Aug 5, 2004 — I write to you from a ship in the Caribbean. Esther and I find it a wonderful luxury that allows us to reflect and savor the recent past, and be refreshed and inspired to look to tomorrow. Here, I am able to see, with clearer vision, the year that has passed and to share it with you.
As I begin my second year of stewardship of Yeshiva University, I am thankful to so many in the community who have offered encouragement in this great adventure. It has been a year of discovery and learning, of growth and re-acquaintance. From this vantage point, our communities’ needs are great, as are the opportunities for this enterprise to boldly address those needs.
This is a special place and a special time. We truly are America’s Jewish University in service to humanity; a university with a Yeshiva at its heart. As such, it must be an educational and an inspirational endeavor, a great community that must bond our timeless values and the pursuit of knowledge. Always remember that, long before the advent of this administration, there was much greatness here. But, my charge has been to build, not to manage, and to set goals to make Yeshiva an idea that ennobles this community and enables it to impact on civilization. Values matter, and we must teach and model values in all our constituent schools. At our core, we must bring alive the ideal of Torah Umadda, and inspire our undergraduates to embark on a great adventure of a committed life.
I am more than ever dedicated to a vision and an implementation plan that places emphasis on nobility, excellence, Israel and community, and believe we will demonstrate that commitment in stronger ways. A perusal of our ever-improving website, will pinpoint areas of growth and vitality.
Our enrollment numbers are strong, as is the increasing quality of our entering classes, undergraduate and graduate. We have begun the process of exploring how to increase our market share of undergraduates. The climate of warmth, a service-orientation and an insistence on academic rigor is increasing, and our strategic planning process will result in a strong and focused agenda. My exposure to many different communities has reinforced in me a sense that we must take greater responsibility for Jewish education, and for creating a stronger network of alumni communities that are more closely bound to Yeshiva, and better serviced by Yeshiva. I refer you to the following web-links that will reflect some of our highlights to date:
Many lessons large and small have emerged. One of these stands out emphatically, and this being an Olympic summer in Greece, allow me to paraphrase what Pericles told the Athenian people: We do not imitate for we are the model, and moreover, a model unto others. And being a model makes our journey and its challenges more demanding and more dependent upon ensuring transparency, respect, and dignity in how we achieve what we achieve and ultimately on all of us as working together for the good of the whole.
I am thrilled to be part of this University family. Esther and I have had more than 500 faculty and administration members to our home for buffet dinners and dessert receptions during this academic year. It has been wonderful to meet personally many of you who make us what we are. It has also been wonderful to witness the coming together of the university family at these events.
The students are the lifeblood and inspiration of our institution, and they are the reason we are here. During the course of the year I have had the opportunity to meet students from Einstein, Cardozo, Wurzweiler, Ferkauf, Revel, Azrieli, RIETS, our high schools, the Gruss Kollel, the Abraham Israel Program, undergraduates on the Wilf and Beren campuses and in Israel, and at student Shabbatons at our home—and all of these encounters have reaffirmed time and again that we have some of the best and brightest in our midst.
A university wide strategic planning process is well underway. With our boards, my cabinet, the deans, faculty and senior staff, we’ve been working to build a plan that puts into action programs and initiatives that enhance themes first broached at my investiture last September. While the $100 million NY State Dormitory Authority bond issue which was approved on May 26 will be used largely for the construction of the new Harold and Muriel Block Research Pavilion that will house the Michael F. Price Center for Genetic and Translational Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on the Resnick campus, a modest amount will remain for new university capital projects.
We will determine priorities and set goals for these projects and ongoing initiatives. We have also put into place this year a two-year budget cycle, to give us operational stability as we move the institution forward together.
The embodiment of my Investiture themes was displayed nowhere more apparently than at commencement exercises for our undergraduate and graduate schools where more than 2,000 students received degrees. It was my first commencement as YU president, and I felt a sense of great pride and confidence in our future. I was honored to join a distinguished group of speakers and confer honorary degrees upon Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at Cardozo, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Professor Ruth Wisse of Harvard, our own Professor Maurice Wohlgelernter. Though we spoke from different perspectives, we embraced a common theme of active engagement, so reflective of our YU mission of training young people for professions and lives that both change and enrich society.
