By: Rina Shamilov  | 

State Senators Demand Accounting of YU’s Use of State Funding; Condemn Policy Towards Pride Alliance

Three New York State Senators sent a letter to President Ari Berman Jan. 11, condemning Yeshiva University’s policy towards the YU Pride Alliance and requesting an accounting of $230 million in state funding given to the university, alleging they had “been obtained by misrepresentations.” 

New York State Senators Brad Hoylman Sigal, Liz Krueger and Toby Ann Stavisky requested “a full and complete accounting” from YU over its use of the funds by Friday, 30 days from when the letter was sent. A YU spokesperson did not answer The Commentator’s inquiries about whether the institution will comply with the senators’ request.

“As members of the New York State Senate,” stated the letter, “we are concerned about the discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ students by Yeshiva University (YU) while receiving funds from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) and other state funds.” 

YU received state funds in the form of bonds in 2009 in 2011, to help the university maintain and “finance the construction and renovation of its buildings and facilities.”

According to the letter, DASNY loaned YU ​​$140,820,000 in 2009 and $90,000,000 in 2011. The university delegated the funds toward repairing some of the existing buildings “and equipping of the exterior and/or interior of existing facilities located at the University’s campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, in New York City, including the refinancing of certain taxable debt that financed a portion of such expenditures.”

According to the letter, the university obtained financial support, but then, in 2019, rejected the YU Pride Alliance as an official club on the grounds that it violated the university’s religious freedom since YU is a “religious corporation.” The letter highlighted other “contradictions” as well, citing Yeshiva University’s assertion that it is an “independent, coeducational, nonsectarian, not-for-profit institution of higher education” to the State of New York, which is what allowed the institution to receive funds in the first place.

DASNY issued financial assistance based on the university’s promise of upholding DASNY’s requirements, including that it not be used for “sectarian religious instruction.” By denying the Pride Alliances' attempts to form, the university violated DASNY’s requirements, the letter alleged.

“We will not abide the use of state funds to support discriminatory behavior that excludes LGBTQ students from their right to an equal education,” the letter concluded. 

“If their claims were intentional”, it continued, “this misrepresentation could constitute fraud and merits a criminal inquiry. Discrimination has absolutely no place in New York, nor should New York State taxpayers be on the hook for it." 

Brad Hoylman-Sigal, one of the leading senators in the demand, shared his frustrations over YU’s treatment of its LGBTQ students with The Commentator. 

“Religion is not an excuse for bigotry,” Hoylman-Sigal told The Commentator. “What a shame that an institution of higher learning — which receives millions of dollars of public aid — is putting its LGBTQ students in this untenable position. Yeshiva University must follow the law and recognize the Pride Alliance.”

After the letter was released, YU issued a response, calling saying that the letter’s claims of YU’s alleged discrimination was “equally false and offensive.”

“In the last five years, including this past summer in Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court has three times ruled that the government may not restrict funding to religious schools because of their free exercise,” stated the university. “And no government can ever retaliate against anyone for defending their religious beliefs in court. Yeshiva will continue to defend its right to religious liberty while ensuring the right of its students to be treated by the state on equal footing with students at every other university.”

On Feb. 9, after publication of this article, YU spokesperson Hanan Eisenman doubled down on YU’s previous response, calling the senators allegations “categorically not true,” and saying that DASNY “routinely backs bonds for religious schools, including theological seminaries.”

The senators’ letter comes as YU is in court with the Alliance, which sued YU for discrimination in April 2020. In June, a judge directed YU to recognize the campus club, which was upheld by the New York Supreme Court. YU has since appealed the ruling again, this time to the Court of Appeals, the last stop before the Supreme Court, which previously declined to issue a court-ordered stay on the June ruling in a 5-4 vote. 

A stay has been signed between the Alliance and YU.

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Photo Caption: Three New York State Senators requested YU give them a full accounting of its use of state funding.

Photo Credit: Kenneth Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Feb. 8 to clarify that DASNY’s funds were in the form of bonds and to include YU’s statement, which was inadvertently excluded.