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.
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Students also protested the cuts. In April 2012, student activists passed out packets at a campus town hall meeting with information on the school’s financial troubles, and then asked Joel about his salary, asserting that he had taken a recent raise.

“I really resent answering this question,” Joel responded, before asserting that he earned $750,000 a year, not the $1.3 million that the student quoted. Joel also said that he had not taken a pay raise in five years. (Joel’s estimation of his own salary is suspect. According to publicly available IRS filings, his total salary in 2011, not including deferred compensation, was $1 million.)

While the faculty salary freeze ended this academic year, Y.U.’s financial outlook has not improved. In 2011, Y.U.’s board wrote off as a loss nearly $50 million that it had paid out of its endowment funds to cover operating deficits.

In an October 23 meeting with students and faculty, Joel said that the school’s decision to give 2% pay increases to faculty members was necessary, but “an insane thing to do when we’re having massive financial issues.”

Faculty members are still on edge. “I know many professors who have been concentrating very hard on their publications because they know if there’s a real big cut or whatever… they will be able to boost their résumés and leave,” said Brown, the Commentator editor. “That’s scary.”


In Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald’s telling, Richard Joel’s route to the presidency of Y.U. began with an accordion rendition of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

Joel attended Y.U.’s boys high school in the 1960s, but left the school’s orbit for college, attending New York University at its campus in the Bronx. In 1971, when Joel was 21, Buchwald needed a replacement musician to play at a Y.U.-affiliated weekend retreat for non-Orthodox kids. He got Joel and his accordion.

“He didn’t know too many songs. He knew ‘Hava Nagila’ and things like that,” said Buchwald, who is now director of the National Jewish Outreach Program. “‘Cat’s in the Cradle,’ that was his big song.”

Despite his limited repertoire, Joel was a hit with the kids. “He was so charismatic and so enchanting,” Buchwald said. Before long, Joel had become a leader of the program and of a similar Y.U.-affiliated program for Orthodox kids.

“He was a very, very powerful force, and someone that many of us looked up to,” said Goldin, who worked under Joel at one of the Y.U.-affiliated programs in the ’70s.


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