Friday, November 14, 2008

The Swimming Fool

Dear Athletics, Student Life Committee, and University Life,

I've lost count of how many times this semester I've checked the athletics schedule, changed into my swimming attire, and gone down to the pool, only to be told that the pool has been closed. On other occasions, I've been asked to leave the pool early without prior notification and in direct contradiction to the times indicated on the schedule.

Today was no exception. My naive journey to the pool ended abruptly at a hand-written sign indicating that the pool had been closed 4 (!) hours early due to a lifeguard shortage.

We are now past the halfway point of the first semester. Has anything been done to correct this shortage? Has a ystud been sent out informing our student body (of which a sizable number are lifeguards) of the vacancy? Have signs been put up? I just so happen to be a lifeguard myself, and while I don't think my schedule this semester would permit me taking on any additional responsibilities, it's never really been made clear how to apply for the job. And if we really don't have enough students, shouldn't we be bringing in lifeguards from the outside?

Our pool is a truly great resource and it pains me to see it go to waste.

Sincerly, Julian Horowitz

Friday, September 5, 2008

Welcome Back and Farewell

No, I'm not switching out of YU; but I am moving. I've accepted the position of Opinions Editor at our cousin The Commentator. I know what you're thinking. No, I haven't become institutionalized. No, I haven't become "one of them." And yes, I will continue doing my best to stick it to the man, where appropriate. The only difference is that now you'll be able to read me in the bathroom.

Most of all, The YU Vent will live on inside each and every one of you (cue The Lion King music): let no dozing dean go unpoked, let no poor policy go unmentioned, let no bumbling bureaucracy go uncriticized, and, most importantly, let no super suggestion go unvented. Don't let the catchy tune of Hakuna Matata to lure you into complacency. Oh yeah, and write articles for the opinions section.

Viva la Vent!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Is There a Correct Shiur for a Shiur Room?

Here's a letter just sent by YC Junior Netanel (Tani) Cohn to the appropriate administrators concerning a situation he finds both unfair and uncomfortable. Way to go Tani!

To whom it may concern:

The current situation regarding Rav Sobolofsky's shiur room is untenable. In a room intended to comfortably accommodate thirty to forty people, upwards of one hundred are engaged in a battle for air and leg room, not to mention outlets. Beyond presenting an enormous fire hazard and an extremely uncomfortable educational environment, the limited classroom space has led to some students being denied the privilege of listening to shiur. I urge you for the sake of Torah (not to mention that of avoiding potential lawsuits and fire safety violations) to upgrade Rav Sobolofskys shiur to a larger room.

Options are abound; Furst room 501 is usually available, but in the event that it is not there exist several large classrooms as well as lecture halls in Belfer Hall which are readily open during the shiur time slots. In addition, several smaller shiurim currently occupy very large classrooms. Rav Saks's shiur which last year fluctuated between 15-20 students uses a Muss classroom capable of comfortably seating well over 65 people. Perhaps this classroom could be used to solve another seperate yet equally important issue. Rav Shulman's shiur, which takes place in the Morg Beit Midrash, effectively ejects all those who wish to learn there during that time-especially on Sundays and Thursdays when his shiur takes place at an earlier hour. This same phenomenon of having a shuir at the expense of other peoples learning occurs in the Furst Hall Beit Midrash during Rav Twerskys shiur.

In Short: There exist two problems with the current shiur locations:
1) The classrooms are not of an adequate size in order to accommodate the larger shiurim- causing an uncomfortable learning experience as well as denying many students the privilege of listening to shiur.
2) Several shiurim take place within the various battei midrash causing all those who learn in these battei midrash who do not participate in the shiur to be mevatel Torah.

There exist several solutions to these problems:
1) Utilizing the large classrooms and lecture halls in Belfer Hall will grant the larger shiurim their proper amount of space, thus eliminating both the current uncomfortable learning environment as well as avoid any situation where a talmid is denied the right to listen to shiur due to lack of space.
2) By either moving the current shiurim which take place within the walls of the battei midrash to other classrooms on campus (in Belfer or Furst etc) or by switching the current assigment of classrooms to allow for the larger shiurim to hold shiur within the larger classrooms and the smaller shiurim within the smaller ones, the problem of battei midrash being used for shiur and its subsequent bittul Torah will be rendered a non-issue.

