By: Yishai Eisenberg | Opinions  | 

Letter to the Editor: Yishai Eisenberg

To the Editor,

I have personally experienced the obscurity surrounding Honors Program requirements which Benjamin Koslowe criticized in his recent editorial. Of all the issues Koslowe raised, my ignorance of the 108-credit residency requirement has frustrated me the most. Although I became an Honors student by going through the entire standard procedure, I did not learn that I would need to complete 108 credits in residency until my second semester in YU. Due to my interest in taking a certain class outside YU, I was filling out a P-10 form and suddenly found a reference to the Honors residency requirement in the small print. Confused, I contacted my former college advisor, who said that enrolling in the Honors Program did not mean graduating with Honors, and that I could drop out of the program without writing a thesis or completing 108 credits in residency.

Considering how the Honors Program obscures the residency requirement, my story should not come as a surprise. Recently, when I asked visiting high school seniors on their Honors Day, not a single one had heard that they would need to spend four years in YU. Even admitted students do not receive this vital information: the Honors acceptance letter does not mention the residency requirement, nor does the requirements page it links to.

However, while my experience might validate Koslowe’s call for simple transparency, the editorial overlooked a much more pressing problem: that the residency requirement stifles Honors students academically. Forcing Honors students to spend four years in YU demotivates them from taking external classes and virtually bars them from studying abroad for a year. Contrary to the program’s stated goal of “providing an exceptionally broad…education,” this policy forces students to forgo the many classes that they cannot take in residency. If the policy aims to extend students’ undergraduate study to a full four years, then demanding 108 credits from any accredited university—with 84 in YU—would accomplish the same goal.

From recent conversations with Honors program faculty, I have discovered that in the past, students who wanted to study abroad managed to negotiate a waiver. Under this solution, their time abroad counted as residency. However—perhaps due to the residency requirement—very few students have ever attempted this. I personally did not know of the waiver option when I considered study abroad, nor, I assume, do most Honors students. No official document suggests that the program would offer an exception, which at least disheartens students from considering study abroad. In any case, I find it striking that a student’s enrollment in the Honors Program should hinder this option, even if a theoretical loophole exists.

Academic stymieing aside, the Honors residency requirement discourages the production of Honors theses. From my conversations with professors and friends I conclude, as Koslowe does, that the requirement for 108 credits in residency dissuades students from completing a thesis, not vice-versa. Primarily because they do not want to spend four years on campus, Honors students exit the Program prematurely. Thus, by postponing graduation, the residency requirement undermines one of the Honors Program’s capstone aspirations. Eliminating this restrictive requirement would motivate more students to finish their honors courses and thesis, boosting the program.

When I raised these issues with a member of the Honors Student Council, he said that because the number of required honors courses had just decreased, the program’s administration preferred to let the other requirements stand. Yet I must question the wisdom in maintaining detrimental policies for the sake of rigor. Given the above, eliminating the residency requirement—or at least modifying it—would enrich the Honors students’ academic experience. At the very least, it would encourage them to stick to the program.

Yishai Eisenberg, YC ‘19