By: Yosef Lemel  | 

Student-Administrative Dialogue Ain’t Such a Bad Thing

In my last editorial, I focused on a major problem affecting the students of Yeshiva University, namely, the miscommunication that students commonly face. The main solution outlined in that editorial was The Commentator; through accurate and thorough stories published in these pages, the Yeshiva community would be informed about the issues they face. 

Indeed, it was The Commentator along with student government — in a coordinated effort — that notified students about the prospective changes to Yeshiva’s drop date policies; prior to our reporting on the issue, students were not notified about these changes. In response, over 500 students expressed their displeasure in a petition to the administration and the policy was subsequently reversed. 

While the university administration must be commended for this policy reversal, long-term changes must be instituted to facilitate student-administrative communication and increase transparency. One model for future dialogue was exemplified in the multiple university-wide webinars, which allowed administrators to speak to students on a more direct and personal level regarding initiatives for the coming semester. 

When he first assumed the Yeshiva presidency, Rabbi Berman told The Commentator that he would not hold town hall meetings, a regular tradition during President Joel’s tenure. For the sake of transparency and accountability, I hope the recent webinar series represents a change in this attitude and a reinstitution of the town hall format. Students want answers to legitimate questions and a more intimate relationship with the university’s top administrator. 

However, in addition to this, students need an established and authoritative vehicle to spur change and work towards the common good. The Commentator can provide students with information and a forum for their concerns, but at present, there is no fixed policy-making body within Yeshiva that includes their voices. 

Imagine a tripartite body composed of students, faculty and administrators that created policies encompassing all areas of academic life. Imagine if students and faculty had a say in the construction of the academic calendar, cheating and grading policies, and even protocols regarding the COVID-19 response — issues that directly affect them.

To the average reader, this all might sound like some utopian dream, a quixotic attempt to synthesize the various voices of the university into a unified and harmonious body, the mere fancies of a cynical editor calling for drastic changes to the student-faculty-administrative relationship. 

This could not be further from the truth. For nearly 40 years — from 1969 to the mid-2000s — the Yeshiva College Senate functioned as the body outlined above. I believe that now, of all times — after multiple instances of miscommunication and disconnect — would it be appropriate for the university administration to coordinate with students and faculty in reestablishing the Senate to represent all undergraduate divisions of Yeshiva. Such a step would be viewed as a symbol of goodwill and would chart a more democratic and enlightened step forward for this institution. 

Indeed, this Senate should not have supreme power; tyranny of the majority is a rational fear that accompanies the establishment of any democratic institution. Of course, in any plan drawn up, Rabbi Berman should retain veto power over any resolutions passed. Yet, even if veto power is exercised, a transparent statement of power would be made; students and faculty would know the position of the administration after their voices were given due consideration. 

I call on student leaders and members of the faculty to sit down with the administration to construct a plan for the formation of a University Senate. While the exact specifics — including the appointment of senators — could be ironed out, it is clear that the present system is broken. Students are left out of important administrative decisions that directly affect them and some are under the impression that their needs are not fully taken into account. 

Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, the second president of Yeshiva, expressed that he accepted the Senate because he trusted Yeshiva students. “I think the Senate is a blessing to the institution,” he said. In a similar vein, I hope that the administration, faculty and students, in this spirit of trust, will be able to discuss constructive methods to grant voices to the underrepresented portions of our institution.