By: Jonathan Levin  | 

At YU, Tensions Between Faculty and Administration Leave Many Feeling Unheard, Underpaid

Significant tensions exist between YU faculty and the administration over the direction of the university, administrative decisions and salaries, a Commentator investigation found. 

The investigation, primarily based on a faculty council-led survey, along with interviews and conversations with over a dozen faculty and faculty council members and analysis of faculty council minutes and meetings, raises questions about the university’s engagement with faculty members.

Years of challenges in the relationship between faculty and the administration led the faculty council, an elected body of faculty from across the undergraduate and graduate schools that serves to highlight the collective voice of faculty members to the administration, to run a survey assessing faculty attitudes. The survey, conducted in May 2023, was also timed based on YU’s once-a-decade reaccreditation by Middle States Commission on Higher Education, a Philadelphia-based academic accreditation agency, whose accreditation process, which includes a look at faculty inclusion, is scheduled to be largely completed this spring. 

The survey, based on the responses of 205 faculty members and released on the faculty council’s website in early fall, found widespread dissatisfaction with the university on a host of issues.

Confidence Rates, Faculty Engagement and Reaccreditation

While faculty confidence rates of deans were mostly high, except at Yeshiva College (YC) and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work (the survey was conducted before Randy Magen assumed the position of dean), confidence rates in the university’s executive leadership were low. Only a fifth of the faculty had confidence in the board of trustees and the university’s management of its finances. A similar figure believed the university was going in the right direction. In what were slight changes from the last survey, conducted in 2019, only a third had confidence in President Ari Berman and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Selma Botman.

According to at least one professor, confidence ratings have likely improved since the survey was conducted due to YU’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, and some of the negativity in the results are likely correlated to the national attention YU received last year as its court case with the YU Pride Alliance went through the legal system.

In addition to low confidence rates, the survey’s findings on faculty engagement were low as well, raising questions regarding YU’s reaccreditation this spring by Middle States. The faculty council’s questions on faculty engagement were all based on recommendations Middle States gave YU in 2012, whose review also found low levels of faculty engagement.

In a year filled with controversy due to YU’s suit with the YU Pride Alliance, when YU’s decisions garnered severe faculty blowback, including in an open letter signed by over 70 faculty members, few faculty who completed the survey believed they were notified of major decisions or included in the decision-making process, including in the development of curriculum or academic programming. 

Some faculty who spoke with The Commentator also feel that over the past few years, YU’s intellectual character has changed, veering away from a liberal arts “Torah U’Madda” education with a strong focus on biblical studies and Jewish history.

“[There is] a sense that the university has transformed the intellectual culture without consultation [with faculty],” said Professor Jeffery Freedman, who teaches history at Stern College for Women (SCW) and YC. According to Freedman, these decisions, including slashing much of the languages department — which no longer exists — and making Hebrew language classes asynchronous — the latter decision famously unpopular with students — were done from “the top down.” Outside of Hebrew, SCW and YC no longer offer any language courses, and the last such classes, on the Spanish language, were taught in the Spring 2021 semester, according to course catalogs accessible on YU’s InsideTrack system.

Responses to questions on the survey regarding hiring decisions and faculty incentives were low as well. Only 16% of faculty believed that YU made improvements over the past decade towards increasing transparency of hiring, faculty evaluation and promotional and tenure decisions, a key concern raised by Middle States during its last accreditation in 2012. Only one quarter of faculty members said there were incentives for research and only 16% believed there were incentives for improving teaching.

These results are unlikely to have a great effect on YU’s ongoing accreditation, according to faculty The Commentator interviewed, who said that the accreditation team is more focused on finding ways for the university to improve rather than giving a passing or a failing grade. Accreditation recently finished up self-study and has already had a preliminary visit from President-Emeritus of Fordham University Father Joseph McShane, who Middle States has selected as its lead reviewer. McShane, who visited campus twice this Fall, met with faculty and key student leaders and will conduct his main review this Spring.

According to YU’s self-study timeline, drafts of self-study reports, which are key to reaccreditation, were supposed to be shared with the YU community in November, with the finalized versions shared by the end of January. As of publishing, YU’s Middle States website, which as per Middle State rules, welcomes student and faculty involvement in the accreditation process, is underdeveloped, with a section for the draft report saying “text to come” and some links going nowhere. Deputy Provost Timothy Stevens, who, according to a faculty member familiar with the matter, is overseeing accreditation efforts from within YU, did not respond to The Commentator’s request for comment about the drafts or website.

