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The aforementioned reflection is inherently more of a mirror, it forces us to view ourselves, evaluate our values, and act accordingly. In that sense not only does the space represent values, but it also creates values. Visitors, trustees, prospective students and prospective faculty, those on the peripheral of the learning in the community, notice these visible structures and signets of value immediately. And their glances carry weighty judgments that influence the university in tangible ways: from choosing to go to another college, or not giving that huge donation.
This important issue of aesthetics usually does take lesser priority at Yeshiva University. In some sense, this is an admirable decision by the administration. The focus of a university should be the learning, and in the spirit of, say, the University of Chicago, excessive and decadent physical features detracts from the value of the education. Still, though, even if YU was as focused on scholarship as the University of Chicago, that attitude ignores the bleed between the learning and aesthetics that distracts from the education itself.
Take smoking on campus as an example: a practice that toes the line between acceptable ubiquity and hazardous. At this point in time, though, smoking has been nationally stigmatized as a dangerous practice that, no matter how common, leads to death, slowly and painfully. And, unlike other self inflicted pains, this action tangibly affects its surrounding aesthetics, filling an area with a tarry smell, smoke, and a second hand poison that also leads to death. This issue was raised at the recent town hall meeting on the Wilf campus. President Joel, motioning to Dean Vic Schwartz, stated that smoking is a major public health hazard and that he does not want to give it credibility by designating areas for smoking, but it will and should be curbed.
In the month after that statement, smoking is still persistent outside of every building on the Wilf campus. There have been no fines, no NO SMOKING signs, or other physical measures places to insure that smoking is controlled and removed from distracting the learning community.
Another example, one complicated and taboo, are the homeless who wander campus asking for charity from students on their way to class. In a sense, this is also a distracting aesthetic. Not to designate the unfortunate as non-living physical entities, far from it, this is an important distraction, an opportunity for a mitzvah. Yet, although the mitzvah is vital, the space in which it exists may distract from the aesthetics of a learning community. There must be some way for YU to compassionately interact with these people outside of the sphere reserved for learning.