By: Benjamin Koslowe | Features  | 

YC Honors Program Fall 2018 Update

Yeshiva University’s Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program currently has 174 enrolled Yeshiva College (YC) undergraduate students. These students, all on academic scholarships, benefit from Honors courses and optional Honors cultural events, as well as the opportunity to pursue a senior thesis. One semester into his new role as YC Honors Program director, Professor Daniel Rynhold sat down with The Commentator to discuss the state of the program and its future prospects.

As per current rules, YC Honors students are required to take six Honors courses by the time they graduate. This Fall 2018 there were 14 Honors courses offered, and in the Spring 2019 semester there will be 16 (four of which are First Year Writing). A Commentator analysis earlier this semester showed that Yeshiva College offered in the range of 30-35 Honors courses through Fall 2015, but that the typical amount diminished to roughly 10-15 per semester by Fall 2017. That same analysis indicated that YC Honors courses average around 10 students per class, compared to non-Honors YC courses that average around 15 students per class. When “serious-minded students are all together,” reflected Rynhold, “courses can push them a little further.”

The diminished number of Honors course offerings “has to do with the diminishing faculty numbers at YC,” explained Rynhold. Whereas Honors courses used to be offered across departments, they are now typically offered only for required courses, such as CORE courses or Jewish history courses. Rynhold described the motivation for consolidating Honors courses to the CORE courses as aiming to help students fulfill both Honors and CORE requirements at the same time, as well as to a shrinking faculty and student body that makes it difficult to offer as many Honors courses as was once possible.

The process of choosing which courses will be labeled as Honors courses is done “in consultation with me and the Deans,” said Rynhold. “We generally look at the semester’s offerings, and then we flag the potential Honors courses, which of those we feel would be particularly appealing to Honors students.”

In addition to Honors courses, the YC Honors Program offers students a host of cultural events. Unlike the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College for Women cultural events, the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program cultural events are all optional.

This past fall semester featured five such outings, including off-broadway shows, a New York Philharmonic Orchestra performance and a museum trip. Last spring there were six such events, Fall 2017 saw eight such events, and Spring 2017 saw seven such events. The Honors Program this past semester, as it has for the previous few semesters, also provided students with free tickets to the SCDS play.

“The cultural events give exposure to interesting personalities and academics,” said Professor Rynhold. “It seems to be part of what an educated citizen taking a liberal arts degree ought to have access to. And the Honors Program is dedicated to trying to give that to our students.”

This past fall semester also continued in the tradition of hosting Honors luncheons, of which there were nine, similar to Spring 2018’s ten luncheons and Fall 2017’s ten luncheons. This semester’s Honors luncheons hosted various academics to speak to students, as well as actor Stephen Tobolowsky who spoke at one luncheon this past October about his experiences in Hollywood and his new book.

Fall 2018 was the first time that Honors luncheons took place in the new Honors Lounge, located now in the basement of Belfer (room C-10) rather than in the basement of Furst Hall. Though the room right now is relatively undecorated, there are plans to bring upgrades soon. According to Rynhold, these upgrades will firstly include installing a coffee machine and enabling a means by which Honors students uniquely can access the room whenever they like, rather than only during Honors luncheons. Honors students can expect these first upgrades at some point this academic year.

In addition to access and a coffee machine, Rynhold and the administration are open to discussing with students how to make the room into a workspace, leisure space or something in between.

Finally, the YC Honors Program offers students the opportunity to research and write a senior thesis. The official requirements are currently that students find a mentor by their third year and draft a proposal, to be approved by the mentor and the Honors Director. Senior theses are typically on topics related to students’ majors, but students historically have also done theses with non-YU professors who they know from other capacities.

Rynhold emphasized the importance of the senior thesis. On the one hand, explained Rynhold, students might “produce something that could easily be even a master’s thesis … which is worthy in itself.” He added, “On the other hand, for those going onto graduate school, the senior thesis is a real feather in their hat, and very helpful in applying to graduate work. Having that kind of serious research under your belt is a real strength to your application.”

Students are expected to enroll in the 1-credit “Honors Thesis: Proposal” (HON 4977H) course in the semester in which they draft the proposal. Once the proposal is approved, students are expected to enroll in two courses — “Honors Thesis: Preparation” (HON 4980H) and “Honors Thesis: Writing” (HON 4981H) — over two consecutive semesters. These latter two courses add up to a total of four credits, which students can choose to distribute as they wish over two semesters (i.e. either two semesters with two credits each semester, or one semester with one credit and one semester with three credits).

The thesis requirement came under criticism last year when an editorial highlighted a disconnect between students and the administration that leads to the majority of YC Honors students failing to complete senior theses, despite the supposed requirement to do so. According to Honors Program records, 31 students completed senior theses in 2016, 20 students completed senior theses in 2017 and 25 students completed senior theses in 2018.

According to Professor Rynhold, “all U6 students, now with a year to go, should be signing up for thesis proposal” (U6 students are those students who have completed at least 78 credits, which typically takes place by the end of students’ second year). He added, “We’re going to work to make sure everybody is assigned a mentor, basically immediately at the beginning” of their final year on campus. Progress will be monitored such that “if nothing is done the following semester, we will reserve the right to” reevaluate scholarship terms.

Yeshiva University tuition is currently $41,000 per year, not counting undergraduate fees — including the activity fee, university fee and registration fee — that add up to $2,500 per year, and also not counting the meal and housing plans, whose costs vary but typically wind up in the vicinity of $12,000 per year for on-campus residents.

Honors students currently earn scholarships as high as $25,000 if they apply early decision, and as high as $20,000 if they apply regular decision. Yeshiva University used to offer scholarships as high as full tuition, but full tuition merit scholarships have not been offered since the 2012-13 application cycle.

“It’s been interesting to gauge the morale in the program amongst the students,” reflected Rynhold. “I’m three months in, and I certainly know more now than when I took on the role, which has allowed me to form some ideas about what it is I’d like to do.” He concluded, “I hope to both come up with ideas moving forward, but also to listen closely to what you guys suggest to see how we can work together to build the program and to add facets or improve on existing facets, whatever it might be.”


Photo caption: Gottesman Library
Photo credit: The Commentator