YU posts on their website the text of Richard Joel’s inaugural address. It seems like a great speach – eloquent and more important, grounded in reality. This is where I find he differs from his predecesor. R. Lamm’s speaches and visions were abstract. While we would talk about the “ideas” of Torah U’Madda, he lost sight of what was actually happening in his own university. Joel appears to be more pragmatic. Not only does his have a vision, but his vision relates to what YU actually is at this point. Whereas R. Lamm rarely spoke to the students, Joel’s own children are recent students in the YU system.
I admire Joel’s commitment to excellence. YU certainly has the capacity to be at the forefront of numerous fields. There is no reason why Azrieli shouldn’t produce the leaders of Jewish education. Revel, with it’s impressive faculty should produce top-notch Jewish academics (and in fairness, they are improving). The major problem facing Joel is that he must change the culture of mediocrity prevelant throughout YU. Far too many people just want to “go through” YU without letting YU go through them. For most students, the plan is to get out as quickly as possible while doing the minimal amount of work. To establish a culture of excellence at YU, Joel must either change the attitude (not likely), or he must develop a critical mass of students with which he can gradually reshape the institution.
I don’t know if Joel has specific plans for how to change the culture of YU. If he does, he wisely didn’t annouce them. Part of the culture at YU is the automatic resistance to any forms of change. If anyone wants to make an imporvement, someone will resist. Thus, any attempts at progress will almost always be undermined. (Sort of like Newton’s third law of motion). Right now, I’m optomistic that Joel has a good sense of what needs to be done at YU. I can only hope he will be successful.