Father McShane, who is president emeritus of Fordham University, is Middle States’ lead reviewer and will be conducting a campus visit this spring. (with permission from Fordham University)

Search for a New Dean

One issue between faculty concerning hiring and trust in university leadership is the ongoing search for a replacement for Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon. In September, YU announced that Bacon, who has served as a dean at YU since the 1970s, would be promoted to the Provost’s office following a national search for her successor. Multiple faculty told The Commentator that they had doubts about whether the search process would be conducted transparently, and at least one faculty member told The Commentator that they feared the process might just be an excuse to decrease the role humanities play at YU.

While Botman didn’t respond to a request for comment on faculty attitudes toward the search, she gave details on the search process, whose job posting is online, and said it was underway.

“We hired a nationally recognized search firm, Isaacson Miller,” said Botman. “The consultants are reaching out nationally and internationally and meeting with the YU search committee to evaluate candidates.”

Botman has also provided information about the search to faculty in a meeting organized by a new university American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter, which was attended by over 50 faculty members.

Faculty Compensation 

Another major issue affecting faculty has been low compensation. Of the 130 faculty members who provided the faculty council with their full salary and position, 72% assessed that they were paid below market value, with only one person saying they were paid above market value. While average salary ranges have increased moderately since the last survey, conducted in 2021, average salaries at Yeshiva University are lower than those of schools in the area, according to data from the AAUP. The average salary for private independent universities on a national level also outpaces YU.

Some average salaries decreased over the past few years, with average salaries for professors declining by $18,000, likely owing to retirements from senior faculty. Interestingly, on average, assistant professors earned more money and saw a greater rise in salary than associate professors, despite being lower in rank. There is also an approximately $8,000–$9,000 difference between male and female faculty who have served more and less than seven years. Such wage gaps exist between the genders in academia nationally, according to the AAUP.

Salary information in the faculty council survey is self-reported and are not the true numbers of YU’s salary information. Nevertheless, owing to the sample size — 130 faculty members provided both their rank and salary, faculty council members told The Commentator that they believed totals were indicative of what YU pays faculty.

Faculty disillusionment with their salaries goes back years. In contrast to many other universities, which give salary increases based on the rising cost of living and raises based on merit, such as for research or excellence in teaching, Yeshiva University only provides a cost-of-living increase of 2%, allocated in different amounts at the discretion of the deans. According to faculty members who spoke with The Commentator, other than coming with counteroffers, the only way faculty members can receive a wage increase is to achieve a promotion to a different rank of professor, which carries a wage increase of 10%.

“There is a strong feeling among faculty that salary/compensation rates at YU are below the national average, particularly for a metropolitan area like NY, where the costs of living are so high,” said one faculty council member, who preferred not to give a name due to concerns about seniority.

“Between lack of raises, decreased matching into the retirement fund and inflation we have lost at least 15% of our wages over the past decade,” said another non-council member.

Multiple professors also told The Commentator that they were disillusioned with the low salaries, especially as the salaries of university leadership have risen, as shown by university 990 forms and mentioned in the faculty council’s survey results. According to some faculty members, salary issues cause issues with retention and make it more difficult for YU to attract additional faculty, as other universities offer more competitive prices. At least one professor told The Commentator they would leave if they got a better offer.

While Botman’s statement to The Commentator did not address salary questions, she did say that YU has hired many new professors over the past few years.

“To accommodate the rise in students over the period from 2022 to 2024,” said Botman, referring to large enrollment increases, most noticeable in the graduate schools, “we have hired over 70 full-time faculty members in a range of different fields; 35% in tenure track or tenured positions, with the remaining as clinical faculty.”

It is unclear how many of those new professors were hired for the undergraduate schools. According to faculty who spoke to The Commentator, faculty levels in SCW and YC have not grown, and senior faculty who retire are often not replaced. 

Dean of the Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon at the SCW Academic Awards Ceremony in 2023. Bacon, who began as Dean of SCW in 1977 and has overseen YC since 2015, will be promoted to associate vice president for academic affairs following a national search for a replacement. (Yeshiva University)

The origins of the faculty’s issue with salaries date back to the recession, when following a financial crunch at Yeshiva University that combined the effects of the recession, the 2011 real estate crash, poor accounting, poor investing strategies and Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, YU was left at one point unable to cover employee salaries.