Thanking you in advance for your concern, and with the hope of only להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה, Tani Cohn

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tuition Times Two

“The Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) is currently among several Jewish organizations trying to ease the high costs of Jewish education, which is a financial burden felt by the vast majority of Jewish families” (Z. Eleff, “CJF and OU Prepare to Combat 'Tuition Crisis,'” The Commentator, 3/2/06).

“Tuition Rises Yet Again” (Commentator headline, 4/10/03)

“Undergraduate Schools See 10% Tuition Hike” (Commentator headline, 5/15/06)

1998-1999 Undergraduate Tuitions and Fees
Tuition: $14,920 per year
University Registration Fee: $150 per year
Student Fees: $110-160 per year
Dormitory Rental: $3,450 per year
Dining Club Membership: $1,300 per year

2008-2009 Undergraduate Tuition and Fees
Tuition $31,594 per year
University Registration Fee $350 per year
Activity Fee $150 per year
Residence Hall Fee $7,130 per year
Meal Plan $2,750 per year

Economics (and common sense) dictates that people should pay a higher price for a better product. In the last 10 years YU has more than doubled in price. Has YU doubled in product?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gittin it on!

R' Dovi Fischer, shiur assistant of the largest shiur in MYP, has pointed out that our student body is once again suffering due to irresposibility on the part of our admninistrators: we still don't know which masechet (tractate) we'll be learning next year. Admittedly, I haven't personally been privy to the politics and machinations behind this indecision, but enough is enough. The time has come to put it to a vote of the Rashei Yeshiva and follow a simple plurality.

Why is this such a big deal? Depending on what the final choice is, students may have purchased seforim for the wrong masechet at the SOY Seforim Sale, which I am told was marketing Bava Batra as next year's selection. But the consequences of this are much farther-reaching than having a few extra Rashbas and Ritvas: many students (myself included) would have liked to choose which shiur they would register for based on which masechet the yeshiva will be learning. Not only does this have ramifications for which sections of Bible one registers for (or gets locked out of), it's also a question of overall workload and credit limits.

We want masechta, masechta now!

Monday, April 7, 2008

I'm Taking Revel Courses (and So Can You!)

Just in time for registration:

Sure, Revel offers interesting classes with excellent professors. Heck, apart from the cool content, these three-credit courses meet only once a week, for an hour and forty minutes. and are chock full of intelligent and well-dressed grad students. So, tired of gazing through that door-window thing, wondering how a lowly undergrad like you could revel in the glory that is Revel?

Look no further than yu.edu/Revel/student_options.asp, which offers two roads into Revel.

1. Bachelor's/Master's (BA/MA) students -- Undergraduate students may register for the joint BA/MA program (see pages 14-15).

This option is fairly well advertised and is limited to final year seniors. But get a load of plan number two:
2. Undergraduate students taking graduate courses for undergraduate credit -- With the permission of the college dean and the dean of Revel Graduate School, undergraduate students may take graduate courses for undergraduate credit only.
I am currently doing just that . . . and loving it! If you are an interested, committed, somewhat intelligent student (i.e. most undergrads even interested in Revel courses), then email those sentiments to your respective Deans.

Act now and get a free "Yekhi Dr. Berger" hand towel!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Julian Strikes Again

Dear The Commentator and Kol Hamevaser,

About three-quarters of the way through his fascinating account of “The Great Media Wars of 1967” in Kol Hamevaser, Zev Eleff interjects some editorializing which paints a rather unpleasant picture and confirms some very unfortunate suspicions.

Mr. Eleff treats us to a brief discussion of the role of a “student leader”:

“According to Rambam, and indeed most authorities, a judge, or any leader, must meet rigid qualifications that take into account the candidate's scholarly and ethical credentials. The standard, however, is not what the public considers wise and scrupulous. The candidate for a seat on the Sanhedrin must meet a divine standard and prove himself to be one of the seventy most learned individuals of God's Torah; his scholarly benchmark has nothing to do with the average intellect of the masses. Similarly, a candidate, and kal va-homer, an initiated member of the Sanhedrin, must prove his worthiness and ethical backbone by functioning on a higher, more ideal standard than the one expected of his constituents. Therefore, if the members of the Sanhedrin are to be our model for Jewish leadership, a student leader must be able to function while mindful of "the interest of the general student body" but need not necessarily reflect its interests - ethical or otherwise - if he believes he reflects the ideal interests of that student body” (emphasis added).