RIETS is a jewel in our crown. The learning that takes place there, the assemblage of Torah scholars that fill our faculty and the brilliant students who learn and live Torah are the greatest investment in our future.
For Yeshiva University, while we look toward the coming commemorations of Yeshiva College at 75 years, Stern College at 50 years, and Albert Einstein at 50 years this academic year, we must also look toward shaping our future. Our actions this year and in the coming academic year underscore my pledge to ensure that our undergraduate colleges are schools of choice, and establish synergy with our graduate schools so students at all levels feel connected.
Finally, I have come to appreciate even more the quality of our faculty and their extraordinary commitment. Our commitment to them and to faculty growth will be the linchpin of Yeshiva’s next chapter. Excellence demands faculty dedicated to helping students fulfill their potential and expand their horizons. To strengthen the superb ranks of our existent faculty, major steps have been taken for the past three and a half years, by Mort Lowengrub, vice president for academic affairs and the deans of our colleges and schools. This coming year alone, fifteen full time undergraduate faculty have joined the university, as well as appointments at the Azrieli and Ferkauf Graduate Schools. A listing of dozens of new faculty from the past few years can be found on our web site at http://www.yu.edu/Faculty1.pdf
Among the many accomplished faculty newly arrived at YU is Dr. David Pelcovitz, a national academic and clinical authority on child and adolescent development, post-traumatic stress disorder, and children at risk, who joins the faculty of Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration as professor and as special assistant to the president.
Our commitment to the quality of campus life and to creating a 21st century learning environment is embodied in the impressive physical improvements in and around our campuses. In October we will celebrate the groundbreaking for the Harold and Muriel Block Pavilion and the Michael F. Price Center on the Resnick campus, and in November the dedication of the Wilf campus. In October we also celebrate the opening of the Stern College 50th anniversary exhibition at the Yeshiva University Museum.
We look to our friends not just as benefactors but also as men and women interested in, and committed to students’ needs. The revival of the President’s Circle is a case in point, alumni dedicated to providing necessary funds for student initiativesthe Torah Leadership Training Program for YC and SCW students, the Dean of Students Chesed Fund, MacsLive (the YC varsity basketball team Web site), and the university’s student-run radio station WYUR.
Further establishing a reputation for attracting the best and the brightest young scholars, the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College and the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College continued to provide students with unparalleled opportunities: research internships with Einstein scientists, personalized tutelage at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Maine’s Darling Marine Biology Center, along with curriculum based trips to places as varied as Guatemala, London, Dublin, and Israel expand our students’ worlds.
My newly established Graduate Fellowship Program highlights a reinvestment in our students, giving a core of 11 recently graduated students meaningful and relevant work opportunities at the university, and gaining their valuable insight as new graduates, before they venture into their careers.
With achievement and success come opportunity and obligation to become a more potent and meaningful force among our constituent populations, locally, nationally, and internationally, with initiatives — distance-learning, and the summer Torah seminars, and kollelim where more than 200 RIETS and undergraduate students are spending this summer bringing YU’s intellectual resources and capabilities to many more Jewish communities throughout the US, Canada and the world, creating a “yeshiva-without-walls.”
John Stuart Mill, who said that “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that,” could have been looking over my shoulder this past year, as I have made a concerted effort to visit and listen to our varied constituencies throughout the nation. I have spent time hearing and discussing what these important audiences want us to be and what we can be in Israel, Houston, Palm Beach, Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Providence, Pittsburgh, and of course in the many communities (Great Neck, Manhattan, Woodmere, Teaneck, Riverdale) around the metropolitan New York area.
Back on board this ship, I take great joy in being surrounded by the vastness of the ocean, testament to G-d’s infinite power and majesty. Esther and I have spent several days relaxing, refreshing and reflecting. The journey is long and overwhelming, but the gifts we’re given are great, and our potential is as boundless as the seas. I hope your summer carries similar joy and inspiration.
Richard M. Joel