By: Naomi Rose  | 

Math Majors Matter: The Problems with Stern’s Math Department 

If you search “Yeshiva University undergraduate mathematics” on the internet, the first result links to the YU math department website. Under “courses,” numerous educationally intriguing options are listed, such as Elementary Number Theory and Modern Algebra. If you were to scroll down further to the section titled “About the Stern College Program,” the website says, 

Stern College for Women has a variety of programs for students interested in the mathematical sciences, which include pure and applied mathematics, industrial mathematics, and scientific programming.”

This statement is misleading. As an incoming freshman a few years ago, I had no idea how much I would have to fight just to get in-person undergraduate math courses for women.

In my senior year of high school, I really enjoyed precalculus and calculus, so I selected a mathematics major while filling out my application. However, Stern doesn’t tell incoming students that they only offer the very minimum of math courses. The only courses that are consistently offered every semester — Excursions in Mathematics, Pre-Calculus, and Fundamentals of Calculus — do not count toward the major. 

The other math courses consistently offered once a year are Calculus I, Calculus II, Multivariable Calculus, and Linear Algebra. This fulfills only four out of the 11 math courses (and two correlate courses) required to major in mathematics. Additionally, as most of these courses require prerequisites, they must be taken in the correct order and effectively planned out from your very first semester in Stern.

I did not know any of this as a freshman, and so I missed my chance to take Calculus II in the spring of my freshman year. However, there were no other options available to me and I did not want to wait an entire year to take Multivariable Calculus. I was therefore forced to take the available math courses out of order and had an extremely hard time grasping the material because I was missing the prerequisites. 

Furthermore, this is a problem unique to Stern Mathematics — the men’s campus offers these fundamental courses every semester. In order to complete a math major, Stern students must take both men’s undergraduate classes and graduate courses through The Katz School of Science and Health. Each of these options presents its unique challenges.

When Stern students take undergraduate men’s classes, they must attend over Zoom for religious reasons. While I understand the basis for separating campuses and classes, especially at a religious institution, it is simply unfair to demand that students put their education at risk just because the university refuses to hire teachers or provide course offerings for the women’s campus.

Most of us are familiar with the educational price of classes on Zoom, where it is harder to focus and communicate. But not only are these classes online, they aren’t even geared toward online attendees at all. Rather than frontally addressing an online group, in many instances, the professors teach an in-person class to a full men’s class, with a few women on Zoom trying to follow along. We are not involved in the lecture, and it is extremely hard to hear, understand, and ask questions. 

Even if this were a viable method of teaching, why are the women always required to zoom into the men’s classes and not vice versa? Math major Shai Rahamim (SCW, Jan 2025) said, “Studying mathematics at Stern is very challenging, especially when most classes are only offered from Wilf campus through Zoom as coed classes. I believe this setup is unfair. Despite the smaller number of students we have at Stern in the math department, we still deserve the opportunity to have classes held in our building.”  

In addition to the limited Zoom options through YC, all math majors at Stern must then take advanced graduate-level classes to get an undergraduate degree. Many students in these classes are undergraduate students, which shows that there are enough students for regular undergraduate classes. For example, in the graduate Partial Differential Equations class this semester, there are five undergraduate students and four graduate students. Additionally, in the graduate Time Series Analysis class, there are three undergraduate students and two graduate students.  

It is counterproductive to put undergraduates into graduate classes, as the professor is forced to walk the line between a course that is too easy for the graduate students or too difficult for the undergrads, thereby harming both of their learning.  Furthermore, many of these classes are in Washington Heights on Thursday evenings or Friday mornings. I personally had to drop my Thursday evening class because it was impossible for me to make it to the Heights on time, as my Beren class finished fifteen minutes before the math class started. I currently commute to the Heights every Friday, which makes making Shabbos plans extremely inconvenient. 

Only three professors at YU teach in-person math major classes at Beren. Although we had a new professor last semester who was respected by all students, the university insisted that he only teach on the men’s campus this semester. (This is not to say that the YC math major is issue-free either. I have heard similar concerns about the program on Wilf as well.) 

I personally know students who switched their majors because they couldn’t finish them at Stern. It is not because of low enrollment that Stern refuses to hire professors. The numbers are there initially, yet the university’s refusal to hire professors for women causes enrollment to decrease. In 2018, there were 18 enrolled math majors. We have now decreased to 10, and I know several sophomores who are considering changing their majors. The university perpetuates a vicious cycle; they don’t provide courses because they perceive low student interest, but students are disinterested because there are so few course offerings. This has caused enrollment in the major to dwindle over time.

We have to fight for our courses here. Yeshiva University does not offer interesting math electives that would prepare us for careers or graduate school, nor do they offer basic courses required for graduation. Thankfully, my class was able to successfully arrange for three of the required math classes to be given in person, yet I am still required to take graduate classes and men’s Zoom classes to finish my major. A math major at Stern who prefers to remain anonymous has said, “I have already had to Zoom into Wilf classes and take graduate courses to fulfill my basic major requirements. It is a fight with the administration to get classes offered and another fight to have them offered in person. Stern is causing students who would pursue math to turn to other majors, and in some cases other colleges.” Unfortunately, this is an experience that is not uncommon for math majors at Stern.

If Stern doesn’t offer the necessary courses to finish the major, no matter how small enrollment is, then they simply should not pretend to offer the major. It causes a lot of unnecessary stress to students who discover halfway into their studies that they cannot complete them at Stern. Stern simply cannot have students enroll in a major and then refuse to supply the resources necessary for its completion. At the very least, they must offer the minimum number of courses to allow students to complete their majors without going to extreme ends such as attending men’s courses virtually or enrolling in graduate courses with Katz. They can only offer these courses if they hire an adequate number of professors to teach them.

I want to make it clear that I am not writing this article to criticize Stern as a whole. I have had wonderful experiences at Stern during my past three years here. It is incredible that a college community exists exclusively for young Jewish women. However, I am writing this article to raise awareness about weaknesses in their math department. Why is the women’s math program so bad? Shouldn’t Stern, a college designed exclusively for young, professional Jewish women, encourage this major? The Stern math department, and overall STEM department, must improve. 


Photo Caption: A math student’s notes

Photo Credit: sandid / Pixabay