Citing lack of communication from administration and uncertainty for their futures, the undergraduate faculty at Yeshiva University’s Yeshiva College held a no-confidence vote Friday afternoon against YU president Richard Joel. As reported in The Jewish Week, the vote was organized by the college’s executive committee, which is the elected body for faculty governance of the undergraduate college for men.
The former head of Hillel International, Joel in 2003 was named president of YU, New York’s top Modern Orthodox university. During Joel’s tenure, YU’s endowment has been hit with a reported $600 million debt, including a loss of $100 million from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
Last year YU’s bond rating was downgraded by Moody’s “Credit Focus, which wrote, “Poor financial oversight and high expenses caused deep and growing operating deficits that will continue.”
The vote, which is a statement that does not directly influence YU policy, saw participation by 67 percent of undergraduate faculty, of which 80 percent voted “no confidence,” 3% “confidence” and 17% abstained.
In the Jewish Week report, member of the YC executive committee Professor Gillian Steinberg said the vote was driven by faculty’s uncertainty in their future.
“It’s the time of year when we put the schedule together, and we realized we were paralyzed because we didn’t know which faculty would be around. The administration won’t tell us who will get a contract renewal. Now, the rubber hits the road,” said Steinberg.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yeshiva University Dr. Henry Kressel wrote in a statement after Friday’s vote: “This is an unfortunate development, given the administration’s work and many meetings with the faculty to develop plans to enhance the quality of the educational experience at YU while saving costs.”
In June, journalist Steven I. Weiss wrote a lengthy condemnation of Joel and his high salary, as well as his administration’s outsized spending and investing of money it did not really have.
In a February 14, 2015, Voice of Israel radio interview with host Josh Hasten, Joel addressed the university’s dire financial situation.
“Higher education as a business is under stress in the United States. Across the board in the United States it has become clear that the business model of higher education is not sustainable,” said Joel.
Joel talked about the need for a new business model — he called it a “road map for sustainable excellence” — that he said YU has generated together with corporate restructuring company Alvarez & Marsal Holdings, which the university hired in December 2014.
On January 23 the faculty of Albert Einstein School of Medicine also took a vote of no-confidence in the YU board.
The Yeshiva University Board of Trustees addressed this vote in a statement Friday. “While important gains have been made, including the proposed investment by the Montefiore Health System in a joint venture concerning the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, we cannot find all of the solutions and meet our deficit reduction goal without the participation of our faculty.”
“The answer can’t be, we’ll do more fundraising,” Joel told Hasten. “That’s not a plan, that’s a prayer.”
“We’ve taken apart every nook and cranny of the university,” said Joel, but the guiding question is, “How can we be everything we can be, but question everything.”
“In three years we have to be operating in balance, and we will,” Joel told VOI radio.