

Professor Shahak was not only a stunning role model as a YU student; he has become a beloved professor as well. Shahak won the Professor of the Year Award in 2013, an award that provides enough proof from any student body of their love for a professor. In an interview with The Commentator’s Yadin Teitz, Shahak is said winning the award “meant a great deal to me and made me strive to become an even better educator.”

However, Professor Shahak says that despite being offered another one year contract by YU he has decided to leave.

Shahak, who has been teaching here since 2010, says that he came to this decision due to several factors,the primary reason being the current educational state that YU is in. The “proposed reductions to the Jewish Studies requirements and desire of the administration to reduce Hebrew to an online model or framework would severely undermine the dual curriculum,” says Shahak. Over the past five years, Shahak says he has had “dozens upon dozens” of students tell him that they’ve understood Tanach or Davening for the first time in their lives here at YU, thanks to their Hebrew courses - despite having attended Jewish day schools their whole lives.  “For [many] students coming to YU, this really represents the last time, the last opportunity for them to learn about the language and be immersed in Jewish studies…and it is being proposed to water that down.”

Shahak cites the proposed watering down of the dual curriculum coupled with the disheartening approach of the administration to the faculty and to the handling of the financial crisis. There seems to be a complete and total lack of accountability by the administration, he says. Stern’s The Observer recently quoted President Joel as saying, “This mess has nothing to do with the past.” Shahak maintains that while “many universities are in a difficult position and there was a substantial loss because of Bernard Madoff, that was a drop in the bucket. To say such a statement, especially in light of all the financial mistakes that the board of trustees has made is, frankly, incredulous.”

Additionally, according to Shahak, faculty and staff members enrolled in YU’s health plan were recently sent an email informing them of changes to the university-sponsored health plan that will lead to greater out-of-pocket expenses for many. The letter linked in the email which broke the news about the changes stated that the university considered “not offering medical benefits at all” or “eliminating spousal benefits” but ultimately decided against it. While one could argue that the actual changes are inevitable due to the current financial state, Shahak continues, the fact that the letter could be phrased that way at all demonstrated a great lack of respect and concern towards employees.

Shahak stresses that some of his best, most fondly-remembered years have been at YU and that he is grateful for the strong relationships he has forged with colleagues and students. He is pained to leave the “wonderful institution” he has called home for a decade. However, he points out that the lowering of morale amongst faculty members, evidenced by news of tenured professors such as Dr. Gillian Steinberg leaving YU, have made him doubt the viability of a professional future for him at YU, at least in the short term. “When President Joel tells newly tenured professors that their hiring was a costly mistake; when you see the university being run by A&M, a business company, not an educational company; when all the stars line up, you know it may be time to go and seek your fortune elsewhere.”