Due to financial issues, salary raises were frozen and pensions reduced, with university matching on pensions falling 7% to 2% in 2012, according to a faculty member who gave The Commentator information based on old pay stubs and documents detailing YU’s retirement plans in past years, some of which were viewed by The Commentator. These reductions remained in place for several years, rose to 3% after President Berman’s investiture in 2017, and have since returned to 7%, with the exact level of matching depending on salary earned and money faculty contribute to their retirement accounts. Following the restoration of price matching, the university did not match the cost of living and pensions it missed previously, shooting down a proposal to do so, according to faculty council members with knowledge of the matter.

According to several members of the faculty council, YU’s cost of living increases, which has only been given three times since at least 2012, has remained at 2% — the ideal target for inflation set by the Federal Reserve — throughout the current period of high inflation, despite a request from the council to match the increase with the rate of inflation. According to Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB) Marketing Chair and MBA Program Director Tamar Avnet, who sits on the council, YU’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2024, shown by Chief Financial Officer Michael Schreiber at a faculty council meeting in the Spring, did not include provisions for salary increases, including for cost of living.

Schreiber did not respond directly to The Commentator’s request for comment. A YU spokesperson responding to The Commentator’s request for comment confirmed that YU’s budget for FY2024 did not include raises for salaries but said that YU has a “competitive matching program” for retirement plans. YU did not respond to other financial questions, saying that the university “does not discuss financial information in a public forum.”

According to faculty council minutes from the time, YU is still trying to balance its budget, as it has continuously run an operating deficit since 2004, and will be decreasing administrative budgets for 2024-’25. According to YU’s annual financial audited statements ending in June 2023, the last year available, operating expenses outweighed revenue by over $16 million.

Past financial issues continue to affect YU’s approach to financial issues in different ways. For instance, according to one professor, the accounting and budgeting office pays close attention to reimbursement and funding requests due to past abuses of the system.

The issue of salaries has been critical to the faculty council, partially as a result of YU’s difficulty in retaining faculty and its declined rankings. One success of theirs, in a situation where the university took up concerns in their resolutions, was in raising salaries for adjunct professors and changing promotional raises to 10% instead of $10,000.

University Rankings and Research

Issues with faculty and compensation might also affect ranking changes, and in turn, hiring.

In the Fall of 2023, YU had its U.S. News & World Report ranking fall 38 points to a 105 national rank, and while the drop was impacted by changes in how scores were evaluated, faculty salaries, along with research activity, were taken into account. In terms of rankings entirely based on research, YU has declined in recent years as well. In 2021, YU fell in the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education’s assessment of university research activity, falling to Carnegie’s third and lowest rank for doctoral institutions, a rank previously known as R3, due to combinations of decreased research activity and lower amounts of doctorate degrees conferred. 

According to SSSB Finance Chair Abraham Ravid, who co-chairs the council, there are multiple reasons for this decline, many of them outside of YU’s control. 

YU’s 2015 sale of a 51% stake in the Albert Einstein Medical School significantly lowered the volume of research conducted by faculty, whose full results, including a lower number of doctoral degrees afforded by YU, affected Carnegie’s 2021 rankings. Additionally, according to Ravid, given that YU is a small school with small departments, it is harder to justify large expenses toward keeping databases that are only used by a few people. This has also led to the library cutting some databases that are underused, which in turn further affects research. Another faculty member told The Commentator that YU’s small size also makes it more difficult for faculty to do certain practical scientific experiments that require access to expensive equipment that YU lacks.

Not all factors are out of YU’s control, however. A lack of motivation for research is a cause of the decline of research as well, according to several faculty. While faculty interviewed by The Commentator said a lack of funding and incentives for research — three-quarters of faculty who completed the survey said incentives did not exist — did not have a large impact on their willingness to conduct additional research, multiple faculty said they knew of some who have, especially as raises tied to research are a key motivator for tenured faculty. Some told The Commentator that low salaries also force some faculty to take additional jobs, which affects their ability to do research, adding that they know of some faculty who have decreased the amount of effort they put into their job overall, feeling that they are not compensated well enough to do so. 

While Botman didn’t directly address The Commentator’s questions regarding research, her response, sent through a YU spokesperson, discussed multiple research initiatives from faculty and focused on work done by faculty in the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and The Katz School for Science and Health. She also mentioned a solidarity trip of Jewish studies faculty from over 10 colleges led by three YU faculty to Israel this winter break.

“YU faculty are research active, winning external grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and a variety of disciplinary foundations. Faculty in the sciences and in graduate psychology are the most active in grant funding.”

Going forward, Ravid told The Commentator that he hopes that YU would rise in the rankings.

