Category: Academia

Making Sense of YU’s Finances

The Chronicle of Higher Education released its financial report of universities, focusing on compensation packages for university presidents. In this data collected from tax records, The Chronicle found that no fewer than 30 presidents of private universities earned over $1m in total compensation for the 2008-9 fiscal year. In a public article the Chronicle reports that the highest salary went to the late Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander, though due to unusual circumstances:

Nearly four decades after Bernard Lander founded Touro College with a class of 35 students, the trustees decided that he had been underpaid during his tenure as president. To make up for the difference, they awarded him more than $4-million in deferred compensation in 2008.

Mr. Lander, who died in February at age 94, received a total compensation package of $4,786,830, making him the highest-earning private-college president, according to The Chronicle’s review of federal tax documents from the 2008-9 fiscal year. The review, which included 448 chief executives, found 30 private college leaders who received more than $1-million in total compensation. In the previous year’s report, 23 chief executives earned over $1-million. [Emphasis added]

Aside from Lander’s compensation numbers, the other point of interest is the financial state of Yeshiva University. According to The Chronicle’s numbers (available upon registration):

Institution2008-9 Institution revenues2008-9 Institution ExpendituresEmployee2008-9 Total compensation package
RU/VHYeshiva University$541,179,646$722,192,458Richard M. Joel



First note the “Carnegie classification” field in the table. According to The Chronicle YU’s designation is as follows:

Research Universities
Included among these institutions are those that award at least 20 doctoral degrees per year (excluding doctoral-level degrees that allow recipients to enter professional practice, such as the J.D. or M.D.). Research institutions, which are differentiated based on an explicit measure of their amount of research activity, are divided into three categories: Research universities (very high research activity); Research universities (high research activity); and Doctoral/Research universities.

The Chronicle considers YU to be a “Research University” of “Very High Research Activity.” Thus it is important to consider how YU compares to other institutions in this class, regardless of the accuracy of this designation (i.e. stop laughing).

Furthermore, in the 2008-9 fiscal year, YU ran a deficit of $181,012,812. This number may be misleading due to the Madoff scandal in that funding which was supposed to have come from now depleted endowments would have to be charged directly against revenues.

Finally in considering President Richard Joel’s $1,211,429 compensation (apologies if the number got cut off in the table), it is important to consider the entire package of benefits. In President Joel’s case this would likely include housing, driver, health insurance (non-trivial expense) and other perks which might have previously not been included in the total value.

Also consider how other universities fared during this same year:

InstitutionRevenueExpendituresTotal NetPresident’s Compensation<
Brandeis University$289,873,136$338,603,908-$48,730,772$830,643
Columbia University$3,088,224,119$3,285,962,702-$197,738,583$1,753,984
Duke University$1,634,274,136$2,294,516,114-$660,241,978$824,755
Harvard University-$2,524,933,646 [sic]1$3,991,293,191-$6,516,226,837$822,011
New York University$2,970,318,554$3,142,484,709-$172,166,155$1,366,878
Princeton University$2,396,611,800$1,325,636,000$1,070,975,800$881,151
Stanford University$2,231,172,246$3,394,846,813-$1,163,674,567$1,091,589
University of Chicago$1,680,383,914$2,032,554,291-$352,170,377$1,162,213
Yale University$2,687,725,962$2,801,521,857-$113,795,895$1,530,008

In making such comparisons, keep in mind the following

  1. Compensation packages are usually contractually defined in advance and not a percentage of a university’s profits.
  2. Responsibilities of the position will vary based on institution, compensation may vary accordingly.
  3. The resources of each university also vary greatly, some presidents have more to work with than others.

1. I don’t know why they listed Harvard as having negative revenues, but I’m just copying/pasting what I found.

A Farewell To Dean Hyman

YU’s Commentator reports that Revel dean Dr. Arthur Hyman will be stepping down from his administrative post, but will continue teaching courses in Jewish Philosophy. To some students, Dean Hyman gave the impression of a grandfatherly adviser, one of Yeshiva University’s many eccentric characters. This perception and the Commentator’s relatively light coverage1 neglect Dean Hyman’s contributions and tireless efforts to improve Revel’s academic reputation.

Religious Responsibilities and Academic Freedom

Brandishing the slogan of “Torah U’Madda,” Yeshiva University promotes some form of synthesis between Jewish religious and secular culture. While the term Torah U’Madda is generic, in the context of YU it generally refers to its dual curriculum, combining the religious and secular subject matters in one university as opposed to having them be necessarily in conflict. But beyond the distinction of Torah U’Madda in subject matters, I noticed this past week two instances of Torah U’Madda in the nature of discourse itself.

