By: Avi Hirsch  | 

Following Haphazard Rollout, Security Updates to Include Alumni Restrictions and Shabbat ID Requirement

New security policies, which include restrictions on which buildings alumni may enter as well as a new requirement for students and other visitors to carry ID cards when entering YU buildings on Shabbat, will go into effect on March 15, according to a recent update to YU’s website. As of the time of publication, students, alumni and other members of the YU community have not been formally notified of these upcoming security updates.

The website now includes a section detailing a list of locations on the Wilf and Beren campuses that alumni will be allowed to visit following the implementation of the new policies. At the moment, security guards allow alumni to enter all YU buildings on the Wilf Campus and all buildings except the dormitories on the Beren Campus. But absent from the new list of locations are all dormitory buildings on both campuses. The Rubin Shul, Morgenstern Hall beit midrash and the Sephardi Beit Midrash are all located in dormitory buildings and are absent from the list; Fischel beit midrash, also in a dormitory building, is on the list of locations open to alumni. Other locations seemingly no longer open to alumni are Furst Hall and Belfer Hall, and the only locations listed on Beren Campus that alumni will be able to visit are the library and dining hall.

According to the updated website, the Furman Dining Hall, which is located in Rubin Hall, will remain open to all alumni, and the Max Stern Athletic Center, located in the same building, will remain open to male undergraduate alumni only. It is unclear how or whether security will enforce the restriction on alumni entering the dormitory rooms also located in Rubin Hall.

All alumni will have to carry new alumni identification cards with them when entering any building on campus. Alumni who wish to access any location not open to them or any location without the new alumni ID card will require the same “daily visitors pass” as any other visitors, which according to the website will require a staff sponsor and “may be limited to only certain buildings and times, and certain purposes.”

New visitor policies also include special identification cards for spouses of alumni and students, and those who wish to attend minyan regularly — in the Glueck or Fischel batei midrash only — can apply for a Minyan ID Card, which “will need to be approved by both Rabbi Menachem Penner or Yosef Kalinsky and University Director of Security,” according to the website.

In addition to the new alumni and other visitor restrictions, the new policies indicate that all students and visitors will be required to carry identification with them on Shabbat. “All holders of valid Yeshiva University ID Cards wishing entry to the campus buildings and synagogues during the Shabbat and Holidays will be required to present their ID Cards to the Security Officer,” the website states. “All visitors will be required to present their valid government-issued photo IDs, Minyan IDs or Alumni/Alumni Spouse/Student Spouse IDs to the Security Officer.” The website also links to a “Shabbat ID policy ruling,” a halakhic ruling from RIETS rosh yeshiva Rabbi Herschel Schachter permitting the carrying of ID cards on Shabbat within the eruv.

Yeshiva College alumnus Daniel Shlian (YC ‘17) lives near YU’s Wilf Campus in part due to the presence of YU-run minyanim — some of which take place in locations that will soon be limited to current YU students only. “Tefillah be-tzibbur is a crucial component of my religious life,” explained Shlian, “and these changes are making me profoundly distressed about my current living situation.”

“In addition,” Shlian added, “it's important to highlight that there are only two facilities near campus with standing women's sections throughout the week: Rubin and Morg (in fairness, an ad hoc mechitza is consistently available in Glueck). Restricting access to these locations means, essentially, that women in the community are being told they are only welcome in shul on Shabbat, which is extremely distressing.”

Shlian explained that in October of last year, he had spoken with administrators including Dean of Undergraduate Torah Studies Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky and Chief Facilities & Administrative Officer Randy Apfelbaum regarding these issues, and left the meeting with the impression that the prior points would be addressed. “I remain hopeful that some changes will be put into place,” concluded Shlian, “but am disappointed that the new policy made it onto the official YU website prior to any communication of minyan relocations or additions.”

Sy Syms School of Business alumnus Etan Neiman (SSSB ‘17), who also lives in Washington Heights, was similarly concerned about the upcoming changes. He explained that he recently met a student in a YU dormitory lounge to counsel him as part of YU’s new MVP program. With the new policies set to take effect in the coming weeks, he worried that he “will soon be burdened in helping further students should this published policy ultimately go through.”

