Richard Joel’s Term at Y.U. Is a Study in Promise and Turmoil

Financial and Cultural Problems Grow in Decade

Power Player: Richard Joel has been president of Yeshiva University for a decade. What is the vercict on his tenure?
yeshiva u.
Power Player: Richard Joel has been president of Yeshiva University for a decade. What is the vercict on his tenure?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published November 04, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 6)

The health of Y.U. isn’t just an academic matter. Unlike Brandeis University and the liberal Jewish rabbinical seminaries, Y.U. exists at the center of Modern Orthodox life. Scores of Modern Orthodox rabbis have side jobs teaching there; Modern Orthodox day schools send entire graduating classes there, and whole neighborhoods in New Jersey are colonized by Y.U. alumni. Without Y.U., the Modern Orthodox ecosystem is imperiled.

Joel would not speak for this story. A spokesman for Y.U. did not respond to a list of questions submitted by the Forward.

In public, however, Joel doesn’t shy away from his problems. Onstage at a Y.U. auditorium in October, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach teasingly beseeched Joel not to raise tuition for his nine kids. “It’s our only hope!” Joel replied.

Yeshiva University faculty members are worried about their pocketbooks. In 2009, Y.U. froze all salaries. Three years later, the school cut its contributions to faculty retirement accounts from matching 7% of employee contributions to matching 2%.

This spring, 70% of faculty members polled in a survey administered by Y.U.’s Office of Institutional Research said that they will not have enough money to retire until they are past 70.

“They were treated shabbily by the institution,” said Paris R. Baldacci, a professor at Y.U.’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a member of the faculty council, of the undergraduate faculty. (Some graduate programs within the university were able to mitigate the salary cuts for their own faculty.) “It was just devastating to their morale.”

The cuts came after a terrible 2008 for Y.U.’s finances. Bernard Madoff was chairman of the board of Y.U.’s business school that year, and J. Ezra Merkin, who ran a Madoff feeder fund, was on Y.U.’s investment committee. Y.U. had $105 million invested with Madoff through Merkin, a conflict of interest that drew much criticism after the fact.

Though the Madoff losses were tremendous, they were only a fraction of the amount the school lost in the economic crisis that year. Y.U. reported $439 million less in net assets in June 2009 than it did in June 2008 — a 17% drop.

Faculty salary cuts were part of the response. That made recruitment difficult for the law school. “There was a really tremendous concern at the school about how we could present ourselves as a stable and growing professional school when we’re getting all of this cutback,” Baldacci said.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.