By: Sruli Fruchter and Yosef Lemel  | 

Provost Botman Clarifies Misleading Email, Plans for Fall 2020 Still Pending

Yeshiva University is still “developing plans” for Fall 2020 classes, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Selma Botman clarified to The Commentator on Sunday, June 14. Two days earlier, Botman had emailed undergraduate students that the university’s “plan is to begin the fall semester online,” with in-person instruction resuming after Sukkot, “for all those faculty and students who are able to be physically present.”

Shortly following the email, The YU Observer reported that the plan stated by Botman was definitive. The YU Observer has since published a clarification. In its “Breaking Commentator News” WhatsApp chat, The Commentator sent members of the group a message summarising Botman’s Friday email, and upon receiving Botman’s clarification, updated them on the matter.

Since Botman’s Friday email, The Commentator contacted multiple university administrators regarding the announcement with specific questions as to the university’s plans for next year. Prompted by these inquiries, The Commentator received Botman’s clarification.

“We are still developing plans in consultation with medical professionals and with city and state officials,” explained Botman. “Specific and concrete plans will be announced in the coming weeks.”

The June 12 email included a survey link that asked students to list their Fall 2020 courses and select their preference for “Online” or “Face to Face” options. “We are committed to serving all of our students and look forward to your responses to this survey by 6/26/2020,” wrote Botman. In her clarification, Botman wrote, “The responses to the survey will help us finalize our direction.” 

Some students were confused by the email’s mixed signals. “It was very negligent to send out an email misleading the student body. It's also unacceptable that there was no follow-up email to correct the statement,” said Scott Stimler (YC ‘21). “All Dr. Botman did was raise our hopes that we would determine whether or not we would come on campus and take classes in-person or online. It's baffling and disconcerting.”

Botman’s email was not the first instance of confusion regarding the university’s plans for the fall. Professor Benjamin Kest, who teaches Intro to Statistics on the Beren Campus, messaged his students via Canvas on June 3 that “I have just received an email from the deans that the fall semester will start online and transition to face to face instruction after the yomim tovim [holidays].” Kest later received a follow-up clarification that “such a possibility… is only being discussed,” which he forwarded to students. 

After seeing the message from Kest, Alex Brody (SSSB ‘21), the incoming Sy Syms School of Business Student Council (SYMSSC) president remarked, “I was a little disappointed because although nothing was ever for certain, I was looking forward to returning to campus in the beginning of fall semester.”

Some had a positive reaction to the university’s plans and its efforts to communicate them. “I think YU is taking the responsible actions by only having online classes while this pandemic is going on,” expressed Natan Appel (YC ‘23), who is an incoming YU student. “I understand why there is confusion and appreciate YU's attempts to relay over as much information as they can.”

Others, however, expressed disappointment regarding the miscommunications. “I think it's obvious that we are going to start online, but YU should wait to tell us that until they know for sure. The back and forth is very frustrating,” remarked Yehuda Bekritsky (SSSB ‘22). 

Some major New York-based universities have already announced their plans for the fall semester; NYU announced plans to offer a “mixed mode” of in-person and remote classes, and Columbia University has expressed intent to return to campus in the fall. CUNY’s decision is still pending.

Elazar Abrahams contributed to this story. 

Photo Caption: The Wilf Campus 
Photo Caption: The Commentator

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Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the correction issued by The YU Observer to its original story