In a recent conversation with a Yeshiva University administrator regarding ways to better the academic experience at Stern, I was told that, while my concerns regarding the level of study at YU are not to be dismissed, I should think twice before expressing dissatisfaction because “YU has a 100% acceptance rate to dentistry school.” I left the meeting feeling upset and a little defeated in my pursuit of a vibrant academic journey at YU. Aside from the fact that at no point in the conversation had I expressed any desire to become a dentist, I found the immediate reliance on admissions statistics as evidence of intellectual prowess at YU—a tactic I have seen used by members of the Yeshiva University staff in admissions pitches and open house information sessions—illustrative of a sentiment about Yeshiva University, which struck me early on in the fall semester. YU is extremely career focused, at the price of a decreased enthusiasm towards liberal arts education and academic and intellectual curiosity.
I realize that speaking for the entirety of Yeshiva University is not something that I can do from experience or research—the tools used to form opinions—so I am going to address the issue as it relates to Stern College for Women, an institution which I feel qualified to discuss. I have seven months worth of evidence and experiences describing my observations regarding Stern College.
I arrived in the big city eager, ready and willing to immerse myself in political science and literature courses along with my required biology classes. I was striving towards an amassment of knowledge in multiple disciplines that could only widen and deepen my world experience. But instead of entering a college filled with people similarly enthusiastic about the value of a liberal arts education, I found myself amongst a student body so focused on the end goal, the career, that everything else seems to fall to the wayside. In these short seven months, I have already been to the career center twice and receive bi-weekly emails informing me of career fairs and internship opportunities in my field of study. I have been asked by students and teachers why I choose to work at Bnei Akiva summer camps as opposed to doing research to fill my resume. In discussions with peers regarding class schedule, I have been informed by many upperclassmen, all with good intention, which classes and professors will help me fulfill my Judaic and secular general education requirements with the least amount of work and least amount of thinking. This career focused attitude not only leaves a general knowledge of literature, philosophy, and history to settle with the dust, but affects the effort with which we approach our Judaic studies as well. The disproportionate weight placed on the pursuit of a career stifles what can be gained by academic journeys in other subjects.
I do not want to belittle the importance of a college providing career guidance and information for its students. College, in addition to it being an opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as one can, is also the time to prepare for the future and develop some sort of forward moving path. And Stern has both aspects. Stern provides career guidance, but has also instituted a comprehensive general education system which supposedly encourages students to seek out various academic interests. However, from what I have seen, Stern College has instituted a fatal flaw, causing the system which it has put into place to fail in its attempts to provide its students with a liberal arts education—the option to graduate after only three years..
Three years is not enough time to properly explore the general education requirements at Stern. By one’s second semester in school there is a pressure to know one’s major and career path in order to begin the necessary classes and internships required for graduation and graduate school. It makes sense that the career center appointments and career fairs are pushed on the students early on in their college experience, because, with only three years to complete a degree, there is no time left to spend on classes that will soon be perceived as irrelevant to one’s future. The option of three years rushes students, placing tremendous emphasis on getting a degree and getting it quick, as opposed to patiently studying other subjects for the sake of pure knowledge.
I recognize that not everyone places the value of a liberal arts education on as high of a pedestal as I do. Stern, however, advertises itself as a “liberal arts college that promotes and provokes intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth.” As a liberal arts college, Stern is doing itself and its students a disservice by instituting a system and an environment which puts the liberal arts in a corner and lets the career take the stage. The change in this attitude must come from the top down. It must come from the professors and the administration stressing the importance of knowledge as opposed to degrees. It must come from biology professors encouraging their students to take an extra year of school to enroll in some philosophy courses or English professors motivating their students to learn about the inner workings of their own body. Hopefully, from these first steps, the Stern experience can become what a college experience is supposed to be about.