On Opinions and Yeshiva University
Having an opinion is a right, and expressing an opinion means that you care. Even if it’s negative.
One of the hallmarks of our legislation is the First Amendment, which protects many of our liberties as citizens of the United States. Arguably, the most important tenet of this amendment is the freedom of speech clause, and its important corollary, freedom of the press. It’s hard to imagine life without these two freedoms. Can we fathom being afraid to truly speak our minds, or writing things in print that we do not believe simply out of fear of retribution? Undoubtedly, our entire society would be far different without this amendment. These laws, simply put, establish our right to hold opinions, and to express our opinions freely.
You may already be sensing the connection between well-known legislation protecting our ability to hold individual ideas and opinions and the section of the Commentator in which this piece is published. Indeed, as the new Opinions editor of this newspaper, I am honored to say that this section of the paper, and I daresay, this entire newspaper, is governed primarily by the First Amendment, although it is coupled with own personal taste and judgement. That is to say, while a newspaper that is being completely honest in adhering to the law as written would be bound to publish anything and everything that comes its way, at the Commentator we have limits regarding what will and what will not be published. You will not find, for example, pro-Nazi or anti-Israel or anti-Semitic writings expressed within these pages, simply because these beliefs are anathema to our own ideals and to the ideals of our community.
But you will find a variety of opinions on nearly any other subject. Sometimes, we feel stifled by the opinions of an overwhelming majority and are reluctant to share our own dissenting ideas. Here is a chance to let your voice be heard. This portion of the newspaper is intended as a center of discussion for students at Yeshiva and beyond, as an outlet for those who would like to criticize YU and for those who would, by the same token, like to praise YU. This section is for those who don’t want to talk about YU at all: for those who would like to discuss current events, or political views, or the Jewish world, or anything at all that they are passionate about and have opinions to share. Most importantly, this is a section that is respectful and open to all views and completely free of biases.
Some of you may have misgivings about the veracity of the above statement, particularly regarding YU. Indeed, I strongly fear that due to my own writings in the past and to the writings of others this newspaper has unfortunately become synonymous with anti-YU propaganda and bitter feelings and has therefore become easily dismissed by those holding dissenting opinions. While I do not underestimate the importance of having a newspaper that is independently run and can proudly critique this university, I also recognize that, as students of YU, we all have a deep affinity and love for this place, and therefore, praiseworthy material about our university is equally integral to our newspaper in its role as a university publication that represents the diverse views of our entire student population. I want to invite all of you to tell us why you love YU, and to elaborate on why you choose to study here. Please don’t be afraid to speak out: it is your Opinions section, too.
But for those who are still distrustful, I would like to take a moment to explain the basis behind writing negative opinions about our institution. Last year, while showing a group of high school students around the campus as a student ambassador, a friend noticed me and started snickering. “You? You’re giving a tour of YU? What are you telling them about this place?” I laughed at the time, and explained that I keep these two parts of me completely separate, knowing when to lavish praise on the school and when to vocalize criticism in turn. But there’s really no need for them to be separate. To me, loving YU and complaining about it really do seem to go hand in hand. Furthermore, it seems to me that simultaneously being an outspoken knocker and an ardent defender of YU is a trait that is shared amongst many of our students. And it all stems from a strong overarching interest and loving concern for the wellbeing of this place.
In talking to my friends in other colleges, I’ve asked them about how much they like their respective places of learning. Are there university policies that they dislike? Do they approve of their administration? How about their curriculum? How happy are they with their chosen university? More often than not, the answers I’ve been given are vague and generalized, with an overall air of disinterest. I have perused student newspapers at other colleges, and I’ve found few that compare to the Commentator in terms of direct school-related content, rather than material intended purely for entertainment.
The conclusion that I’ve come to is that our students are far, far more involved when it comes to crafting our own educational experiences. Perhaps it’s because we’re a relatively small university, and we can be on top of all the changes and everything that’s happening within our walls. Perhaps it’s because we have the privilege of having close relationships with our faculty members, who are often willing to tell us what they think and are eager to voice their own opinions. Perhaps it’s because our administration is wonderfully accessible and ready to talk, unlike at behemoth universities where layers of bureaucracy protect senior officials. Perhaps it’s because we’re Jewish, and Jews are notoriously good at complaining when need be (and have the chutzpah to do so). But mostly I think it’s because we see ourselves as having the responsibility to shape our unique institution, and to secure it for future generations of Jewish leaders. That is to say, by playing active roles within our university, we are essentially molding the future of American Jewry and ensuring its survival. A bit heavy? Maybe. But I’m convinced that our collective cause is much, much larger than any individual grievance about a canceled class or an accolade about our uniqueness.
We, as students, have plenty to be angry at YU about. We could go on and on complaining about budgetary cuts and how they have impacted our faculty, class offerings, sports programs, desperately needed capital improvements, and leisure and student life. We could wax on poetically about what we thought YU would be from a religious perspective, how we thought that we would all find the perfect niche here. We could talk about all of the bureaucratic messes and disorganizations, the lack of communication, and the ineffective business plans. But we also have plenty to be proud of YU for. We can be proud of the time we spend learning Torah, with our university’s rigorous emphasis on Jewish education and Jewish values that is simply unrivalled anywhere. We can be proud of the Jewish environment here, where being Jewish is our strongest and finest asset rather than an obstacle to be circumvented or a burden to be hidden away. We can be proud of the top-notch educations we are receiving here, and of the opportunity we have to learn from and interact with some of the highest respected professors in their fields. We can be proud of our student body, filled with some of the most exceptional and outstanding people from all around the globe. We can be proud of the achievements of our YU graduates and faculty, and proud of YU’s distinguished position as one of the top 50 universities in the country. We can be proud of the role YU plays in bringing Torah thought and Judaism to the greater community in America, Israel, and around the world. We can be proud of the Yeshiva name and of the choice we made to attend this university, a commitment which reflects our desire to maintain a dual lifestyle anchored by the intertwining pillars of Torah and Madda.
So please write. Write about our university, and what makes you happy, and what makes you sad. Write about politics, and where you stand on the upcoming elections. Tell us about what’s going on in Israel, and share your take on world events. Talk about what bothers you, what drives you, what thrills you and what enrages you. It is my sincere hope that this year will bring nothing but good tidings, healthiness and happiness for our university and for all of us.