By: Reuven Herzog  | 

A Letter to YU Admissions

I would like to echo the sentiments of Alexander Chester in his letter to the previous issue of this newspaper; I too was very upset by YU Admissions’ recent advertising campaign.  The advertisement begins with three intimidating statements about other universities, then concludes by asserting, “Only one top-tier university has it all. Sacrifice Nothing. Achieve everything.” While Mr. Chester responded to precise claims made in the first part of the ad, I would like to focus on the second part as well as the tone of the entire piece.

The claim made by the ad about YU itself is patently false, and its use to draw potential students to come here offends me as someone who already made that decision.

YU is expensive.  Tuition is $39,070 per year, before adding in many thousands more for housing, food, and other fees.  Yes, the university grants a very significant amount of aid, but the bottom line is that even as I currently receive a very generous scholarship, it would still have been a lesser financial burden to attend my local state school.  My parents are certainly not “sacrificing nothing” to send me here.

YU’s student body is notoriously homogenous, with the vast majority of students coming from the same religious, ethnic, and socio-economic background.  Were I to attend any other institution I would certainly meet hordes of people who come from backgrounds different than mine. My understanding of the human experience, my sensitivity to others, and my general appreciation for the varieties in life would be astronomically greater.  Am I sacrificing nothing when I spend the part of my life most opportune for philosophizing, discourse, and reflection in the very bubble of my childhood?

Earlier this year, I realized that I wanted to focus my undergraduate education in Urban Studies.  This was spurred by some of the readings and guest lectures in an architecture class I took last semester, as well as other readings I had done on my own.  YU, however, does not offer an urban studies major, or minor, or any class devoted to the concept.  The other idea I had was pursuing a career in the fields of Industrial Engineering or Operations Research.  Though YU is strengthening its Computer Science department, it still does not provide anything approaching a degree in those fields.  And aside from not preparing me for my career, I am not taking all of the classes that I would like to during my college career, simply because they are not offered. Do not tell me that I can achieve anything and then refuse to help me get there.

Why, then, did I choose to come to YU? I knew of these issues before I enrolled and I still made that decision, one I still contend was the right one.  I attend YU because of what it does offer. Here I have the richest limudei kodesh offerings of any university, a staff orders of magnitude larger than anywhere else, and the structure to ensure that I expand my Torah knowledge at a consistent rate. YU gives me the greatest support for practicing my Orthodox Judaism comfortably, conveniently, and devotedly in its institutions and community.  YU further offers me the greatest opportunity to think critically about my religion - which I contend is the most dominant element of my psyche - to reflect on it and decide how to tweak my beliefs and practice, and ready me for the rest of my life.

Looking back at this advertisement, its major offense is its removal of a measured decision in college enrollment.  It is so obvious you should attend YU, the ad explains; there really is no reason not to.  I spent many weeks debating where to spend four years of my life furthering my education and personal development.  I invested great energy to weigh costs, benefits, and other neutral factors between various schools, and ultimately reached a conclusion.  So did all of my peers in high school.  YU Admissions’ argument both offends the sensibilities of my numerous friends who made a carefully-weighed decision to attend school elsewhere and belittles my own confident decision to come here as merely embracing the default option.

But further, nothing in this advertisement says what YU is, what its strengths are, what it stands for and succeeds in doing. This ad signals YU has no mission, no raison d’etre.  No Torah U’Madda, no Modern Orthodoxy, no intellectualism in a comfortable religious environment, no talmidei chachamim on staff.  Underneath the scare tactics and hyperbolic generalizations, this advertisement says Yeshiva University, my university, stands for nothing.

If the university sees itself as actually having positive attributes, having something to attract students rather than just catch those fleeing challenges elsewhere, why advertise falsely? But if the university does perceive itself in the way the advertisement blares, well, then that is far scarier than sports on Shabbat, exams on Yom Tov, or BDS on campus.