2017: Year in Review of Commentator Stories
As 2017 comes to a close, The Commentator has put together the following list of stories it broke, investigated, and reported on, to give our snapshot of the year.
As President Trump assumed office, he enacted a controversial ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, launching protests across the country. Students on both undergraduate campuses, in coordination with the College Democrats, created murals to spread awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees and other immigrants, demonstrating their disapproval of the ban.
Yeshiva College biology student Netanel Paley competed in the national college trivia tournament of Jeopardy, hosted famously by Alex Trebek. Proudly wearing his SWAG Day YU crew neck, Paley earned a wild-card spot and advanced to the semi-finals of the tournament. In his first game’s Final Jeopardy, Paley even had a chance to flaunt his Jewish roots when the “Books of the Bible” category answer was “It begins with God saying, ‘Take yet the sum of all the congregation of the Children of Israel.’” Paley’s correct response “What is Numbers?” pushed his total to $18,000, a thousand times chai as one tweeting Rabbi made sure to note.
Rabbi Hershel Schachter: Inviting Rabbi Aryeh Klapper to Speak at YU is “like inviting a Reform rabbi”
After he was seen tearing down posters advertising a shiur to be given by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper, Rabbi Hershel Schachter said that inviting Klapper was “like inviting a Reform rabbi” to speak at YU. He also called Klapper a meshugana and an Apikores, which he later took back. Klapper’s speech, entitled “Lo Ra’inu Eino Ra’aya: The inference from ‘hasn’t been’ to ‘ought not to be’ in Halakhah,” prompted a discussion the next day led by Dean of RIETS Rabbi Menachem Penner to ease some of the tensions that had arisen.
Following a shiur cancellation in early December, Klapper was invited back as a scholar in residence on the Beren campus for the weekend of December 29-30, Parshat Vayechi.
In the culmination of a five year trend, the Syms undergraduate population on the Wilf campus surpassed that of Yeshiva College--the first time in history this occurred. Syms gained over 200 students in a five year span to close a large gap with Yeshiva College. The trend seemed to reflect changes in the job marketplace, student interests, and expanding options in Syms. In Fall 2017, the YC student population just edged that of Syms. The two schools had 523 and 517 full time undergraduates, respectively.
In the same story, The Commentator reported on a four year downward trend in Beren enrollment, reflecting increasing aliyah and sherut leumi, among other issues. Beren enrollment ticked up 8% in the Fall of 2017.
On September 10, President Ari Berman took the stage of Lamport Auditorium to be officially invested as YU’s fifth president. In this historic event, President Berman was able to address the broader YU community, laying out his vision for the university to move into the World of Tomorrow. In his speech, he detailed the need to expand YU’s relationships and academic pathways within the institution and with others, the mandate to create “market-ready” students, and perhaps most notably, outline the Five Torot, his understanding of the university’s core values.
After close to 40 years affiliated with the institution of YU as a student and administrator, Rabbi Kenneth Brander announced his decision to assume the role of President and Rosh Hayeshiva at Ohr Torah Stone in Israel. In his role as Vice President for University and Community Life, Rabbi Brander oversaw all departments directly affecting for student life, including the Office of Student Life, housing, admissions, the Center for the Jewish Future and GPATS, among others. The Commentator also obtained Rabbi Brander’s resignation letter.
In the most talked about event of the semester, YU’s Young America’s Foundation chapter invited political commentator and polemicist Dennis Prager to speak on campus for an event that was attended by over 230 students and faculty. The event was an apparent follow up to last year’s Ben Shapiro event, which was also organized by YAF together with the College Republicans. Since Prager’s appearance was announced, several writers took to the pages of The Commentator to voice their opinion about his presence on campus and its implications, including an opinion by Molly Meisels that became a centerpiece of Prager’s talk.
Interim YC Political Science Chair Discredits Course For Being “too pro-Israel” and Lacking Academic Rigor
Dr. Joseph Luders, the interim chair of the political science department, in consultation with the Dean’s Office, determined that Ambassador Danny Ayalon’s class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not receive political science credit, despite the ambassador having taught 8 courses on the Beren and Wilf campuses that were counted towards political science credits. A petition circulated by Wilf political science students challenged that decision, and claimed Dr. Luders stated the course was “too pro-Israel” and “too politically biased” as well as lacking academic rigor to count towards the political science major.
Dr. Luders did not deny making the alleged comments, despite multiple requests to Dr. Luders for clarification, although he did choose to acknowledge comments from students that questioned the ambassador’s courses rigor. The decision was quickly reversed and the course will count towards the political science major.
This investigation explored the underground world of YU’s married housing, which offers significantly cheaper rents for young, married couples. According to YU, the housing is meant to foster a greater sense of community, but ambiguous lists and frustrating application processes leave many of the students looking for cheap rent dismayed and forced to look for other rental options.
To protest a recent decision by the Trump administration that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his stated intent to move the U.S. embassy there, Yeshiva College professor Jess Olson signed a letter, with other Jewish academics, condemning the decision. Olson stated his decision to sign was based on “internal convictions,” citing the bloodshed that could result in the aftermath of the decision as a motivating factor. Jewish groups called on YU to disavow the statement signed by Olson. However, despite a video by President Ari Berman praising Trump’s move, the university has not issued a public response to the calls for it denounce Olson’s signature to the letter.