By: Noam Feifel  | 

At Town Hall Meeting, President Joel Emphasizes University Community Development

Yeshiva University President Richard Joel addressed the YU community at this semester’s Town Hall Meeting this past Wednesday April 13, in the Heights Lounge of the Wilf Campus.

The event serves as a university-wide forum intended to promote an open and meaningful dialogue between President Joel and the YU community on contemporary issues important to academics and student life.

The event, however, was not well attended, especially by students. With around just 100 students in attendance, seat vacancies and semi-filled rows could be seen throughout a room set up for a much larger crowd.

President Joel accordingly commenced his opening remarks by asserting his presumption that the college’s students were likely too busy doing schoolwork to show up and engage in the meeting with him. “I wish they would have come and bonded with me here,” said Joel, as he expressed the importance of community, a theme that he touched upon throughout the duration of the meeting.

In the remaining portion of his introductory comments, Joel briefed the audience on recently announced updates and improvements that the university has made, namely to its dining and housing programs. Regarding the former, Joel was sparse with his words and merely explained that modifications have been made to increase “optionality” for students’ meal plans. The reformed dining program will implement its new options beginning next semester Fall 2016.

He elaborated in far more detail regarding the updated policies and arrangements that the housing office will be implementing next semester. Continuing with the theme of community, Joel informed that as of next semester, all incoming students’ first two semesters must be spent living in the university’s dormitories. President Joel reiterated that this move was motivated by the prospect of building an even stronger community on campus.

Returning students living in the dorms next semester will also notice some changes. President Joel stressed that “real change” will be forthcoming in order to augment the quality of living in the dorms. The additions of air conditioning units to every room in Rubin Hall, newly allocated areas for student cooking, and general refurbishment in the other dormitories stood out as some of the most impactful upcoming changes that Joel and the housing office hope will translate into the “real change” that the longtime president described.

To conclude his opening remarks, President Joel redirected his focus onto updates to the academic side of the school. He discussed the growing, and thriving summer school program that the school boasts, as well as YU’s expanded graduate school options, and encouraged students to consider registering for these opportunities.

The Town Hall Meeting then shifted gears, as President Joel opened the floor to questions.

Students in attendance were eager to to probe President Joel about a variety of topics, but one that garnered perhaps the most attention was the subject of YU’s next president.

“What are we looking for in our next president to best help the university?” inquired YC senior, Elan Teichman. President Joel responded that while it is a board of trustees who ultimately search for candidates and make the decision, not him, his successor must demonstrate a tremendous amount of understanding and appreciation for the unique dynamic and complexity of what Yeshiva University is. Joel also stressed that his successor must be a prodigious fundraiser, as this has been, and continues to be, a time of financial instability for the school. Lastly, answered Joel, the next president of YU must be a cognizant one, who is aware and well informed of what is really going on with the students, and who can understand their views and respond to their needs.

On the same topic, Syms senior Jacob Herenstein, asked a follow-up question. “Shouldn’t students, alumni, faculty, administration, and Roshei Yeshiva be included for this search process for the next president? Why are these personalities, who best know what is really going on in this school, excluded from the decision making process, and instead have the decision be left solely up to a ‘diverse group of trustees’?” In what seemed to be the only moment of the evening that the president appeared just slightly hesitant, he responded, “No candidate for the presidency will be instated without having the opportunity to encounter these people closer to student life, such as alumni and faculty, in order to ensure they are fit for the job.” He continued by explaining that the search process is a complicated one, and that often times, candidates will only agree to speak to the university on certain terms due to confidentiality issues. “A quiet process, conducted by this group of trustees,” offered Joel, “is the best way to go about this.”

No specific names of potential candidates were mentioned throughout the night by either president Joel or members of the audience.

Herenstein, after the meeting drew close, shared what motivated his question. “Those not on the list of trustees know the most about what is going on in the school and with the students. Alumni, faculty, and Roshei Yeshiva are the most in the know. It would make a lot of sense to find a way to incorporate people closer to student life in aiding this search for the next president.”

Other students were more curious about less bureaucratic issues, such as the ongoing politics regarding YU’s food services department and restaurant Golan Heights. “Does YU owe it to its students to fix the situation with Golan?” asked Syms senior Eitan Neiman. He reasoned that if so many YU students enjoy eating the restaurant’s food, then the university should find a way to rectify the problem and settle differences between the two parties. Joel, in response, offered that business differences do happen, and aren’t always that simple to settle. He ensured that the university is working on reaching a resolution and ultimately hoping to reinstate the Caf Card and its Omni Funds as means to pay at the coveted Israeli restaurant.

Aaron Landy, who introduced himself before asking his question as head of YU Hackers, a computer science oriented club, asked, “YU Hackers wants to help improve the shuttle app and just in general with technological matters. Can we get more involved?” President Joel acknowledged the impressive club and offered thanks for what the club has already contributed to the school. He did note, however, that YU is considering outsourcing for all technological services, largely in part due to lackluster quality of some of the university’s existing services.

Other topics that were briefly touched on were the art and music departments at YU, which President Joel said he hopes continues to flourish, and the business school deviating from the YC core curriculum, which Associate Dean of Syms, Avi Golani, explained is meant to provide the utmost flexibility to business school students.

Throughout the duration of the evening, President Joel appeared comfortable and uncontested behind the podium. His witty, comical quips engendered a calm, light-hearted atmosphere from the get-go, and no real controversy or tension arose throughout the meeting.

While the meeting’s mundane dialogue may have seemed underwhelming, it raises the question whether students would show up if the conversation had been more riveting and divulging. It is evident from such a small turnout, that the student body, for the most part, had little interest in hearing from, and engaging in conversation with President Joel. Perhaps one of the areas that needs attention, discussion, and improvement, from students and administrators alike, is student apathy for campus events.