By: Elliot Heller  | 

Tides of Change Hit Biology Department

Biology. It's the third most popular major at Yeshiva College (based on graduation data from May 2015), and arguably the most prestigious. But the esteemed department, renowned for its consistency and excellence over the years, suddenly finds itself in a period of transition. With the retirement of Drs. Carl Feit and Barry Potvin, two mainstays of the department for upwards of twenty years, and the departure of Professor Yakov Peter, in a surprising last minute move, to Lander College, the Biology department looks quite different than it did just a few short months ago. 

Despite these uncertain times, Dean Karen Bacon, who oversees the sciences at YU, is confident in the department's ability to bounce back. “At the end of the spring 2016 semester [we had] three full time faculty members leave. Since then we have hired one full time faculty member and we are recruiting for a second to start in Fall 2017.  We also have several new adjunct faculty members with us. Each respected and talented faculty member that leaves has an impact. But change is in the nature of life." 

At least one student agreed with this sentiment of confidence. "[I'm] not worried," said junior Biology major Abe Raichman, “as long as the professors that are taking over are good professors that can teach and explain concepts clearly." 

Asked specifically about the impact of the retirement of Dr. Feit, who had chaired the Biology department since 1985, Dean Bacon said "Dr. Feit has left his impact on his many students and I feel certain they will continually share stories about what it meant to be his student. At the same time, Dr. Feit’s colleagues are committed to carrying on his tradition of excellence and I know they won’t let him down.  That having been said, his unique approach to science, informed by Torah U’madda, is not easily duplicated.”

It seems that one of the most immediate impacts of the departure of these professors has been the need to reconsider the Biology department’s course offerings. While the university did manage to find replacements to teach the three courses that Professor Peter was scheduled to be teaching this semester, other courses that had previously been mainstays in the department are no longer being offered. There is no course in Ecology being taught this semester, and Epidemiology, which had previously been part in the Biology department, is now listed and taught as a Sociology course. Nevertheless, this change might also be an opportunity for the university to offer some interesting new Biology courses. There is already a new course in Psychopharmacology being offered this semester. In addition, Dean Bacon noted that there has been a recent push to establish some interdisciplinary courses together with the Chemistry department “since so much of modern science is interdisciplinary." 

Another impact that the summer upheaval had on the department is the loss of several independent research laboratories which had been run on campus. Dr. Peter had run a laboratory on campus in which select students could conveniently be mentored to enhance their research skills as well as their appreciation for science. Following the announcement of his departure, many students have voiced complaints about the current lack of research opportunities being offered at YU. As one student pointed out, “the issue of minimal independent research opportunities for students in YU existed before Dr. Peter left. His absence aggravates the problem even further.” Dean Bacon acknowledged this, and said that the department is still working on a solution to the problem. She did point out that new Adjunct Professors Radhashree Maitra and Toni Schwarz operate research labs at other universities, in which YU students may enroll.

While change is never easy, Dean Bacon is confident the Biology department will handle this transition period in stride. "The Biology Department is currently staffed by talented and dedicated faculty and technicians. The instructional and research labs are active and students are being ably mentored. This is a position of strength from which we will only get stronger."