“A higher research classification is more prestigious, and it helps when one recruits new faculty members,” said Ravid. “I sincerely hope that we will do what is needed to be at least R2 and to move back up the US News rankings.”

Provost and Vice President President of Academic Affairs Selma Botman at Yeshiva University's 92nd annual commencement in 2023. Botman told The Commentator that YU faculty are active in research.  (Yeshiva University)

Frustrations with the Faculty Council

Members of the faculty council who spoke with The Commentator feel that the university does not respond or pay much attention to points the faculty council brings up, including issues raised in the survey, and resolutions and emails are usually ignored or told are impossible to meet. 

“I get the impression that you on the faculty council are becoming increasingly frustrated,” Freedman, who is not on the council, said at a Dec. 8 faculty council meeting attended by The Commentator. “Simply put, it's just a feeling that faculty are not being heard; that we are being ignored, sometimes even contemptuously, or … just brushed aside.”

The faculty council, born from Middle States recommendations in 2012, doesn’t have the power to force changes. The administration is not bound to listen to it, although Botman usually attends and engages with members during its monthly meetings, which have two parts, one open to the public and one closed.

“The council has no power,” Ravid said at the faculty meeting. “In other words, there is nothing we can do. We can say things, and the administration can accept it or reject it.”

Though the council can’t force change, Botman told The Commentator that she works with the council on “issues of importance,” such as the faculty handbook, and “review[es] policies that need revision” in consultation with them.

The faculty council only works on issues that affect faculty at the university as a whole, leaving the academic decisions of individual schools to the faculty governance — including deans, faculty chairs and committees — of each school.

Overall, according to a former faculty member who spoke with The Commentator, faculty at YU are beset with low morale, which has even caused some faculty, including tenured professors, to leave YU or academia entirely due to not feeling valued.

Unionization & New AAUP Chapter 

Faculty at Yeshiva University are unable to form a union to gain bargaining power. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that given full-time faculty were “managerial employees,” with power over decisions affecting them, they were not entitled to a union. Since then, some, including the AAUP, have argued that the managerial structure at universities has changed and that faculty now have less and less control over university management. 

Some faculty who spoke with The Commentator, including some at the Dec. 8 faculty council meeting, mentioned the AAUP’s arguments and toyed with the idea of unionization, which would necessitate a suit to overturn the court’s decision. 

“If we had a union,” said Avnet, “we would have had more power than we do today.”

Although some faculty have flirted with the idea of forming a union, the chances of a lawsuit are low, given the expenses and time that would be involved, Ravid told The Commentator.

Botman’s response, sent through a YU spokesperson, did not address questions regarding talk of a union.

As the faculty council has faded into irrelevance, some faculty launched a new AAUP chapter at YU this fall to advocate for faculty interests as well as foster a greater sense of community among faculty who often feel “isolated,” according to Freedman. The chapter, founded by Freedman, Associate Professor of Jewish History Jess Olson and Associate Professor of English Ann Peters, currently has approximately 20 members, mostly from undergraduate faculty, who are required to pay dues to the national AAUP. Freedman and Olson told The Commentator they plan to expand across the university. 

“We really feel that our voices are not being heard, that the university has changed in really radical ways, [and] those changes have occurred without meaningful consultation,” said Freedman and Olson. “Our mission is to change that [and] to make faculty voices heard and respected for the better of the university.”

In addition to board meetings, the AAUP chapter also organized the meeting between Botman and faculty to discuss the search process for a replacement for Bacon.

University conflicts in the past have resulted in the national AAUP getting involved. In 1980, the AAUP censured YU for what it felt was unjustly firing tenured faculty following the closure of the Belfer Graduate School of Science. The censure, which faculty members said made it harder to attract new faculty, was only removed in 2014, following efforts from Botman, who had just begun her tenure.

Nevertheless, though many faculty members told The Commentator they were frustrated with the administration and salary issues, many said they enjoyed working at YU, saying they believed in the mission of the university and enjoyed working with students, whom many complimented.

Ravid and other faculty members told The Commentator that the goal of the survey and their work was to help YU reach its full potential. 

“As the flagship Jewish university, we need to shine,” said Ravid.


Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Feb. 14 to reflect that Professor Jeffrey Freedman teaches at Stern College for Women and Yeshiva College and not Bernard Revel as well, and to clarify that YU’s cost of living increases, which were not given this year, have only been given three times since the start of financial difficulties.

Title Photo Caption: A view of Rubin Hall and the Five Core Torah Values

Title photo credit: Jonathan Levin / The Commentator