Dr. Joanne Jacobson Named New Associate Dean, Other Updates From Future “Super-Dean” Dr. Karen Bacon
Over the past couple of months, there has been great confusion and upheaval among Yeshiva University students due to YU’s financial predicament, and more specifically, the announcement of proposed major academic cuts. Although there have been many statements issued and meetings with the administration to discuss the implications of these changes, exactly what is it to be cut and how it will affect YU students is still unclear. The only unambiguous piece of information is that Stern and Yeshiva College’s Deans’ Offices and faculty will be merging into one unified staff.
On Wednesday, March 18th, President Richard Joel announced that the merging of the undergraduate school’s faculty will be headed under the leadership of current Stern College for Women (SCW) dean, Dr. Karen Bacon. Dean Bacon’s official title will be Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Arts and Sciences, in which she will be in charge of overseeing the entire faculty on both campuses.
Dean Bacon is a Stern College alumnus and received her PhD in microbiology from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). She is very focused on seeing students grow, while at the same time encouraging them to take on more rigorous courses. As she stated, “the most enjoyable aspect of my job is working with students and watching them thrive.” She wants students to know that she has an “open-door policy,” in which all students are invited to stop by her office with questions and concerns, at all times.
Many students are concerned with exactly what the structure of the Dean’s Office will look like and precisely how it will operate. At this point in time, not everything is solved and not all of the pieces in the puzzle are put together; in the words of Dean Bacon, “it is a work in progress.” However, Dean Bacon has great insight to remedy many of the student’s worries. Dean Bacon will be at the head of all SCW and YC curricula, with two associate deans, one on each campus, directly under her. On Stern’s campus, the current associate dean, Ethel Orlian, will remain in her position. With the recent news of Dean Eichler stepping down from his position as Dean of Yeshiva College, the upcoming Associate Dean of Yeshiva College will be the current chair of the English Department, Dr. Joanne Jacobson.
Just before Passover break, the agreement was finally reached between Provost Botman, Dean Bacon and Dr. Jacobson for Dr. Jacobson to officially take over the position of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Dr. Jacobson has held various positions at Yeshiva University, according to her faculty webpage: “has served as associate dean for academic affairs; as director of the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program; as director of the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Jewish Studies; and as chair of the Department of English.” She made the decision to return to the Dean’s Office, where she has previously served as Associate Dean, because “the chance to have an impact on broad institutional policies, beyond my department, was—and remains—compelling to me. I feel as though another period of institutional transition makes this the right time for me to return to those opportunities in administration.”
Dr. Jacobson has taken a large role in the upcoming structural transformation. She has taken part in discussions with the Provost and the consulting team from the Alvarez & Marsal consulting firm. In addition, she has met with the chair of the Stern Department of English to “set up initial dialogue with members of the Stern and the Yeshiva College English Departments, which took place in January and was a very cordial discussion of the teaching and research interests of each member of the English faculty, as well as an exchange of ideas for how we might potentially align the two English majors.”
It is Dr. Jacobson’s belief that merging could “turn out to offer some real opportunities for enlarging the intellectual range of the YU community.” In fact, she believes that many faculty members are eager to create a broader cross-campus sense of community. At the same time, however, Dr. Jacobson thinks that “going forward we have to move very carefully. After so many years of autonomy, each campus and each faculty has, inevitably, developed its own traditions and its own cultures—on matters ranging from faculty governance to educational priorities. I do not expect ‘merging’ to mean obliterating those differences, but instead — hopefully —to mean looking closely and fairly at how each campus does its work; being open-minded about the potential advantages for change … and learning how to listen to one another.”
Dean Bacon strongly believes that this merger will not negatively impact students in the slightest —in fact, she believes that it will benefit them. Although the university has cut programs like First Year Seminar, and is in talks about decreasing the requirement for Judaic Studies, Dean Bacon claims that by having professors teach on both campuses, it is possible for them to offer a greater variety of courses and more robust majors. Moreover, she believes that by having certain professors teaching at both campuses it allows for the courses to be more comprehensive. For example, the professors of First Year Writing can work together to create a writing course that encompasses the most proficient aspects of the two current courses. Although certain professors will be teaching on both campuses, the majority of professors will remain teaching on their current campus.
Obviously, the biggest advantage to this integrated faculty is the cost-saving benefit, but with it come many other efficiencies. This efficiency will allow for individuals like lab technicians and teaching assistants (TA) to be easily transferred to either of the campuses upon request. It also means there will be more unified policies with a unified faculty. For example, SCW currently accepts both 4’s and 5’s on high school Advanced Placement exams, whereas Yeshiva College only accepts 5’s. Dean Bacon has evaluated the policy and determined that many other prestigious universities accepts 4’s on the exam. Therefore, she wants to pressure Yeshiva College to adapt SCW’s practice and give credit to students who receive 4’s on Advanced Placement exams.
The largest obstacle that will come along with this change is the traveling that Dean Bacon and other faculty will have to undergo on a daily basis. Considering that Dean Bacon will be the “super-dean” of both SCW and YC, she will split her time between the midtown and uptown campuses. President Joel suggested that she spends two days at Stern and two days uptown, whereas Dean Bacon prefers to devote the mornings to Stern and the afternoons to YC. She feels that by spending her time at Stern in the mornings, she will not be missing much at YC considering the secular courses take place in the afternoon and vice versa. President Joel, however, feels that driving through New York in the middle of the day wastes too much time to make the trip worth it. However, these arrangements still open for evaluations and no details have been completely worked out yet. Regardless of her traveling schedule, she expects to spend a great amount of time on each campus, making her presence known.
When President Joel announced Dean Bacon’s new position, he also stated that this transformation will fully transpire in three years. To many, like Dean Bacon, who is an avid advocate of the ideology, “study a problem, solve it, and move forward,” the sooner the merge takes place, the better. Other academics have a different, much more elongated method of dealing with issues, which may cause a delay in the structural transformation. Therefore, and unfortunately, only time will tell. Until then, it will just have remain another one of YU’s lengthy, unraveling puzzles.