University bashing is in fashion, from the broad-gauged film Ivory Tower to particular attacks on given schools. Some critiques usefully expose problems that need correcting with constructive solutions on offer. But others seem to trash the academy for other reasons, as with a recent diatribe against Yeshiva University, which seems more calculated to exacerbate the school’s problems than help it find solutions.
In an expose-style that seems to blow the school’s financial challenges out of proportion, Steven Weiss, who acknowledges having been expelled from Yeshiva in 2002, portrays Yeshiva’s leadership since that year variously as gullible, myopic, conflicted, or greedy. This piece stung because I am a graduate and former faculty member of Yeshiva’s law school (Cardozo) and I know and have worked with some of the people vilified in the story. While I am not familiar with all of the factual background of the University’s recent experience, Weiss’s story seems awfully one-sided and therefore the story, as much as the facts about Yeshiva, causes concern.
I share Weiss’s praise for Yeshiva’s former president, Rabbi Norman Lamm, whom I knew, worked with, and admired. Lamm, and later his VP for business affairs, Sheldon Socol, led Yeshiva from the brink of bankruptcy in 1975 to fiscal soundness and renewed its status for academic excellence and cultural distinction. (Rabbi Lamm told me how, when he was about to declare bankruptcy, his hand shook so intensely that he could not sign the papers.)
But Weiss then makes a foil out of Lamm, painting a golden era that ended after 2002 when he passed the baton to Richard Joel, the current president, who has faced a different set of challenges that entices Weiss’s wrath. In Weiss’s telling, after Lamm’s retirement and Joel’s succession, it’s been all downhill for Yeshiva and its students. Joel, whom I knew as an able administrator and gentleman when he served as Dean of Business Affairs at Cardozo, certainly has a different style than the rabbi-scholars such as Lamm who preceded him. But Weiss exaggerates in inexplicably inflammatory tones how this style difference has played out, in a story misleadingly headlined “How to Lose $1 Billion: Yeshiva University Blows Its Future on Loser Hedge Funds.” Read More