Yeshiva University’s Social Rankings

It seems like ages ago, but we once discussed college rankings, and how YU fared much more poorly by standards other than those used by US News.
On that note, Washington Monthly has a new ranking system aimed at determining the educational value of the universities, a metric which is unfortunately overlooked in choosing a college and nearly impossible to define based on most ranking systems.

But what’s missing from all the rankings is the equivalent of a bottom line. There are no widely available measures of how much learning occurs inside the classroom, or of how much students benefit from their education. This makes the process of selecting a college a bit like throwing darts at a stock table. It also means that colleges and universities, like our imaginary mutual-fund managers, feel little pressure to ensure that students learn. As anyone who’s ever snoozed through a giant freshman psychology 101 lecture knows, sitting in a classroom doesn’t equal learning; knowledge doesn’t come by osmosis.

Although there are tests out there to help guage students’ collegiate academic progress (CLA, NSSE), most universities apparently keep their results to themselves. So, WM devised their own system which focuses on the university’s social impact.

And so, to put The Washington Monthly College Rankings together, we started with a different assumption about what constitutes the “best” schools. We asked ourselves: What are reasonable indicators of how much a school is benefiting the country? We came up with three: how well it performs as an engine of social mobility (ideally helping the poor to get rich rather than the very rich to get very, very rich), how well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research, and how well it promotes an ethic of service to country. We then devised a way to measure and quantify these criteria.

How does YU measure up? Despite ranking 45 in US News’ survey, YU weighs in at an embarrassing 200 of 245 schools.
In fairness, WM’s methodology took military and peace corps service into consideration, neither of which are areas which are conducive to perpetuating an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. Furthermore, many YU students do in fact enter communal service, bet it as teachers, social workers, psychologists, and the occasional Rabbi. However since these professions serve a relatively small and exclusive community, these contributions would likely be overlooked.
Still, it might be nice for Yeshiva University to look beyond the 4 cubits of the Jewish world. Although there have been notable exceptions, most students I’ve known are either not interested or ideologically opposed to contributing to the non-Jewish world. We’ve covered some of the drawbacks of taking federal funding, and it might be a nice idea to contribute something to the society at large. Not only would probably help in kiddush hashem and tikkun olam departments, but it may also have other significant religious benefits.

R. Aharon Lichtenstein On Talmud Criticism

SIW links to a post and comment at Hirhurim on R. Herschel Schachter’s take on Talmud criticism.

Since my M.A. is in Talmud from Revel and I studied mehqar under the tutelage of Dr. Yaakov Elman, you could imagine where I stand on the issue.1 But when I was in Gruss, I had the opportunity at one of the open “press conferences” to ask R. Aharon Lichtenstein what he felt about academic Talmud study. I expected R. Aharon to have an interesting take considering that one of his sons is heavily involved in mehqar and that academic Talmud is directly at odds with the brisker derech2

Now the thing about these press conferences is that people tend to ask horrible questions. Either they’re intentionally vague or they’re trying to bait R. Aharon into saying something which agrees with them. For example, a common question is “what does the Rosh Yeshiva think about X.” Since R. Aharon answers the question precisely as asked, he will tend to expound philosophically, wax poetic, and generally lose his audience by going well over their heads.

So instead of asking the open ended “what do you think about Talmud criticism?” I asked “What do you like/approve or dislike/disapprove about academic Talmud?” Unfortunately I no longer have the transcript of his response. However I can report that in a nutshell he approved of the methodology i.e. the use of manuscripts and stylistic analysis of the Talmudic texts, but disapproved of the attitude of treating the Talmud as an “academic” subject. Meaning, the tools employed are fine, but Talmud study is not the same and should not be treated like English literature.

In terms of the practical consequences of academic Talmud, I remember him citing Whitehead in distinguishing between “Facts” and “Truth.” I did not have the opportunity to follow up with a discussion as to what that meant, but I don’t think I would have agreed with the answer.

1. An irrelevant but cute line by R. Dov Linzer on Talmud criticism: “What are they going to do, tell me it had multiple authors?”
2. Or as one professor explained, “Brisk works if you accept its premises and ignore all contradictory data.”

News From YU

A bunch of fun stories from this edition from my old stomping grounds in this edition of YU’s Commentator. Some may be old news to you insiders, but those of us out of the loop take what we can get.

  • The university offers its response to charges of discrimination. Apparently this case was thrown out once before.
  • There really is someone new heading YCDS meaning of course, Dr. Anthony Beukas has actually retired.
  • And speaking of retiring, so has Dr. Haym Soloveitchik. This is a major announcement with ramifications affecting YU’s entire Judaic Studies department in terms of philosophy, faculty, and future students.

Chag Hasemikha Wrap-Up

To answer the question that’s been on everyone’s mind, I did not get hammered at Sunday’s Chag Hasemikha (although I probably could have were I keeping score). For the most part, everything went off as expected between the camaraderie, mixed emotions, and a really long ceremony.

