Six Distinguished Faculty from Across University Granted Tenure
Yeshiva University recently awarded tenure to six faculty members in positions across the University’s undergraduate and graduate schools.
The newly-tenured professors include Dr. Ariel Malka, associate professor of psychology at Yeshiva College; Dr. Greta Doctoroff, associate professor of psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology; Dr. Felix Wu and Dr. Christopher Buccafusco, professors of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; and Dr. John Greally, professor of genetics, and Dr. Dongsheng Cai, professor of molecular pharmacology, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
“The Board of Trustees, on the recommendation of the provost and president, awarded tenure to six extraordinary faculty members who excel in the classroom, meaningfully contribute to their academic disciplines, and serve their departments, schools and colleges with grace,” said Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president of academic affairs at YU. “They bring stature and distinction to YU and act as important role models for our students. We congratulate our colleagues and welcome them into the ranks of the tenured professoriate at Yeshiva University.”
Dr. Ariel Malka’s research combines the disciplines of psychology and political science as it analyzes the way different populations think about politics and the reasons behind their political preferences. “The goal of a lot of my work is to gain a better understanding of how ordinary people relate to their political worlds and what that might mean for things like social stability and conflict, tolerance, the distribution of resources, and quality of democratic representation,” said Malka. “What excites me about this is the challenge of trying to contribute to a realistic evidence-based understanding of how political thinking and preferences work among ordinary people, and how opinions are influenced by, and can in turn influence, societal context.”
To that end, Malka’s work has included studies on everything from the relationship between religiosity and political attitudes to studies of how people’s personalities relate to their political attitudes across different kinds of countries and how the wording and order of questions in surveys impacts participants’ responses. Among his current projects is a large-scale cross-national study of how and why political attitudes tend to be structured in certain ways across different societies. “One key finding here is that when one looks at a wide range of countries that vary in development, cultural characteristics and so on, social conservatives are often more likely to lean left economically than to lean right economically,” said Malka. “This runs against the conventional wisdom in social psychological studies of ideology.”
At Yeshiva College, Malka has found that his students are as eager to scrutinize methodological details and underlying assumptions in research studies as he is. “They like to think carefully about how best to interpret specific findings produced with specific methods and to critically evaluate the conclusions that others have drawn from these findings,” he said. “I love to do this also, so this makes the teaching experience a very rewarding one for me.”
Like Malka, Dr. Greta Doctoroff’s area of expertise at Ferkauf is multidisciplinary, intersecting with clinical, developmental and educational psychology. Her research focuses on the development and prevention of conduct problems and school failure in young children, particularly those growing up in poverty. The long-term goal of Doctoroff’s research program is to identify key mechanisms in the development of children’s social-emotional and early academic competence, and to apply this knowledge to the development and evaluation of cost-effective, feasible prevention programs in home and preschool settings.
Doctoroff’s current research includes investigation of ways to promote preschool children’s early interest in mathematics to foster positive cycles of skill development and interest. In addition, she is collaborating with Head Start centers to improve assessment practices and to promote engagement in parenting programs. She also has projects focused on improving teacher training to benefit children’s mental health.
Recently, Doctoroff has initiated a project with a Bronx Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to investigate parent experiences bonding with their babies and communicating with the medical team to enhance family-centered care. “As a parent myself of a premature baby, I sympathize with the journey of parents who have medically fragile infants and have enjoyed having the opportunity to use my expertise as a psychologist to work with a dedicated team to improve care for NICU families,” said Doctoroff.
“It has been rewarding to see my graduate students become compassionate, knowledgeable psychologists caring for children and families,” she added. “I am always grateful when former students get in touch to share how their training helped them achieve their career goals.”
At Cardozo, Dr. Felix Wu’s research focuses on information law, which includes diverse topics ranging from privacy to freedom of speech, as well as intellectual property and Internet law. His work is informed by his doctoral work in computer science, which has allowed him to delve into problems such as the role of de-identification of data in privacy laws—laws often written in such a way that “personally identifiable information” is subject to much greater protection than information not characterized that way, leading to fierce debate within the legal and public policy communities.
“What developed was a debate between those that asserted that effective de-identification is essentially impossible and those that asserted that it is quite straightforward,” said Wu. “By examining the computer science literature more closely, I was able to show how some of the claims made on each side are the result of misunderstanding the computer science, but that more fundamentally, the competing claims really reflect competing visions of what it is that privacy laws are supposed to protect against. That question, about whether a broader or narrower vision of privacy is the right one, is a question of social values, not a technical question whose answer can be found in the computer science literature.”
