Throughout the pandemic, President Berman’s messages have focused on Yeshiva University’s “abiding love” for its students and concern for their welfare, health and security. The emptiness of these messages has been demonstrated by the YU administration’s decision to proceed immediately with plans to take away much of Stern’s art floor and devote that space instead to the Katz cybersecurity graduate program.
This seemingly arbitrary decision does not take into account that a large amount of space is vital for the Stern College Art Department to properly function. Even without COVID-19 restrictions, the space on the Art Department’s floor is insufficient to hold classes. Until now the Art Department has been constrained for a lack of space; even the common area has been utilized as classroom space. Thus the reduction of space will further exacerbate this long-standing issue.
The administration has not provided any plans or explanations for how the Art Department is supposed to operate with such limited space. With only three months until the in-person fall semester begins the university has yet to provide specific information regarding the relocation of the displaced art equipment and where classes will be held once rooms previously used by Stern students have been annexed by the Katz program. This lack of communication also makes it almost impossible for the faculty to plan for the coming semester, notwithstanding the challenges they already face from the COVID-19 crisis.
These developments are especially concerning because the rooms being confiscated include our digital technology classrooms. Without a space for tech-oriented art courses, our ability to have any standing in a highly competitive, tech-focused field will be severely crippled, and will limit the number of digital art courses offered in the coming semesters.
Even more disturbing are the potentially dangerous health implications of the proposed plan. By increasing traffic to the eighth floor while decreasing available space, those responsible for the Art Department renovations are almost guaranteeing that the art students will not be able to socially distance properly, therefore risking the safety President Berman purports to prioritize.
Many women at Stern see their college as a single-gender safe space imbued with Torah values — an alternative to secular coed campus life. In contrast to Stern, the Katz graduate program is both secular and coed in nature. The introduction of this program on the Beren campus would make many of us uncomfortable. Art students tend to work in the art studios alone until midnight; therefore the introduction of a secular coed environment can at the very least cause concerns of yichud and have other unsettling consequences for female students.
Because of the detrimental consequences of the plan, it has been made very clear to the YU administration from the outset that the students, faculty and alumnae are vehemently opposed to it. We have stated our case and made our opposition very clear with a petition that garnered over a thousand signatures, multiple letters of protest, a formal complaint, op-eds and demonstrations. And yet, throughout it all the administration has “responded” by ignoring the respectful pleas of the student body. Provost Selma Botman merely sent an email that served up platitudes, and the other members of the administration would not even bother to reply. They did not have the courtesy to acknowledge our concerns, or to enlighten us in their decision-making process. Students and faculty deserve a rationale for making a decision that will severely compromise a thriving department, something more than just “a decision has been made.” How can President Berman say that YU prioritizes the students when the actions of the administration so clearly prove the contrary?
Yesterday I experienced the consequences of this callous attitude towards students first hand. After two months of entreating the school to let us retrieve our work, a fellow student and I were finally allowed in. What we saw was totally shocking. They had already begun complete demolition without notifying the department heads and giving them time to safely store away the equipment and artwork. The students’ artwork from those rooms were dumped and strewn around, treated like garbage. Artwork we’ve spent our years at Stern creating had wires and equipment stacked between them, thereby bending and damaging them. It was a total slap to the face, and really brought it home how little the students or the art department seem to matter to the YU administration.
The seizure of the art floor space is yet another example of YU administration’s recurring trend of dealing with serious issues by barely acknowledging them and then failing to initiate meaningful change in response. Now the administration is ignoring the well-founded and reasoned objections of students, faculty and alumnae to a plan that will cripple a thriving art department and place Stern students’ health and welfare at risk. As YU raises Stern’s tuition yet again, it is a good time for Stern women to stop and reevaluate how the administration’s priorities compromise their education, and whether it is worth it to pay top dollar to a university that puts the students of Stern last.
Caption: The artwork and equipment on the art floor were left in disarray.
Credit: Basya Goldstein