Calm Town Hall Meeting Signals Optimism about YU’s Future
President Richard Joel held a town hall meeting in the Gottesman Library’s Heights Lounge for students on the Wilf Campus on Wednesday, October 24, during club hour. Studded with jokes and delivered in good humor, the tone of the president’s address and students’ questions was markedly calmer than the tone of last spring’s town hall meeting. That event occurred before the closing of the Einstein deal and at the height of uncertainty for YU’s financial future and how budget cuts would affect the university experience.
Before commencing with his remarks, President Joel called upon Noam Safier, president of the Yeshiva Student Union, to lead the assembled in the recitation of Psalm 121, on behalf the terror victims in Israel and those suffering from the threat of terrorism.
Stepping back on to the podium, President Joel explained the Jewish tradition “to reach out to God in times of trouble—on behalf of others, and on our own behalf for a sense of doing something to help.” He also said that while it is important to recite a chapter of Psalms, he encourages students to make themselves heard by getting involved with YUPAC and continuing communication with their counterparts in Israel. “In a world that resorts to knives we should not abandon the handshake,” he said.
Turning to happenings within Yeshiva University, President Joel first spoke about Karen Bacon, the new Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences: “She is the firsts step in unifying the two campuses, and she is extraordinary,” he said. “She also has extraordinary help,” President Joel noted, commending Joanne Jacobson for her work as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Both positions were created this year as part of the effort to synergize the Beren and Wilf Campuses undergraduate faculty. “Dean Bacon is the second Bacon to be a dean here, and we’re Yeshiva University,” President Joel quipped, referring to a previous Dean Bacon who had worked at Yeshiva University.
Next, President Joel invited people’s suggestions on how to strategically cut spending by announcing an email address for that purpose, firstname.lastname@example.org. “We have a plan to cut spending, but how we do this requires continued strategic planning,” the president announced. “Under [Senior Vice President] Josh Joseph’s leadership, we have made a committee to make sure we keep moving on.”
Facilities improvements were the next topic of discussion. President Joel expressed his hopes that the Gottesman Library’s renovations be completed “within the next few weeks, certainly by the beginning of December.” He also announced that the Morgenstern basement, “which we can hardly call a shul,” will be getting a “modest facelift,” which will include cleaning and new carpeting, chairs, tables, and bookcases,” to make it appropriate for learning and davening.” The President reflected that “it’s a big deal that even as we go through challenging times we always look to the future.”
President Joel made more announcements, such as the appointment of Paul Glassman as Director of University Libraries, which is in addition to his current position as adjunct instructor of architecture and advisor to the architecture minor. President Joel also announced the online master’s in marketing that Sy Syms School of Business will provide in conjunction with YU Global. Enrollment in the program will be available to “anybody, from within the University and beyond,” the President said.
Further initiatives in education include a forthcoming School of General Studies and Continuing Education. President Joel said that the new school will offer “live and online classes to a much broader community in a huge array of quality offerings that will maintain a standard in academic excellence.” The hope is that the school will also “make us lots of money so you can continue to come here,” President Joel told the students. He said that he will be naming a dean of the school “shortly” and stressed the importance of acting quickly on this initiative despite the tendency for educational institutions to move with deliberate sluggishness.
President Joel’s last announcement was the partnership between YU Global and the Avi Chai Foundation to create online Torah education for high school students. He also informed those assembled that this academic year’s commencement ceremony would take place at Madison Square Garden. “We’ve been in exile in nice places for a few years but it’s time to come home,” he said, which received laughter from the audience. After joking about and sharing a note from his personal life, the President opened the floor for questions.
Inquiries for the President were generally mild and interest-specific. One student, for example, asked why Yeshiva has a 17.5-credit limit per student per term. Another asked whether it would be possible to schedule a midterm examination week, similar to the way final examinations are scheduled.
When one student asked for the President’s short list of candidates to fill his position when he retires at the completion of his current term, President Joel said he doesn’t have one but joked that if the asker wants to see guesses he can reference the “fiction section of Tablet or The Jewish Week.” In a more serious vein, the President expressed his hopes for qualifications of his successor: “The first and most important qualification of my successor is that he be a serious Ben Torah (a Torah-minded person), who recognizes that Modern Orthodoxy is a big tent with boundaries, and that this is a movement of people who care for who they are.“ President Joel assured students that he is not leaving; “I’m being elevated to faculty,” he said.
President Joel gave a lengthy response to a question about Montefiore’s portion of the Einstein deal. The deal, President Joel said, is a “win-win-win.” He reassured the inquirer that “Einstein will always be an affiliate of YU, just like RIETS is an affiliate, leolam vaed (forever and ever).” President Joel stressed that the deal stipulates that the college of medicine “always have: high standards of quality, governed by halacha under guidance and supervision of YU; lots of areas for faculty collaboration; and always a special relationship between YU undergraduates and Einstein. Our undergrads are looked at favorably. In the contract, that is mandated with numbers. There will continue to be that.”
The calm and light tone of this town hall meeting is a departure from previous similar events, in which tensions ran high and smiles graced the faces of neither speaker nor audience. The positivity at this semester’s meeting signals, perhaps, that the leadership and students of YU have a newfound anticipation of a bright future.
“Let’s keep doing good things,” President Joel said as he descended the podium.