Vice President for University Life Reflects on Improvements to Student Life

Sep 1, 2004 — Hillel Davis, PhD, describes his state of being more than a year into his post as vice president for university life as “a deep sense of fulfillment.” Dr. Davis feels great enthusiasm in his day-to-day efforts to help build a campus environment that’s warm, inviting, and conducive to academic and spiritual fulfillment. He sat down with YU.edu to discuss his progress and goals.

What do you find most rewarding in your job?
I relish the chance to interact with students who are bnay and bnot Torah, top-notch academically, exude an active social conscience, and represent the pulse of the Jewish community.

What stands out most in your first year?
I’m awed at the sheer volume of wonderful stories that reflect the rich quality of student life. There’s truly so much that is outstanding about our students and faculty and community. I’m amazed at the caliber of our students and how they excel in what remains a difficult dual curriculum. Even with their demanding schedules, they find time to publish newspapers, run a radio station, play sports, debate, attract guest speakers, as well as undertake community projects.

What are the major challenges ahead?
There are internal challenges-creating a campus environment that fosters a culture in which we treat each other with respect and dignity. We are trying to give students a sense of empowerment in raising issues important to them and in improving their access to senior administrative staff. We continue to make academic excellence meaningful with new faculty appointments that broaden our intellectual scope.

What are the major improvements and upgrades of equipment and technology for the upcoming academic year?
Many impressive physical improvements that will enhance campus life are underway. Both the Wilf and Beren campuses are undergoing major beautification projects. A new bistro-type cafe, with a sushi bar, will open at 215 Lexington Avenue and double as a student lounge. A new, greatly expanded Syms fitness center will open in the Max Stern Athletic Center on the Wilf Campus. We’re looking forward this fall to the dedication of the Wilf Campus.

YU’s Board of Trustees recently approved a two-year budget, which will fund sweeping changes in academic programs and services to students, including an undergraduate advisement center, a new counseling center, the enhancement of career placement services, and a Mechinah Jewish studies program, among other initiatives.

A new computer center-with 65 state-of-the-art machines-has been set up on the Beren Campus. Wireless service is being expanded on both Manhattan campuses. Regarding e-mail, we’re replacing the five-year-old system with a more sophisticated server. What’s more, we’re instituting a lifetime forwarding service so graduates continue to receive YU correspondence even after changing e-mail addresses. There’ll be new servers for academic computing labs that will enable students to log in from any location on Wilf or Beren.

Other improvements will include an entirely revamped YU Web site with greatly enhanced interactivity for faculty, staff, and students. I’m also thrilled with the videoconference distance-learning project being developed by our Max Stern Division of Communal Services through its Association of Modern Orthodox Day Schools and Yeshiva High Schools (AMODS), which will take YU’s academic and spiritual resources to more and more people.

What is the core of YU’s educational mission?
Transporting our central values of Torah and discovery. Our success in transporting these values determines our success in enriching Jewish life and advancing society. President Joel, in addressing our constituencies throughout North America, promotes a “yeshiva without walls” with distance-learning, summer Torah seminars nationwide and abroad, extension kollelim, and other community-building programs. We are, as he says, a university with a yeshiva at its heart.

We are growing programmatically, with new initiatives such as the Schneier Center for International Affairs and the Graduate Fellowship in University and Community Leadership. I think the fellowship program is an exciting initiative. Here we have outstanding graduates, representing our best and brightest, who are willing to invest a year of their lives to stay connected to YU and help improve its campus and academic programs.

For me personally, there is incredible value in seeing issues through the eyes of recent graduates and understanding the passion and perspective they bring to the fore.

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