Though I'm not sure exactly how he gets this from the Rambam, Mr. Eleff believes that it is incumbent upon any leader to act on what he or she thinks is best and not on what the people actually want. Though this attitude may have been legitimate for the great leaders of the Sanhedrin, I don't think it is one that our “student leaders” should emulate. In fact, I find this to be a dangerous model of leadership, as it subjects the people to the whims of whosoever is arrogant enough to think that he or she knows better than everybody else. Though this is obviously a question for political theorists to debate, I will now demonstrate why I find this to be a particularly inappropriate attitude for the editor of a newspaper. A newspaper should be about news, not about pushing the agenda of its publishers.

In his article in the same edition of Kol Hamevaser, J-blogger Gil Student writes that, “bloggers have the option of remaining anonymous and very few choose to use their real name. This offers them the freedom to speak negatively about others without obvious consequence.” Later he tells us that “commenters do not always build a community of intelligent dialogue. Sometimes they insult and mock other people, and attempt to undermine that which is sacred. The anonymity which the internet allows only strengthens their audacity.”

The readership of The Commentator is all too familiar with how anonymity “strengthens audacity” and how it “offers the freedom to speak negatively about others.” I sometimes wonder if there are any organizations left at YU who have escaped vilification by one of those viciously nameless editorials. You've boiled the “alphabet soup” of YU (CJF, IBC, and YSU), taken on entire departments, and you've even attacked the homeless. Though an Opinions section is legitimate and even valuable, using a newspaper as a mouthpiece for rudely-worded vendettas and kol koreis week after week is less than proper. On the other hand, if the editorship had decided to include a detailed journalistic evaluation of the general success and satisfaction with IBC or whoever else was under the microscope that week, this would have been significantly more appropriate.

But what may have this year's worst sin was one of omission. After his discourse on leadership, Mr. Eleff discusses the notion of “objective journalism.” He concludes as follows:

“'The newspaper,' University of Chicago's Robert Park has argued, 'has generally been conceived of as a mere extension of the personality of its editors.' As many feel, today's Jewish media in America devotes significant number of newsprint columns on Israeli politics and how American politicians feel about those Israeli politics. Long past the Isaac Leesers and Mayer Wises who made nineteenth century Jewish journalism so investigatory and controversial, today's Jewish editors, as Brandeis' Jonathan Sarna has noted, have a different agenda. This does not mean that scandals and stories of yore are not out there. It means the motivation is not.”

Perhaps Mr. Eleff is too young to recall how The Jewish Week exposed and brought down child-abuser Baruch Lanner, but I can't imagine he doesn't remember the recent press coverage of a certain scandal involving one of our very own Rashei Yeshiva. Maybe what is veiled as a critique of Jewish journalism is actually a justification for one Jewish journalist's selective reporting.

Regardless of one's personal opinion on R' Hershel Schachter's colored political statements delivered at Yeshivat Hakotel, they were very much Yeshiva news. Obviously, Halacha must be observed and matters must be approached with the utmost sensitivity, but this was one of the biggest stories of the year in the YU world. Everybody knew about it, and everybody knew that The Commy left it out. An article or news brief could have mentioned that many at Yeshiva (myself included) believe that R' Schachter's detractors blew things grossly out of proportion and that he is strongly backed by the lay and religious leadership of YU. Perhaps a publication of R' Schachter's earnest apology would have helped better inform those whose only sources of information thus far were slanderous rumors. Instead, nothing. At least not for a while.

The truth didn't allow itself to be suppressed for long. Mirroring the inter-newsroom politics of 1967, R' Schachter's name finally made its way onto the pages of The Commentator through the back-door of the Purim edition.