“The Office of Alumni Affairs has been working in concert with YU’s security office to ensure that the interests of alumni are protected, while understanding that the safety of our students is of the highest priority,” explained Director of Alumni Affairs Dina Burkat in a statement to The Commentator. “Alumni will maintain access to all non-residential spaces on campus, and minyan times/locations have been added and adjusted in order to accommodate the new regulations.”

The rollout of the new security protocols has been haphazard, beginning with some alumni claiming that for several hours on Sunday, Aug. 25, security guards had prevented them from entering YU dormitory buildings despite no such policy being in place. Several days later, the Shenk Shul sent an email to subscribers informing them that “starting this shabbat, August 30, YU will be initiating a new security policy requiring photo ID to enter every YU building, including the Shenk Shul” and linking to the ruling of Rabbi Schachter. Shenk Shul Shabbat newsletters beginning that week and continuing until this past week’s newsletter have included the new Shabbat ID requirement, but according to sources the requirement has been rarely and inconsistently enforced.

In late October, the listing of minyanim on YU Zmanim was updated with a message warning students that since alumni will no longer be allowed in dormitory buildings, late night maariv minyanim that used to take place in the Morgenstern Hall beit midrash would be moved to the second floor of Glueck. These minyanim, which take place between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. weekday nights, were then moved once again to a room in Zysman Hall, which prompted a negative reaction from female minyan-goers, as a mechitzah was not readily available in the new location.

Even after these minyanim moved, however, the new security protocols that had seemingly prompted the location changes did not go into effect. But despite the fact that no new protocols were yet in place, YU’s website was updated no later than early January with an early version of the new visitor policies, including the alumni restrictions and the Shabbat ID policy. At the time, multiple security guards stationed at the dormitories explained to The Commentator that there were no new security policies in place yet despite the updates on the website. When asked to clarify the website update, a security guard in the central security office on the Wilf Campus falsely stated that the updates were already in place, only to be subsequently contradicted by Apfelbaum. When The Commentator reached out to Apfelbaum for comment on the website update — which included no timeline for when the policies would be implemented — the pages were quickly removed from the website.

According to Shlian, this was not the only area in which security guards were misinformed. “Different security guards seemed to be on totally different pages regarding the new requirements for the [Alumni ID] cards,” said Shlian. “Some seemed fully unaware of any changes, while some were completely up to date. It does seem as though the higher-ups do not effectively communicate new policies to security guards, which adds to a sense of frustration.”

No later than Feb. 18, a few weeks after the updates were removed from the website, they were back online, this time with an “Effective March 1, 2020” heading. No later than one week after this, the date was updated to reflect the current expected rollout date of March 15.

The long and troubled rollout of the new policies, punctuated by a lack of formal communication from YU, has spread confusion among alumni regarding when the new restrictions will be implemented and what exactly they will entail. “Since the rumors started trickling in last August about a partial ‘alumni ban,’” explained Neiman, “I have been increasingly frustrated and confused by a lack of formal communication to alumni.”

Shlian was similarly frustrated by communication problems regarding the new policies. “[A]lumni, to my knowledge, have not been made aware of even the general contours of the policy as it stands now, let alone specifics,” he said. Regarding the new alumni ID cards, he added that “at no point were alumni made aware of the new card requirements via any formal process by the university.”

Regarding the lack of communication to alumni, Burkat explained, “Our plan has always been to communicate the new policies with alumni in the weeks before they went into effect, and our communication plan was adjusted to reflect the new March 15 implementation date. We still plan to make sure alumni are apprised of the new policies this week, which will give frequent alumni visitors nearly 2 weeks to obtain their new ID’s, a procedure which only takes a matter of minutes.”

As of the time of publication, Apfelbaum did not respond to The Commentator’s requests for comment on the new security policies.

“Universities should celebrate when an alumnus is on campus, not actively cut back on their access,” Neiman asserted. “This entire experience has been upsetting and will strongly factor into any involvement with YU’s fundraising and community.”

Photo Caption: Morgenstern Hall
Photo Credit: The Commentator