By: Sruli Fruchter  | 

YU’s 2017 Prof. of the Year Removed from Tenure-Track Due to Declining Sociology-Major Graduates

Prof. Daniel Kimmel, recipient of YU’s 2017 “Professor of the Year” award, was removed from his tenure-track position as assistant professor of Sociology. Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Selma Botman notified Kimmel of her decision to terminate the position on July 2, citing a decline in Sociology-major graduates at Yeshiva College (YC).

In lieu of continuing as assistant professor, Kimmel was offered a one-year terminal contract ending in July 2021 or a three-year position as a clinical professor ending in July 2023, the latter of which was contingent on him not requesting a review by the Faculty Review Committee. The committee consists of various faculty members who could investigate a challenge by Kimmel against Botman’s decision and issue a final recommendation on the matter. Kimmel did not file for a review and accepted the clinical professor role, which he began in August.

According to the figures provided by Botman to Kimmel, YC Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree conferrals in Sociology rose from five in 2012-13 to 13 in 2013-14, plateauing at four the following year until 2018-19 when it dropped to three. In Stern College for Women (SCW), the Sociology majors increased from nine in 2012-13 to 10 in 2014-15, dropping to six the following year until 2017-18 when it fell to two and remained at two for 2018-19. She did not list figures for the 2019-20 academic year. 

According to YU’s Spring 2020 FactBook, the number of declared Sociology majors in YC have steadily increased from three in Fall 2017 to five in Spring 2020.

“Over the last several months, life has been strange for everyone,” Kimmel told The Commentator. “For me, to receive the news that my position was being terminated in spite of my positive [three-year] evaluation — and for this news to come months later than expected and at a time when there were such barriers to communication and solidarity with colleagues — was especially difficult.”

Kimmel is one of two full-time Sociology professors at YC and SCW, the other professor being each school’s respective department chair. He first began as a visiting assistant professor in 2013 and assumed the assistant professor position in 2017. In May 2017, YC seniors named Kimmel the Lillian F. and William L. Silber Professor of the Year, and Associate Dean for Operations and Student Affairs Fred Sugarman remarked at the time that Kimmel’s “classes are exciting and rewarding, attracting many students each semester.”

Initially, in response to Botman’s July decision ––which came months after the results of Kimmel’s three-year, pre-tenure review were set to be received ––Kimmel challenged the decision’s reasoning. According to Kimmel, his assistant professor position was never directly said or implied to be contingent on an increase in Sociology majors. Also acting as an adviser of the Public Health and Criminology minors, Kimmel explained that the number of students minoring in those areas have increased, which Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon and YC Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Shalom Holtz had directed him to focus his efforts on.

“To terminate the position now on the basis of standards that were not explicated when hiring me seems fundamentally unfair,” Kimmel wrote in his email to Botman, “in the sense that, had I known that this was a criterion for advancement I might have pursued further negotiation of the contract or made other employment decisions.” He also requested his complete three-year review.

In their correspondences, Botman stood by the termination and said that the “positive recommendation for reappointment” in Kimmel’s three-year review was the backbone for offering him the three-year clinical professor position. Botman also denied Kimmel’s request for his three-year review, noting that she “searched [YU’s] policies and could not find a reference to a candidate having access to [their three-year] review.” 

According to Sociology Dept. Chair Prof. Silke Aisenbrey, who has been on leave since Jan. 2020, “The result of [Kimmel’s] third year review was in support for the renewal on all levels (chair, division and the deans’ letter).” Economics Dept. Chair Prof. James Kahn has been filling in as the interim chair for the Sociology department.

Botman, Kahn and Bacon did not respond to The Commentator’s request for comment. A YU spokesperson shared, “It is our policy that we do not comment on personnel matters.”

“Overall I’m out of words about this decision,” said Aisenbrey, who was not consulted on the position’s termination. “Not only about the content, but also about the delivery [of the decision]. Dan is an amazing committed and beloved teacher at YC and Stern and an extremely promising scholar in his field. So I’m completely confused about the administration’s decision in light of Dan’s positive third year review, especially taken the central role he plays in the curriculum at YC and Stern.”

Aisenbrey added, “Also taking the amount of adjuncts we are hiring at Stern and YC to teach Sociology and Public Health classes the reasons for not holding on to Dan in a tenure track position are confusing.” 

Students who majored in Sociology or worked closely with Kimmel during their time in YU felt strongly about the news of his tenure-track removal. “Having taken multiple classes with Dr. Kimmel and performed research with him for three years, I wholeheartedly believe that Dr. Kimmel represents the best YU has to offer,” said Tai Miller (YC ‘20), currently a student at Harvard Medical School and a former Sociology student at YC. “Dr. Kimmel is an engaging professor, an accomplished researcher, and caring mentor.”

Miller added, “This decision is not only a shortcoming for Dr. Kimmel, but for the students, present and future, and the social science departments as a whole … I would urge YU administrators to reconsider their decision.”

“In my experience with Professor Kimmel, he has been extremely knowledgeable in his field and extremely helpful and understanding during these unprecedented times,” shared Dani Lane (SCW ‘22), a Sociology major who is in the joint BA and Master of Social Work program with SCW and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. “YU needs more professors like Professor Kimmel, not less, and I would urge them to reconsider this decision as it will have a negative impact on the YU community and Sociology students.”

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University
Photo Caption: Kimmel was one of two full-time Sociology professors in YC and SCW, consisting of him and each school’s respective department chair.