I realize the irony of responding to an article about Lashon Hara with what is just short of an ad hominen attack on one of the most caring and hard-working members of the Yeshiva student body. I just thought it was necessary to remind everyone as we pick next year's editors that The Commentator should, true to its motto, be the “The Official Newspaper of Yeshiva College and the Sy Syms School of Business,” not “The Official Newspaper of Whoever Happens to be in Charge This Year.”

Julian Horowitz
YC Sophomore and contributor to The YU Vent (theYUvent.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Living and Learning in a Morg

Morg sits as the Cinderella of YU Batei Medrash: fairer than her homey sisters (i.e. roomier and more comfortable), yet denied the respect and resources to realize her full potential. Someday, her prince will arrive, correcting three major issues:

1) A Sefer Learning Environment. Morg lacks sufficient Sefarim, highlighting an almost ridiculous disparity between it and other BM. This is certainly not scientific, but I would guess that Furst has at least four times as many Sefarim in a space at least five times smaller. If I seek a reference Sefer, I head up to the Sefardi BM, whose dozen or so residents are privy to a far better collection than their numerous neighbors down under. Let them revel in their excellent resources! But let us too! Until then, Morgites will be united by that shared pet peeve: removing rows of Talman Talmuds looking for the Masekhta hidden behind, wondering when a new bookshelf and new Shas will finally arrive.

2) A Room of our Own. Can we have a Rosh Yeshiva? Please! While all BM suffer from the general truancy of our Rabbinic leadership, most have one that learns on a daily basis. Heck, Furst has three!

Imagine if Rav Rosensweig - who's shiur composes a fair share of Morg men - dedicated an hour a day to his personal makom in Morg. Even if not accessible for questions, he would always remain available for inspiration. If not Rav Rosensweig, how about . . . anyone!

3) Closed: No Learning Except During Posted Hours. Rav Shulman's shiur should not be in the center of a Beit Medrash used by any (let alone many) talmidim from other shiurim. Period. What is the Hava Amina?! I confess, I have not mustered the courage to mention it to him. Has anyone?

-
When that blessed day arrives, Morg will morph into the Princess we know her to be. While there's little to do about her external features, three internal changes will finally bring Kavod to Bat Melekh's Pnim.

Opening The Vents of Communication

Kudos to our friend Simeon over at The Commentator for his shoutout (notice that The YU Vent gets the last word...). As a response/supplement to his article, I wanted to share with our readership one of the essays I wrote for my (as-of-yet pending) RA application. The question asked that I: "Describe something that you are personally passionate about. You now have an opportunity to translate this passion into action and be the “President of the Cause” for a day. What do you want to accomplish and as a leader, how would you accomplish it?"

I'm passionate about changing YU. When I got here, I found my transition to YU difficult and disillusioning. This situation was not helped by the senses of bad inertia and general dissatisfaction I found here. I hope that by the time I leave, things will have changed to the extent that most students at YU will view their experience positively. To this end I have joined the staff of a grassroots movement called The YU Vent (check us out at www.theYUvent.blogspot.com).

Publishing anyone who's willing to write (well), we've already begun to effect some changes based on what the students really want. You've seen the little post-it notes and pencils next to each library computer – that was us. Instead of the whining that happens on the pages of the Commentator, we've taken pains to meet with and contact administrators of all colors in the hopes that the student side will be heard and taken into account.

So what does all this have to do with the topic of this essay? My “cause” would be the creation of a special position or committee entitled “Student Advisor(s) to The President.” This body would serve dual, but complementary, functions. The few yokels who get to ask questions at the once-a-semester town hall meeting aren't enough for their administration to keep their fingers on the pulse of the student body. On the other hand, the students are often confused and bothered by some of the administration's policies and decisions.

The Student Advisor would open the much-needed channels of communication. Not only will he be able to tell the President/Deans/Vice-Presidents about the unpopularity of their decision at the Dining Room tables, but it will also be his job to explain the decision to the student body. Maybe if they really understood what was going on, they wouldn't disagree.

Only if we work together can we make YU a truly good place.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A History Case

Even if it doesn't get published, I thought I would share the letter I just sent to The Commentator with the YU Vent community. The article my letter responds to can be found here.


