It seems that Yeshiva University is in yet another scandal over it’s policies and treatment of homosexual students. According to the NY Post, AECOM student Jeevan Padiyar, a homosexual student, was harassed over the passed three years and eventually dismissed from the school. Padiyar alleges that his treatment was purely based on his sexual orientation. While such allegations are normally difficult to prove, Padiyar has produced a particularly incriminating memo (pdf) allegedly sent by Dr. James David, the Associate Dean for Students.
This of course is only the most recent instance in YU’s long history of questionable dealings with homosexual students. However, the previous cases dealt mostly with treating homosexual couples as married, a legal status which is still being debated. This accusation is by far the most direct challenge to YU’s general attitude and the evidence most explicit (uncharacteristically so for YU).
From the institutional side, these scandals are directly related to YU’s decision long ago to become a secular institution. Despite having a name like “Yeshiva” would imply “religious,” but officially, as YU frequently asserts that it is not a “Jewish” institution, but rather “under Orthodox auspices.”1
I find two possible reasons for YU assuming this label. First could be the practical effects of secularization such that to be accepted in the secular world and compete academically with other institutions, YU would have to shed some degree of its religious baggage.
The other and most obvious reason for YU’s dubious classification is simple economics. Were YU to designate itself as a religious institution, it would be ineligible for federal funds. I have no idea how much money is at stake. Presumably, at the time the decision was made, YU’s financial situation was tenuous enough such that it needed the government money in order to survive. However, as of 2004 YU’s endowment is just over $1.1 Billion. Though I am unfamiliar with the economics of universities, I’m assuming YU is in fairly decent financial shape.
Ideologically, the costs of YU’s institutional designation are much higher and gradually rising. Since YU cannot discriminate against protected groups, it must adapt even when such groups contradict it’s religious convictions. Twenty years ago, homosexuality was popularly considered deviant behavior, but today society is significantly more tolerant. Twenty years from now, who knows what else will be acceptable by society’s standards, but YU will be forced to adjust.
Even if for the sake of argument we assume that Mr. Padiyar fabricated the entire story and the memo, this is still a headache YU could do without, but one which it has brought upon itself. Religiously, YU is entitled to have its own opinion of homosexuals – Jewish or otherwise – but if it wishes to conduct itself primarily by religious rules, it cannot pretend to be a secular institution. At some point, YU must choose to either rescind its decision and become a fully religious institution or it can continue as is, provided it finally accepts and deals with its own compromises lest it forget another Jewish value – mid’var sheker tirchak (Ex. 23:7).
1. The rabbinical school RIETS is obviously religious and as such is not officially designated as part of Yeshiva University, but rather an “affiliate.”