After the event on Modern Orthodox education sponsored by YU in Israel, I was able to interview President Joel. The interview appeared in the Jerusalem Post’s “In Jerusalem” supplement on February 2, 2016 and is reprinted with permission.
After the panel, In Jerusalem spoke with president Richard Joel about issues affecting Yeshiva University.
You are retiring as YU president at the end of the year. What is your legacy?
I have six terrific kids and eight grandchildren. For all the reasons discussed in the panel, YU is a singular place. If we want our children to be armed, not to defend themselves but to advance Western civilization based on Torah values, YU is essential and critical.
We have more students than we’ve ever had in our history, and the quality of education is higher than it’s ever been. The student success rate, both professionally and in the job market, is unbelievable.
Economically, we are very challenged, like every private university in the US is. But I feel we are giving both men and women a sense of wholeness with which they can meet the future.
Has YU considered selling its expensive real estate?
[Background: YU has seen its investments shrink by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2007 and operates at a large deficit, leading to the sale of its Albert Einstein College of Medicine to Montefiore Hospital.]
We’ve considered moving, and are continuing to consider everything.
We have a certain degree of mission costs. First, we offer two colleges, one for men and one for women, at different locations, because we believe in separate-sex education and we believe in Yeshiva University [i.e., “yeshiva” being a place for men only]. To do that we require a certain degree of separateness, although 85 percent of our extracurricular activities are co-ed.
We struggle with balance, we can’t say this side is right or that side. My legacy is to try to imbue in young people a sense of mekadesh hahol, of ethical wholeness, of responsibility to the world, the primacy of the Torah and our responsibility to engage with the world. I think that’s happening now more than ever. It’s going to continue.
We’re not going to sell Stern College.
Our second mission cost is that we offer a full dual curriculum of secular and Jewish studies at a high level.
What should be the Jewish response to charges of cover-up of abuse in institutions, including Yeshiva University?
[Background: YU hired the firm of Sullivan and Cromwell to investigate claims of abuse of students by two employees. The firm published only a summary report in August 2013, citing concerns about the impending lawsuit, and Joel expressed remorse.
In January 2014, a federal judge dismissed the suit against the university, brought by 34 plaintiffs, because New York’s statute of limitations had run out. YU has been criticized by abuse advocates for not releasing the full report.]
Aren’t we tired of that question? When you look at Yeshiva University, you will not find another institution more protective both of its children, louder in its working with day schools around the country, in terms of helping them with plans. There was never a finding of a cover-up.
There was absolutely a finding without a finding. There was behavior taking place in our high schools in the ’70s and ’80s that was wildly inappropriate, for which as soon as I heard about it, I profoundly apologized. Until today, we invite anybody who feels they are damaged to take advantage of any kind of counseling we can do, but the most important thing we can do is to make sure our institutions represent the gold standard.
It doesn’t mean that something bad can’t happen; something can always happen. But in terms of training our faculty and staff, in terms of illuminating our students, in terms of having all kinds of ways for students to come forward, in terms of our perceived responsibilities to other schools and institutions, I think we show the way, in terms of speaking out on issues. I think we not only not have to be defensive, we have to be proud of what we’re doing. And part of the problem in our world today is that “man bites dog” is much more important than “dog bites man.” So I believe, first of all, that this is an old story; but if we make it an old story, we will stop being vigilant and we always have to be vigilant.
Every lawsuit that has been brought has been dismissed. I am not an apologist. I spent a lot of time chairing a panel to address abuse at another institution.
[While serving as Hillel president, Joel chaired the Orthodox Union’s commission on NCSY’s Baruch Lanner in the late ’80s, investigating allegations of child sexual abuse.] I am a professor of legal ethics, and we are in a school that is proudly careful; our statistics at Yeshiva will match up with any other place.
I think [there are really bad things] that have to be apologized for; but more important, what we do now is nonpareil in this area.
But I think there are many new things that have happened at Yeshiva University now that should define us.
See my review of the panel here: Cholent, YouTube, and Girls Crossing the Line.