Orthodox University Slashes Jobs

By Lana Gersten

Published February 11, 2009, issue of February 20, 2009.

Beset by financial losses, the flagship university of Modern Orthodoxy announced that it was laying off 60 employees, spread out across all of its undergraduate schools, in an effort to reduce its operating budget by nearly $30 million.

In an announcement sent via e-mail February 9, Yeshiva University’s president, Richard Joel, wrote that the layoffs “are part of an overall reduction in staff — through a hiring freeze, early retirement and voluntary separation packages — that totals approximately 120 positions.” The cuts were made at all staff levels.

Joel also announced that the university is planning on cutting non-personnel expenses by 23%, scaling back capital expenditures and creating a cost-savings task force.

The cuts come at a time when a number of major universities are making drastic moves to rein in expenses and cover costs. Brandeis University recently sparked an uproar when it announced plans to close its art museum and sell off its art collection as part of a larger effort, including cuts to faculty, to right the university’s finances.

Y.U.’s financial woes have been particularly public thanks to losses it incurred through investments with Bernard Madoff, a former member of the university’s board and chair of its Sy Syms School of business, who has confessed to running a Ponzi scheme estimated at $50 billion.

The university initially estimated Madoff-related losses of $110 million, though it has since stated that all but $14.5 million of those losses were profits that never existed. In total, the endowment, which funds a significant portion of the university’s annual budget, has plummeted from a high of $1.8 billion last year to $1.2 billion, according to a January estimate by Joel.

So far the cuts have been focused on administrative and support staff in an effort to shield students from the effects.

“Our greatest imperative has been to stay true to our academic mission and minimize any impact of cuts on our students’ academic and campus experience,” wrote J. Michael Gower, vice president and chief financial officer in a statement.

Y.U. had also announced on January 23 that it would freeze tuition at the undergraduate level and increase financial aid in order to “make our unique undergraduate experience affordable and accessible.”

The recent layoffs are the latest installment in a months-long effort by the university to cut costs.

Dovi Mendes, a senior at Y.U., was not surprised that the university made cuts, given the state of the economy, but he argued that the university was missing a chance to rethink its place in the Jewish world.

“This is such an opportunity to really look at where Y.U. is right now and change it up,” he said.



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