By: Yosef Lemel  | 

In Prospect: Yeshiva Is Yours to Build

Most inaugural editorials of new Commentator volumes are optimistic in nature. Generally, student journalists want to “start off the year on a good foot,” and as the semester rolls on, they start to “cynically” complain about the lack of transparency from the university administration, the lack of consultation with students about basic academic policies and other such issues they may face. This inaugural editorial will not follow that template; it will come off as bleak and cynical with a light tinge of hope. Candidness is important because, at present, there is no vision charted for the immediate future of Yeshiva University; we are living in the most uncertain of times.

There are many basic and obvious questions I, like most other students, have. When, if ever, will I be back on campus with my friends? Will I be able to live in the dormitory again? Will I ever be able to sit in the library constructing “Commie” articles until a security guard kicks me out at 2 a.m.? Will my class have an in-person commencement ceremony or will we be forced to relive another virtual celebration? Will I be able to get a job after graduation? 

These are legitimate questions that are unable to be answered at present, even by the university administration, however omniscient they seem to be. In place of knowledge is a dark chasm of uncertainty. Given this reality, it would be unwise for me to call for specific policy reforms, as this is not a time for change but a “return to normalcy.” I would, therefore, like to use this forum to comment on two recent stories we covered and how they relate to The Commentator’s responsibility as Yeshiva’s undergraduate student paper. 

Students recently received an email from the university provost indicating that the university’s “plan is to begin the fall semester online.” “Faculty and students who are able to be physically present,” the email read, would be able to “return to face-to-face classes” after the Sukkos break. The provost later admitted to The Commentator that the university is actually “still developing plans in consultation with medical professionals and with city and state officials.” 

Unsurprisingly, after the initial email students started to ask basic questions: Will there be an online option for students who will not be able to be “physically present?” When will the dormitories open? Will there be a decrease in tuition rates? Will the university accommodate the schedules of international students to account for varying time zones?  

The Commentator inquired into the specifics of the university’s “plans.” At that point, the provost provided clarification to us. She did not, however, send a clarification to the general student body, although it was her responsibility to do so after causing much confusion. She did not explain why emails stating the unfinalized “plans” were sent out. In fact, she later sent a second email on June 18 that repeated the contradictory statement of the first. Cumulatively, this led to false rumors and an even more confused student body. 

Students and faculty are wondering: Will we be back on campus in the fall or not? This is a serious question that requires a well-thought-out and thorough answer. Short, mixed messages will not help the situation. If the university has a plan, we should know. If the university does not have a plan, we should know. This is a time for transparency, not ambiguity. 

Another recent story we covered centered on a change in academic policy. In sum, the date students are allowed to drop a course without a “W” being marked on their transcripts was moved to the beginning of the semester, whereas in years past that date regularly fell out after midterms. 

Notwithstanding the obvious ethical problems with instituting such a radical change in academic policy when the status of next semester is uncertain, the university had not communicated this policy change to students prior to registration, which began on May 4. Instead of miscommunication, there was no communication. Students have the right to know what policies are being implemented and changed, especially when such policies could have a major impact on their academic records. A simple email would have sufficed. 

Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel, the founding president of Yeshiva, “prophetically” expressed in the last shiur before his untimely passing, “My life’s work, my life is Yeshiva. And the students are Yeshiva, and Yeshiva, the students. You, and all who came before you, and those who shall come after you, are my life. Even if someone would deter you from the task I have set before you, tell him in my name that you must continue. The Yeshiva is yours to build.”

Although it is the responsibility of the administration to keep students informed, they may occasionally fail in that task. It then becomes the responsibility of students to inform students. We, the students of Yeshiva, are Yeshiva; we must take it upon ourselves to create the ideal environment to foster intellectual growth in both religious and secular studies. Only a mature and informed student body would be able to create this ideal environment.

The Commentator is dedicated to providing students, faculty and even the administration with accurate information; it is our raison d’être. Yeshiva would be in a scary place without the vigilance of student reporters dedicated to providing this essential service. This institution faces many challenges including — but certainly not limited to — developing a substantive mission, financial worries, the role of the arts, the physical safety of students and faculty, the question of an LGBTQ club, a sexual-abuse lawsuit and, of course, planning the eventual return to campus. It is now, more than ever, that timely coverage is necessary. 

The Commentator has thus decided to publish its first-ever summer issue, which will be fully released in a printable PDF format in a few weeks from now. To date, we have published 30 articles in Volume 86 on a wide array of topics. Though it is longstanding “Commie” policy to officially be on recess in the summer, the nature of this year’s strange and uncertain news cycle has necessitated our continued publication. Our pledge to the student body is this: We will keep you informed at all times. We will strive to be fair and objective. We will not abdicate our responsibility to you.