President Joel Addresses Community in Final Town Hall Meeting of Presidency
On the evening of March 29, President Richard Joel held the last town hall meeting of his presidency. The town hall meetings have been a forum that President Joel established to allow for more communications between the YU community and its president about goings-on in the university.
As is typically the case, the meeting began with the president relaying over university news, followed by his taking questions from students in attendance. In this final meeting, President Joel also gave some closing remarks of his feelings towards the university and its students in light of his waning presidency.
The President began with an update on the construction of the 185th Street pedestrian plaza. He announced that while the work on the gas lines is done, the construction will block entrance to Glueck from the 185th Street door and require entry from Amsterdam Avenue instead. He said the project is scheduled to be finished by the fall.
President Joel said he will be stepping down from office on May 30 and Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman will assume the presidency on June 4.
He also mentioned that as per a recent article published in US News, Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School is now ranked 67th in the country.
President Joel announced a variety of new degree tracks, including the Associate’s in Management and a joint BS and MSW 4-year track, which are set to be launched in September. He spoke of an Arabic class being reintroduced through Revel in the fall and expressed his condolences over the loss of longtime Professor Louis Feldman.
After the updates, the floor was opened for questions. The first questioner asked the President about his fondest memories of YU. The President eloquently answered that he is driven by his memories of YU’s students, who show the world why we are here and what we are doing.
The next student asked about the perception that Beren Campus students often feel second class to their uptown counterparts. President Joel responded that he believes that this is a false sentiment, and that both campuses have their own advantages and disadvantages. He particularly highlighted the differences to be the separate Judaic and secular tracks which exist uptown whereas downtown has a mixed schedule. In addition, he noted that Beren does not have the same presence of Mashgichim and other Torah personalities as does Wilf. President Joel also stated that he wished that night seder would grow on the Beren campus.
Following that discussion, a student asked if the President who would uphold the promises that he had set forth after he leaves office, including the Stern Drama Society’s being able to use the Schottenstein Theatre. President Joel replied that he was confident that these changes would take place, as all other senior administrative staff asides for himself were staying in their current positions.
President Joel interrupted the next inquirer mid-sentence, denying he ever said it was important for an incoming president to “clear house.” The student insisted, saying “several sources” reported that President Joel expressed that it was important to clear house when he took office over a decade ago. The president denied the veracity of those sources.
Another student asked about the apparent recent rise in violence in Washington Heights against YU students, and what the administration feels should be done about it. The president responded that the crime rate is actually quite low, and that they don’t feel that they have to implement anything new. He did assure the students that YU is in touch with local law enforcement, and that the campus perimeter is heavily monitored to avoid any issues.
A student then asked about the university’s approach to LGBTQ students in light of the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest near YU. President Joel responded that the WBC is a hate group and the University strives to make all Jews feel accepted on campus. He declined to comment further.
The next question asked was how hopeful President Joel is for the future of YU under its new president. President Joel went on to discuss how he felt Rabbi Berman would lead YU towards a great future.
Following this, the question was posed regarding the decision process by which certain outside speakers are allowed to speak at YU while others are not. President Joel informed the room that 99% of speakers are vetted through the University.
As a related point, a student asked about what the President felt about Rav Schachter’s removal of signs for Rabbi Aryeh Klapper’s shiur, to which the President responded that he didn’t know enough information on the subject, that Rabbi Klapper was a musmach of RIETS, and that in all these discussions, we should be civil and moral to set an example for the world to see.
Towards the conclusion of the question session, Rabbi Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, Vice President for University Affairs, gave a heartfelt praise of the president’s term in office and the impacts he made on the Jewish community not just of YU but of Hillel and other Jewish organizations as well. Following one more question, President Joel ended his last town hall meeting quoting each of his three predecessors (Drs. Revel, Belkin, and Lamm) on a different statement which he felt made an impact on his life, and added his own lesson as well to finish with four rules for YU students; be a Jewish role model, make a difference, see as God sees, and do as God does.
After the meeting, President Joel said he felt that students at the meeting were “real and respectful”, and that controversial questions are supposed to be asked in a university. When asked if he knew whether Rabbi Berman would want to continue the town hall meetings, the President responded that he did not know, but that he knows that Rabbi Berman will be committed to the students.