Dear The Commentator,

I read with much interest and concern Yehuda Bernstein's piece on the YC history major. (It's lone factual error should nonetheless be brought to light: a 39 credit history major is certainly not "by far more than any other major" when compared to computer science's 47 or chemistry's staggering 52!) I found the article important and informative, both as a history major and a concerned YU student. That being said, I feel the author failed to focus on the most disturbing aspect of the Major mess: the Administration's failure to quickly respond to something so basic yet so significant.

Last week, I had the displeasure of informing a fellow history major that the plans he made for his future at YU required major readjustment. For despite the publicity given the history major debacle (yes, lying on the school website and official school forms is no less than a debacle), the administration has not taken a single step to redeem themselves and inform the student body of the change. Not even a dime-a-dozen ystud. Hence, my friend still hadn't known that the two-year plan he had worked out, wouldn't actually work out.

I don't know who's in charge of these things (perhaps the root of the entire problem), but the situation is moving from irresponsible to downright inconsiderate. After a posting on the Senate website (available at http://yusenate.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/course-catalog-conflict/), a Commy article, and much general disgruntlement, the YU website continues to maintain dated history major information. Additionally, the Advising Center website continues to misadvise students that history is still a 30-credit major. I won't comment on what I think about the policy change in general, but I will say that what is occurring is lifnei iver of the highest form.

The entire incident questions the administration's commitment to its students. Change requires time, especially on as large a sclae as a university. But when something as simple as changing a few lines of HTML isn't taken care of, it makes one wonder whether the issue is time . . . or concern.

Still waiting,
Julian Horowitz
YC Sophomore and contributor to The YU Vent (theYUvent.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Projecting Improvements

During last month's Honors Program town hall meeting, Professor Otteson noted that the senior honors thesis may be modified to a more general senior project. As I thought about this, it hit me that these projects could be a great way to help YU. How better to cap off four years at a university you love than to give something back? If we have some of our best and brightest spend an entire year working to improve things, something's bound to go right. Here are some ideas I wanted to throw out and see what the people think:

1. The Golden Caf: Though fear of redundancy has prevented The YU Vent from commenting on what one Commentator article describes as “reprehensible,” we wholeheartedly agree that something is fishy at the caf, and it's not just yesterday's beer-butter pollock. The 1998-1999 undergraduate catalog (available here) lists Dining Club Membership at $1300 a year, while the 2007-2008 catalog has the Campus Meal Plan priced at $2,620. This doubling represents an increase about four times as large as the rise in the Consumer Price Index over that same time period, and rumor has it that prices will keep going up.
Enter a senior, majoring in Economics. He audits the caf and discloses exactly what it going down behind the counters. Also, he creates a viable microeconomic model for the future, thereby ensuring normal prices and less whining. If it turns out that the caf must do what it's doing now in order to survive, this is now backed up by our student's data and students have one less thing to complain about.

2. Evaluating Evaluations: Several years ago, a senior at Queens College created a senior project that despite its simplicity has proved extremely helpful. Every semester, we pour our hearts out on our course evaluation forms, hoping to see less of what we hate and more of what we love in the future. Unfortunately, we never see this information again. Our senior at Queens created a database which allows simple entry and analysis of the evaluation data, and the results are available to all. It's like RateMyTeacher.com on steroids. Before any student registers for any class, he sees the teacher's overall ranking, the teacher's rankings from this past semester, and other useful information about the course.
A similar idea would be developing an improved registration program.

3. Culture on Campus II: Create something beautiful for YU. It needn't be a bust of Belkin, (we already have one of those) but it could be a selection of inspiring and appropriate quotes to be hung at strategic locations around campus. A Jewish History major could research and organize a small exhibit for any of the many open spaces on campus. A music major or cantorial student could compose and record a YU anthem.

My list goes on but my time doesn't, so I'll stop here. I think this represents a great opportunity to actively take the future of YU into our hands.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

An Open Door Policy

Universities should open new doors for their students; too often, though, students open doors for the University.

For example, a round trip from the Morg Beit Medrash to the Caf requires opening and closing up to eighteen separate doors.* While the main entrances to Morg and Rubin should obviously remain closed (weather, security, etc.), what of the other obstacles?

