By: Tamar Avnet, James Camara, Anna Lisa Cohen, Gabriel Cwilich, Lauren Fitzgerald, Jeffrey Freedman, Sumanta Goswami, Jenny Isaacs, David Lavinksy, Rachel Mesch, Jess Olson, Raji Viswanathan  | 

A Plea for Campus Unity in the New Year

As members of YU’s undergraduate faculty, we believe it is our duty to speak up when the well-being of our students is put in jeopardy. We are also deeply invested in ensuring that our university is regarded highly in the broader academic world and in promoting its public standing. It is clear that the actions of the YU administration against the Pride Alliance are causing great harm to our LGBTQ+ students and community members.  It is also our sincere belief that these actions have the potential to harm the entire undergraduate student body, by damaging YU’s status as a premier institution of higher education, having recently risen in The US News and World Report’s rankings.

Some members of our community may be hesitant to wade into this issue because they believe it does not directly involve them. We especially worry that our undergraduate students are not fully aware of the damage being done to YU’s reputation as a university. Students should know that this threat to YU’s reputation is real. Faculty and administrators from many of YU’s own graduate programs as well as its affiliated medical school and hospital have already spoken out against YU’s measures. In addition to the letter signed by over eighty members of the undergraduate faculty, faculty from the Cardozo School of Law, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Wurzweiler School of Social Work as well as Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Hospital have written open letters of protest, as have Cardozo’s Board of Overseers. The Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies posted a statement on their website, and students at Cardozo and Ferkauf staged a walkout on September 21. As of this writing, more than 1700 alumni and community members have signed a heartfelt letter of protest. Even more recently, the Wilf family, whose name adorns our Washington Heights campus, stated that they “strongly disagree with YU’s decision.” Moreover, there has been widespread coverage of this issue, especially the University’s decision to cancel all clubs, in mainstream publications such as The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Reuters, NPR, Politico, the New York Post and more.

Through their public litigation, the University risks undermining our reputation in the wider world. We are concerned that this unfortunate development has the potential to limit students' career paths and graduate school admissions prospects, including law school, medical school and other professional schools. It also threatens harm to the university’s own fundraising efforts to support important programming. Faculty may struggle to keep, renew or obtain the federal grants that support their research and especially their labs, which, in turn, are essential to both students’ graduate admissions and internships in industry. Competitive academic programs throughout the country value equality and non-discrimination toward LGBTQ+ students, and may judge YU undergraduate programs that publicly challenge these core principles. Future employers may be similarly reluctant to hire students from a university that discriminates and does not recognize its LGBTQ+ students’ equality.

This damage to YU’s reputation is in addition to the harm that is being done to our LGBTQ+ students right now. Our university — of which we are all a part — is implicitly telling these students that they are not of equal value to other students who are allowed to form and join clubs based on their identities. Our colleagues at Ferkauf, Wurzweiler, and Einstein have written in depth about the potential harm these legal actions can cause our LGBTQ+ students and their allies in terms of mental health and ability to thrive. In addition, the university’s actions adversely influence their ability to learn in our classes and take advantage of all YU has to offer. We invite you to read the YU Pride Alliance’s overview of the case to better understand what they are asking for. 

We hope that our students will not only show compassion to their classmates but also stand up for their own interests and future prospects by speaking out against these legal actions. While the Pride Alliance has granted YU the legal stay requested so that other student clubs can resume, there is still time for the University to choose a path of unity. The University can withdraw its appeal or reach another resolution and prevent “Yeshiva University vs Pride” from becoming shorthand across the United States for legal discrimination against LGBTQ+ students. As we enter the new year, now is the time to put aside differences and come together in what we know to be our shared values. As the Revel faculty put it in their recent statement, it is our imperative as members of this university “to recognize the dignity and respect with which we should all treat our fellow human beings.”

With best wishes to all for a sweet new year,

Tamar Avnet, Professor of Marketing, Sy Syms School of Business

James Camara, Clinical Associate Professor of Chemistry, Yeshiva College  

Anna Lisa Cohen, Professor of Psychology, Yeshiva College

Gabriel Cwilich, Professor of Physics, Yeshiva College

Lauren Fitzgerald, Professor of English, Yeshiva College

Jeffrey Freedman, Professor of History, Yeshiva College & Stern College

Sumanta Goswami, Associate Professor of Biology, Yeshiva College

Jenny Isaacs, Associate Professor of Psychology, Yeshiva College

David Lavinksy, Associate Professor of English, Yeshiva College

Rachel Mesch, Professor of English, Yeshiva College

Jess Olson, Associate Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva College & Stern College

Raji Viswanathan, Professor of Chemistry, Yeshiva College

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