More recently, Wu’s research has taken a closer look at the effectiveness of algorithms, which are increasingly used in today’s world to predict everything from creditworthiness or the appropriateness of hiring a particular employee to whether an individual may be committing a crime and should be searched or stopped.
“Algorithms might work too well, perhaps accurately but unjustly reflecting real social disparities, or they might not work well enough, committing too many errors,” said Wu. “My project focuses on the ways in which algorithms might not work well enough, looking at how better algorithms might help to ameliorate some of these problems, but also examining how improving algorithms might come at the expense of other social values.”
“One of the things I most treasure about Cardozo is my colleagues,” he added. “I think their combination of intellect, collegiality and concern for students and the institution is unparalleled. I am very proud to be part of that community, and hope to do my part in continuing to build on all of its strengths.”
One such colleague is Dr. Christopher Buccafusco, who was also granted tenure this year. Buccafusco’s expertise is in intellectual property—he uses social scientific methods to empirically study how laws affect creativity and innovation—and the intersection of happiness and the law, which is the subject of his recent book, Happiness and Law (University of Chicago Press). “The book considers research on what makes people happy and how they make decisions about their lives,” said Buccafusco. “It then considers the implications of this research for administrative, criminal and civil laws.”
He is working on several new projects, including an experimental study of sequential innovation, which examines how creators decide to borrow ideas from others or come up with their own ideas, and a study that measures whether parody versions of copyrighted or trademarked works affect the value of the underlying works. Buccafusco is also developing a new theory of who and what qualifies as an “author” or “writing” for the purposes of copyright law. “Most of the law is built on a series of assumptions about how people behave; until recently, it never occurred to scholars to test whether these assumptions are, in fact, true,” he said. “My studies put them to the test and often find them wanting. It’s really exciting to see a set of data for the first time showing that a long-held legal belief may be completely wrong.”
Buccafusco particularly looks forward to working with students interested in the fields of copyright and trademark law. “New York City is one of the world’s primary locations for these fields, and Cardozo attracts hundreds of brilliant students who want to make these subjects their career,” he said.
At Einstein, Dr. John Greally’s tenure recognizes his role as a pioneer in the field of epigenetics—the study of changes in gene expression that don’t result from changes in the DNA but can be passed from one generation to the next. (Scientists are discovering that epigenetic changes play a crucial role in cancer and other diseases as well as in human development.) Greally began his career as a pediatrician with a subspecialty in clinical genetics. He cared for children with genetic syndromes, birth defects and developmental problems. Today he focuses on understanding how glitches in the way genes are switched on and off may cause these and other genetic conditions.
His investigations include the epigenetic regulation of stem cells, as well as epigenetic abnormalities in diseases such as cancers associated with viral infections, infectious diseases and stresses to the fetus in the womb. He and his colleagues also study environmental influences on the epigenome. In 2014, the Greally laboratory found that such influences may play a role in the development of autism, and identified the epigenetic changes that may be implicated.
Tenure was also granted to Dr. Dongsheng Cai, a leader in the study of the neural mechanisms of aging and metabolic syndrome. Cai studies the role of the central nervous system in the development of obesity, diabetes, age-related illnesses, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disease. His laboratory seeks to understand the underlying molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms that cause these conditions. A central goal of these investigations is to develop safe and effective therapies and prevention protocols.
In 2013, Cai and his team reported, for the first time, that the hypothalamus—the brain region that controls growth, reproduction and metabolism—also regulates aging throughout the body. This finding may lead to new strategies for increasing longevity. The Cai laboratory also found that the hypothalamus, which controls body temperature, hunger and thirst, can play a critical role in determining whether an individual will develop diabetes. Together, these two discoveries point to novel approaches to controlling obesity and, possibly, combating diseases of old age.
“Einstein is gaining a national reputation for excellence in epigenomics research, due in large part to John’s exceptional leadership of the College of Medicine’s active and productive research program, and the breadth and depth of Dongsheng’s research portfolio has resulted in meaningful advances in our understanding of the basic cellular processes of aging, age-related diseases and diabetes,” said Dr. Allen Spiegel, Einstein’s Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean. “Their creative approach and collaborative spirits have made invaluable contributions in these key areas of research.”