By: Jonathan Levin  | 

YU’s Joe Lieberman Center Created without Input of Political Science Faculty

Yeshiva University’s new Joe Lieberman Center for Public Service and Advocacy, named after the late senator and announced by YU as a center to train students politically and for government and advocacy roles, was created without consultation or involvement from YU’s political science department, a Commentator investigation found.

The center’s creation came as a surprise, several political science faculty members told The Commentator, saying they were not approached about the center or included in the choice of director, Professor Sharon Poczter, who chairs the strategy and entrepreneurship department at the Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB). Faculty told The Commentator they needed to reach out to the administration after the official announcement to be involved.

“The political science faculty, to my knowledge, were not involved,” Political Science Department Chair Joseph Luders told The Commentator. “We did not have a role in the selection of the director, nor any other part of the prior decision making processes.

“This caught me a bit by surprise,” continued Luders, speaking before Lieberman passed away, “since I co-taught an American politics seminar with Senator Joe Lieberman for several years and have expertise in the Center’s relevant subject matter. I also administer the Azrieli Fellowships for Women in Public and International Affairs, which are meant to promote political engagement among Stern students by supporting relevant internship experiences. Indeed, across the political science faculty, we possess significant expertise in American politics, public policy, and international affairs.”

Following the university’s announcement of the center, Luders approached the administration about including political science faculty in the process. According to Luders, the administrators they reached out to “enthusiastically welcomed” their involvement, putting Luders and Assistant Professor of Political Science Matthew Incantalupo on an advisory committee, where they currently serve as a “brain trust” for Poczter, according to information shared by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Selma Botman at a faculty council meeting earlier this month.

“They really stepped up,” said Botman in response to a question from Clinical Assistant Professor Maria Zaitseva regarding political science participation in the center. “We didn’t have to go and ask, ‘Would you think about it?’ They came to us and said, ‘How can we help?’ It’s really beautiful,” she concluded.

Poczter and a spokesperson for Yeshiva University did not answer The Commentator’s questions regarding the lack of political science faculty, and their statement discussed the center and its goals. An inquiry to Botman received an automatic reply saying she was out of the office, although she has since returned. 

Political science faculty’s lack of inclusion in discussions for the center appears to be part of a pattern of tensions between the administration and faculty. According to a faculty council survey assessing faculty attitudes, cited in a Commentator investigation into this issue, 72% of faculty members did not believe that YU was doing a “good job” informing them of “major decisions” that “directly” affected faculty members and their students.

The Joe Lieberman Center for Public Service and Advocacy, also referred to as the Lieberman-Mitzner Center by YU, was announced at YU’s 99th annual Hanukkah dinner in December. The center, founded with a $10 million gift by the Ira Mitzner and Riva Collins families, is named after the late U.S. Senator and vice presidential candidate, who prior to his passing last week was a member of YU’s board of trustees and previously taught classes at YU as a visiting professor.

The center is planning to issue scholarships of $25,000 yearly to high school seniors accepted into the program’s cohort, a model used by the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought and the Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership. Selection processes were completed on the day Senator Lieberman passed away, according to information YU President Ari Berman included in an opinion article published in the Hill marking his passing.

According to Poczter’s statement, the Lieberman Center’s scholarship won’t compete with the other YU scholarship programs, including honors, Straus and Sacks. “Scholarship opportunities are not in competition,” stated Poczter, “rather, they offer complementary pathways for students to excel, fostering an environment where all members of the University community can thrive.”

At the time of The Commentator’s February article about the center’s announcement, YU declined to inform The Commentator on the center’s programming. YU and Poczter’s statement didn’t address the issue either, though Poczter told The Commentator to refer to the program’s website, which she said would be updated periodically.

According to the website, the program would require a political science-related internship, one honors course in a policy-related field per year, attendance at monthly workshops, a minimum GPA and a senior thesis.

The center will also have course requirements, some that will overlap with existing political science courses and others specific to the center, according to faculty familiar with the matter. Required courses will be selected by the advisory committee by the end of the semester.

Currently, scholars will not be required to major in political science, though Luders recommended that they be required to minor in the field.

“Since the main goal of the Lieberman Center is fostering student competence and engagement in American politics, public policy, and foreign affairs,” said Luders, “I recommended that student recipients of Center scholarships should be, at minimum, Political Science minors. This recommendation is currently under consideration.”

 The center will also hire a visiting professor, Botman shared at the council meeting, though when asked by The Commentator, Incantalupo and Luders were unaware of it.

The Commentator’s inquiry to Botman, which received an automatic reply saying she was out of the office, asked why the advisory committee was unaware of this and whether the university is committed to including political science faculty in discussions about the center.

Yeshiva University did not answer The Commentator’s questions, including questions posed for an article published in early February, regarding why they chose a Sy Syms School of Business professor without political experience to lead a Yeshiva College political science program. However, some faculty felt that she had the experience needed for it.

“Dr. Poczter may not be a ‘political science professor,’” said Jonathan Cristol, a political science adjunct professor at Stern College for Women who expressed unfamiliarity with plans around the involvement of political science faculty with the center, “but her Ph.D. is in Business and Public Policy, she studies and writes about emerging economies, and appears to have published academic work about economic issues in a variety of different countries. She has written about public policy issues for the mainstream press as well.”

For her part, Poczter told The Commentator that she was excited to work on the center.

“I am privileged to assume the role of Founding Director, entrusted with the task of recruiting talented students and facilitating co-curricular activities that will expose undergraduates to diverse avenues for making significant contributions to both the Jewish community and the broader society.

“Drawing from my experience in successfully establishing and leading a department and initiative on campus, I am eager to apply my innate passion for creating supportive environments to the Lieberman-Mitzner Center.”

Though many political science faculty expressed concerns about their inclusion in the program, all faculty questioned about it were enthusiastic about it and expressed hope about being part of discussions going forward.

“I am unequivocally excited about the center,” said Incantauplo. “Centers like this one are crucial to intellectual life on college campuses. They play an incredible role in bringing in scholars and practitioners, training students, supporting research, and putting on events. I am excited to be affiliated with it.”

“Since the center’s decision-making processes are still evolving,” said Luders, “it is difficult to say how the relevant political science faculty will be integrated into the center’s day-to-day operations. Going forward, we simply hope to further this venture to strengthen political engagement and effective citizenship among our students. Given the current stresses on American democracy, the goal of promoting citizen competence could not be more pressing.”

As for the initial reason why political science faculty weren’t consulted, Luders offered an explanation.

“Perhaps it was an oversight,” said Luders. “Fortunately, it seems that things have changed.”


Photo Caption:  The late Sen. Lieberman, pictured here in his 2014 lecture in YU titled “Judaism and Public Service.”

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University