In particular, the two portals framing the Caf staircase are asking for trouble: thousands of students all forced to make that "wait, just . . . 'scuse me" as they wiggle around oncoming traffic, only to re-balance their lunches and attempt the risky Two Fingered Door Opener move.

Men, lend me your triangle door stops! If you see a door that could be propped open, do the future a favor: keep our doors open!


*Beit Medrash double doors, bottom Morg staircase, top Morg staircase, Morg security double doors, Morg Main entrance, Rubin main entrance, security double doors, top Caf staircase, bottom Caf staircase, and back.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Culture on Campus?

Sure, it'd be great to have a dynamic, exciting, artistic, colorful, creative, and inventive vibe on the Wilf campus, but:
a. YU students are super-busy.
b. Campus architecture, design, and location foster a veritable tradition of cultural and creative paralysis.

Nonetheless, I can't imagine that the thousand-plus undergrads on campus lack enough funny, inventive, artsy, and willing members to recreate that "aura of cool" so inherent in the secular campus experience. No, if YU was a summer camp - or a typical university - these figures would combine to forge a fun, creative, and exciting place to be. If we can recognize and chip away at the two aforementioned issues, perhaps we can bring a bit of that self-expression and culture up to Amsterdam. We need easy, low-maintenance access to creativity that can change the architectural landscape of an otherwise beige-grey environment.

1. Take advantage of elevator space. Hang up an Ads-Free corkboard in each dorm elevator, where students can post whatever random things they like: pictures, interesting articles, top 10 ways you know you're in R. Rosensweig's shiur, comic strips, Halacha Yomit, etc. Put up a dry-erase board and see what emerges. The point: give YU students easy, time-efficient, right-in-front-of-me opportunities for self-expression.

2. Wall + Movie = Culture. Once a week, sometime between 10 pm and midnight, whip out a projector and play a film on the wall of a central, high-traffic area - say, the Morg lounge. Note the word "film" in place of "movie"- it should be the type that adds to the campus culture, not detracts from it. Granted, that's a subjective call, but I think Stu Halpern is both hip enough and aware enough to pull it off. True, few have time for a weekly flick, but most have fifteen minutes here and there to catch the end of a hockey game: lets put our ADD to good use! We can create a cultural vibe and fashion an enjoyable, thought provoking, and horizon-expanding opportunity.

3. Turn the lawn into The Lawn. As of now, our precious little green space goes to little actual or aesthetic use. How about a winding path, curving its way between patches of rose and statue: a bust of Belkin, a form of Lamm, a statue of the Rav, a quote from the Rambam, a poem from Ibn Ezra! Think that's too much? I'll settle for flowers, a fountain, and an inscription about Torah u-Madda.

4. Picture YU without pictures of YU. Photographs of YU students belong in brochures; on campus itself it is tacky and uninspiring. Public art should force us to stop, consider, maybe even smile- to think of anything but ourselves. Let's use those open spaces to construct a colorful, interesting, proud environment.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Not-So-Great Lawn

Have you noticed that over the last couple of weeks our one patch of (real) grass has turned into a mud pit? The one vestige of natural beauty in our brick and asphalt campus is being destroyed!

Here's whats going on: every time someone decides to take a shortcut across the Danciger Quadrangle, he or she is contributing to something called soil compaction, which is slowly killing all the grass and increasing runoff. Hence, what used to be lawn becomes a mass of muddy footprints.

Here's what we can do about it:
1. Put up a “Don't walk on the grass” sign. This is a last resort because I think it goes against why the grass is there in the first place; grass is nature's carpet. We're dealing with a classic meitzar shehechziku bo rabim (BT Bava Batra 99b-100a).
2. Put up a “Please don't use the grass as a shortcut” sign. I know this one sounds a little unusual, but I think it can work. Use the lawn when you want to lie down and read a book, not when you're late for minyan.
3. Have a gardener come in and take care of it. I don't know the exact science, but the football stadiums don't seem to have any trouble keeping their fields nice and green even this late into the year.

If we ever want our grass to be greener than the other side's, we need to have grass in the first place. For now, spend the extra second-and-a-half and go around.