By: Yehudi Felman | Features  | 

From the Archives (May 27, 1959; Volume 24 Issue 14) — In Retrospect: Uniqueness of Commie Studied by Old Editor

Editor’s Note: For the final issue of Vol. 84, The Commentator is printing an old retrospective editorial, from the traditional “In Retrospect” column. As is often the case, the sentiments in this archive are still relatable and pertinent today.

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Ordinarily, the “In Retrospect” column of the outgoing Editor-in-Chief deals with the past year on The Commentator and also contains a few of his broad thoughts on the purpose and philosophy of Yeshiva University. This year, however, Jack Nusbacher, the editor-in-chief of Masmid has been kind enough to allow me enough space in its section of The Commentator to fully summarize our activities for the past year. My ideas on Yeshiva University will also be stated in the 1959 Masmid in an article entitled “Synthesis Re-examined.”

I am therefore going to devote “In Retrospect” 1959 to a discussion of what I feel to be the purpose and function of The Commentator, the sole student newspaper on the Yeshiva campus.

The basic principle of any college newspaper is freedom of the press. In practice, the application of this freedom implies an acceptance by the bodies concerned with the school paper, whether they be its editors, ordinary students, faculty, or administration, of the value of constructive criticism of school policy and expressing the opinions of the student body in print. It involves a realization on the part of the formulators of school policy that they do not necessarily “know best” and that student opinion on matters directly affecting them should be a determining factor in the shaping of school policy.

At the same time, the college newspaper also serves as a general vehicle for student expression, outside of the realm of personal opinion. It affords him the opportunity of developing his journalistic and writing ability. Finally, it represents, in every word it prints, the student slant on the events occurring in the school.

Yeshiva, it has been said on many occasions, is a unique institution. As befits a unique institution, it is blessed with a unique school newspaper. The Commentator has gained a reputation during its 25 years of existence as an organ of student expression strikingly unlike that of any student newspaper in the country.

What makes Commentator, Commentator? To learn the answer to this question we must first examine in what respects The Commentator is similar to other school newspapers, and then see how its dissimilarities, plus those of Yeshiva itself, combine to give The Commentator its unique function in a unique institution.

The Commentator has this much in common with the rest—we feel that student opinion must be a determining factor in shaping university policy. No matter how sincere an administration may be in desiring to benefit the students, it will never be successful unless it seriously considers the wishes of the students themselves.

Value Of Criticism

As any newspaper must, we feel the value of constructive criticism in print—the value of bringing a problem out into the open, is much greater than if a problem is buried and its presence hidden from those concerned by merely discussing it continually with the guilt party personally. Of course, we realize that rational discussion should precede editorial comment. But when rational discussion fails to accomplish its purpose, editorial comment is the only means available to those out of power to bring enough outside pressure to bear upon those in power to force them to use their power in a manner endorsed by those whom it vitally affects. In simple language—the power of the press brings an administrator to use his power to shape student policy in order to satisfy the students themselves.

In what lies Commentator’s uniqueness, then? I believe it consists mainly of two factors—the perspective only its editors can have of Yeshiva University and the duty it has always felt to act as conscience of our school.

Own Special Interest

What do I mean by perspective? Simply this—Every individual in our institution, be he administrator, faculty member, or student, is preoccupied mainly with what his own special interest in the school happens to be.

Few of the individuals in Yeshiva take the time to discover what others are doing and to assist them in their tasks. Furthermore, almost everyone estimates the value of the difficult aspects of Yeshiva by how they affect his own special interest.

The only individuals in the school whose special interest is knowing everything that is going on and fitting things in their proper perspective according to their relative importance in the total frame of events in all the divisions of Yeshiva University are the editors of The Commentator. Constantly confronted with the decision as to which news or sports story should be played up, or played down, which editorial is essential at this time, how should this issue be treated in the light of student sentiment, which division of Yeshiva is really attempting to make progress and deserves commendation or is stagnating and needs a push, how can student, administrator or faculty interest be aroused in this team — that issue or this course are but a few of the innumerable decisions the editors of The Commentator must make in order to focus attention on matters in their proper perspective.

The second great realm of Commentator uniqueness is the fact that its columns are often the only place where a complaint against a school policy finds expression. As many others have pointed out in the past, Yeshiva is a young institution which is not sure enough of itself to appreciate the positive value of criticism. Many individuals in the university who have taken upon themselves to criticize a policy in the presence of their superiors have found that they have suddenly lost favor around here.

The disdain of criticism has resulted in looking at Yeshiva as if it was a sacrosanct institution, as if the slightest disturbance will cause the edifice of untouchability to crumble. Some faculty members support an administration policy when they know it’s wrong; administrators refuse to change long worn-out rules because they fear a loss in prestige; others view with horror, criticism of their division in The Commentator as if the students were using this as a whip to get even.

The inevitable result of this situation is that The Commentator has become practically the only place where frank and honest criticism of the school is voiced. Accusations that our criticisms are exaggerated and misplaced can be understood in the light of a complete lack of any other standard with which to compare us.

In addition, The Commentator represents the student slant on events occurring daily at Y.U., and fulfills ably the function of acting as a vehicle for student expression and achievement in the fields of journalism and writing. In the school as happens to be, Administrator X makes policy as if Division X was the only division in Yeshiva U; Faculty member Y gives enough homework in course Y to make the students forget they take any other courses; student Z is preoccupied with achieving the grades necessary to gain admittance to graduate school Z, or with giving enough proficiency in a sport to become a varsity member or star, or with getting this course to be given by that faculty member at some specific time, etc., etc.

The point of all this is that few of the individuals in Yeshiva take the time to discover what others are doing and to assist own special interest. For example, many a member of a team has wondered what The Commentator has against administrator X until X refuses to allow said team to travel because it involves cutting classes.

Source Of Information

Finally, the uniqueness of The Commentator is seen in one more amazing phenomenon. Whenever an alumnus or any other person who is out of contact with Yeshiva desires to find out what is really happening here, he turns to only one source—The Commentator. Many other publications are issued to report events at Yeshiva, but in the final analysis The Commentator is the only one which is universally accepted by all impartial friends of Yeshiva as a reliable index and a true reporter of the situation on our campus. It has not passed through the “diluting filter” of any “special interest” attitude here, and can therefore be relied upon to tell the truth.

Before I set down my pen and finish my last article as a member of The Commentator, I’d like to thank my staff for their excellent work, without which none of the milestones The Commentator achieved this year would have been possible.

I owe special thanks to Ray Weinberg, president of Student Council, for his cooperation and willingness to learn; to Normie Bloom and Harvey Lieber for their devotion to The Commentator, bringing prestige to a position which badly needed it; to Artie Eidelman for model job as Sports Editor, unprecedented by a Governing Board member who was also a senior; to Bob Hirt for his continued guidance and advice to me personally and The Commentator generally throughout his college career; and to my roommate of old, Jerry Blau, S.C. Representative to The Commentator, whose understanding and selfless attitude throughout the many years of our acquaintance enabled me to get through many a critical situation when I needed to very much.

Maintain Commie Traditions

I with the Incoming Governing and Associate Boards all the best in continuing to maintain our traditions during the coming year. I hope that Benny Hirsch, the incoming President of S.C., succeeds in bringing Student Council back to the students. Finally, to the new Editor-in-Chief, Larry Halpern, I address this little message, which we have both recently read in a certain play. G-d grant you the serenity to accept what you cannot change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to always distinguish between them.

Larry, the phone number of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine is SY 2-2200. Use it. I’ll always be available.

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Photo Caption: The Commentator archives

Photo Credit: The Commentator