For more of a play-by-play of the Chag Hasemikha, see Avraham’s comprehensive write-up of the details. Sadly, I wasn’t taking notes during the day so my recollections will be a bit fuzzier and stream-of-consciousnessy, but you’re free to check out the upcoming re-webcast.

The preliminary meet and greet turned into several mini-reunions from different chevras of shiur, Revel, Gruss, or the denizens of the 5th floor. Not surprisingly, the snark was fast and furious. The best line of the day goes to Rabbi Ben Skydel’s heter allowing the black-hatters to remove their haberdashery for the group photo on the grounds of sha’at ha-shemad. Nicely done.

But while there are many more humorously snide comments I could add – I even got in a whole slew of – IY’H By You’s – I believe I’ve already fulfilled my quota for sarcasm. Also to be truthful, the Chag Hasemikha is indeed a significant event, and perhaps the closest YU comes to having its own “State of the Yeshiva.” I don’t have the time now to get into the details, so I just share some personal reflections.

As expected, the speeches and presentations covered all the themes you’d expect from a YU Chag Hasemihka: the contributions of YU, the legacy of R. Soloveitchik, and of course the importance and challenges of being a Rabbi. R. Charlop’s honor was well deserved, and I’m still bewildered at the Marcos Katz receiving the “Etz Chaim” award. Yes he deserves recognition for his generosity and support, but the name of the award is ironic to say the least.

R. Lamm probably got too much flack for rambling (which in fairness, he did), but his message was probably the most important for future Rabbis. Short version: when things go badly, suck it up and move on because you’re really working for God. Granted he was more eloquent, but the point is well taken. Too many rabbis get caught up in the personal egotistical aspects of their job that they forget their mission and as such are more likely to get disheartened by setbacks.

On the other hand, there are several Rabbis out in the field doing excellent work – and YU showed a video to this effect, featuring Rabbis in the pulpit, education, chaplaincy, and outreach. I knew two of the featured Rabbis personally – one from Gush and one from R. Ben-Haim’s shiur – and both of whom are excellent people and well suited to their current positions.

On a personal level, the speeches, presentations, and socializations, all reminded me of how almost-but-not-quite fit in the YU model. By now it should be obvious to recurring readers that my hashkafa isn’t typical YU. Nor should it be surprising that my style is drastically different than most other Rabbis. But what I’ve been more aware of recently are the professional differences between myself and my colleagues. Many pursued careers in the Rabbinate, education, or academics with varying degrees of success. And as noted repeatedly during the ceremony, most of the musmakhim got married at some point and quite a few have already started having families.

Like most people at reunions, I started thinking about how things in my life have turned out in the three years since I finished semikha. And like my time spent in YU, I was once again made perfectly aware of how I’m hardly a typical model of, well, anything.

Not that this necessarily a bad thing, but the constant reinforcement of “outsider” status can be grating eventually. Case in point: Richard Joel said that it is impossible to get through semikha without the support of our spouses, which made me question if in fact I did somehow manage or if my mystery spouse was working behind the scenes in some way doctoring my Contemporary Halakha exams.

The thing is that even during my RIETS tenure I didn’t exactly follow the crowd either. R. Katz’s (AH’S) shiur wasn’t a popular choice, and despite the random acts of shehita, neither was R. Ben-Haim’s. I was one of three or four Talmud majors in Revel, though now it’s apparently “cool” again. Outside of YU, I participated in Meorot and Clal and held a computer job on the side. Maybe I shared individual experiences with a few people, but as you could expect, there was very little overlap between the different experiences.

As someone told my father during one of the receptions, my reputation is that I follow my own beat, but I’m serious. An accurate description, but I also must say that the Chag also reminded me that there are a few other intruments who do join in periodically. All those people from the different chevras went their own ways as well, and it just so happened that our paths converged every so often. I’ve often noted that althought YU will never admit it, it is the most religiously diverse and I daresay pluralistic Jewish institution such that it was possible for such various chevras to even exist.

In bringing back everyone under one roof, the Chag reminded me of the opportunities which are out there, as well as what is actually possible to accomplish. I’d say that’s four hours well spent.

The Rising Costs Of Integrity

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.

Critique of Pure Boredom

From The Globe And Mail:

    This year, Germans celebrated the 200th anniversary of the death of Immanuel Kant, reports Philosophy Now magazine. “Kant has traditionally been portrayed as a dutiful ascetic moralist — in other words, as rather a bore — but according to the three new biographies, the great metaphysician was not such a square after all. He enjoyed drinking wine, playing billiards and wearing fine, colourful clothes. On occasion, Kant drank so much red wine that he was unable to find his way home, the books claim.”

What amazes me is not that Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable, but I still can’t believe that a magazine called “Philosophy Now” actually exists.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen a copy of it.