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From the Archives — Four Year College

Editor’s Note: The Commentator has decided to reprint the following op-ed that was written in response to U.S. News and World Report rankings from over 20 years ago, as well as a Letter to the Editor written in response to the op-ed. Though the current editorial board does not necessarily endorse either of the arguments below, the articles undeniably resonate still in 2019, when college rankings remain relevant to campus conversation. Moreover, this saga is doubly fascinating as a lesson in journalism, as the printed record shows that the first op-ed sparked many responses — both in agreement and in disagreement — including a student/faculty meeting about the YU Joint Israel Program (the subject matter of the article) and even some formal changes to the program’s requirements.

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Title: From the Archives (November 15, 1994; Volume 60 Issue 4) — Op-Ed: Joint Israel Credits Hit YU Where it Counts: Its Students

Author: Sandor Bak

U.S. News and World Report recently published a ranking of America’s best universities. Among the 220 schools included in the list, YU placed a very mediocre 107th. As much as our departments of admissions and public relations would like to dismiss this ranking as “totally inaccurate,” the truth is that presently, the ranking appears just about right for our college. While those who are familiar with the school know of its many strong, distinguishing qualities, clearly we are no Harvard. At the present, we are no Columbia. In fact, according to U.S. News, we are not even Oregon State College. Of course, we could dismiss the ranking as meaningless and of absolutely no value. We could. Or we could believe, as U.S. News writes, that “Fairly or unfairly, the name of a top-ranked college or university opens more doors to jobs and graduate schools than does the name of a school in the bottom tier.” Right now, YU has the reputation of an average school. One might speculate that the level of a school is a reflection of the intellectual level of its student body. Well, not according to U.S. News. The article reports that the average SAT score of a YU student is 1188, a very respectable figure that is much higher than the corresponding student score in any of the other average schools. Of course, no YU student needs the U.S. News and World Report to tell him that there are many bright students here on our campus. By simply sitting in on any of the upper-level courses of shiurim offered here, anyone can see that our student body is on an above-average intellectual level. Why then does YU rank only 107th in the survey? The answer is almost obvious. The ranking was conducted of all four-year colleges.

Yeshiva University is a three-year college. I don’t know the exact figures but the situation is clear. There are very few students who spend four years on the YU campus. While most students spend three years in the college, it is becoming increasingly common for students to graduate after only two and a half or even after two years. What allows for this phenomenon is YU’s policy of granting a full year of credits for the year spent in Israel. According to the survey conducted on this campus last year, over 75% of YU students have spent at least a year studying in Israel. The positive side to this phenomenon is obvious. However, one still must question the wisdom of granding 32 credits for this year of learning. A student in Israel spends a full day - perhaps as much as twelve hours - learning. The Yeshiva Program in YU runs from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. daily, six hours. The maximum number of credits that a student may transfer from MYP to YC is three per semester. By that same formula, for each semester spent learning in Israel a student should be granted a maximum of six credits, or twelve for the full year. Certainly, many will argue that the time spent learning in YU cannot compare to that of a Yeshiva in Israel. However, while there may be some truth to that argument, it should have absolutely no bearing on YU’s credit-granting policy. Clearly, a three-credit summer course taken at Princeton is on a different level than a similar course offered at a local community college, yet YU grants the same three credits in both cases.

The advantages of having students spend four, rather than three, years at YU may be lost on many students and on many of their financially-minded parents, but these advantages are undeniable. Fourth year students would rejuvenate existing, underpopulated electives and prompt the various departments to offer additional advanced courses. This, in turn, could lead to the expansion of our faculty, with new scholars adding to the intellectual quality of the college. Existing faculty members, as well, would probably gain additional enthusiasm from the opportunity to teach a wider variety of courses and more advanced students than are found in the basic first and second-year core courses. Finally, the students would benefit as well. Aside from the chance to take more challenging courses and the reflected glory obtained from having attended a school that ranks in the above-average category, there are very practical benefits as well. As Dr. Hecht has often pointed out in his capacity as pre-law advisor, law schools are clearly more favorably inclined toward students who present a transcript showing six or seven semesters at their current college than they are toward students who apply with a record of only four or five semesters. And it is easy to surmise that this applies to many other professional and graduate schools as well.

Many will argue against the implementation of such a policy on the notion that it would inevitably lead to a reduction in time students spend involved in Jewish studies. In reality, however, this policy would have the opposite effect. Were students to spend another year taking courses on the YU campus, they would also be spending one more year involved in learning half the day. It is apparent, therefore, that such a policy would have the effect of any other reduction-policy. In the end, the entire corpus would emerge strengthened.

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Title: From the Archives (December 14, 1994; Volume 60 Issue 6) — Cutting Credits No Solution

Author: Yaakov Blau

To the Editor:

While I felt that many good points were raised to support the suggestion of cutting down on Israel credits, I don’t believe that this is the solution to YU’s academic problems. First of all, my experience has shown that YU isn’t even a three year college, but rather a two year or two and a half year college. Many of my friends did early admissions (which I don’t consider a serious year of college, though that’s debatable), got credit from Israel, took a few CLEPS, and did summer school (and not particularly high level courses at that). While YU has been cutting down on these “garbage” credits, I think there is still a way to go before they are completely eliminated. I would suggest a cap of 32 credits as the maximum amount that may be transferred to YU from outside sources, so that if someone uses his Israel credit, that’s it, no more transferring credit from Queens College summer courses on top of it.

Second of all, while forcing students to stay in college would probably force them to get a better education, ultimately the problem lies with the students’ attitude towards college. I can’t speak for all of the student body, but I meet all too many people whose sole concern is to get the maximum number of A’s for the minimum amount of work. If YU is to become a serious academic institution, the students are going to have to want that change; I’m afraid that this is far from the case right now.

Until now, I’ve taken a purely academic viewpoint, but I think we must remember that this is Yeshiva University, and the Yeshiva is a higher priority than the university. Having a double schedule will, by its very nature, weakens one’s academic pursuits, but that’s a necessary evil. If someone wants a better education and only rudimentary Torah learning on the side, then he or she should go to Columbia. Now, one may argue that cutting down on Israel credit will not affect the yeshiva since people will go to Israel anyway. This is probably correct about one year of studying in Israel, but it would be disastrous in terms of Shana Bet. I think the overwhelming benefits of this second year in Israel are apparent to anybody who has stayed a second year or knows people who have. There should be no question that encouraging Shana Bet is worth a loss from the academic viewpoint. Perhaps YU could grant 16 credits for each year, so that one may get all 32 credits, but only for staying two complete years in Israel. Besides, even from an academic perspective, it’s better to have older and more mature students in school, i.e. to have students who did the full two years in Israel.

I’m glad that people are striving to make YU a better college, I just hope they find the correct solution.

Yaakov Blau

YC ‘93, RIETS ‘95

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