Major News, No Minor Required: A Look at the Recent SY SYMS Academic Policy Changes

By: Rebecca Hia  |  December 16, 2013

On the morning of November 14th, students at the Beren campus received an e-mail from Dean Bacon and Dean Pava informing them of two academic policy changes. The first change allows Stern College for Women students to take two business courses at the Sy Syms School of Business as electives towards their General Education requirements—“whether or not they complete a business minor.” The second change requires students at SSSB to take “the same Jewish Studies program” as SCW students, adding on an additional two credits in Jewish History, three in Jewish Philosophy, as well as seven additional CORE credits.

Many students have been asking themselves what caused these changes. According to Student Academic Affairs Committee (SAAC)’s co-chairs Robin Joshowitz ’14 and Penina Bernstein ’14, the policy that SCW students could only audit Sy Syms classes but not take them for credit has been challenged by students for years, and was most recently a subject of discussion at the Beren Town Hall meeting this fall. In the words of Sy Syms Dean Moses Pava, bringing the issue up at the town hall meeting with President Joel “didn’t hurt.”

Dean Pava further noted that “Stern College faculty has been asking for this for some time. This year in particular, President Joel’s course (“Leadership in the Non-Profit World”) was an anomaly—all students would not get credit. The policy has outlived itself.”

When asked if there was anyone in particular responsible for this policy change, Dean Pava replied that “the credit goes to Dean Bacon for liberalizing Stern’s policy.”

According to Dean Bacon, Sy Syms originally asked SCW to only count business classes towards a minor in order to encourage students to try Sy Syms classes.  “Apparently it didn’t accomplish a lot. Students had to commit to many courses instead of one.”

Describing the new policy change as “Plan B,” Dean Bacon went on to explain that “we wanted to give students more of an opportunity to make informed choices. Students were hesitant to take courses unless they counted. The main concern should be ‘what can I learn?’ not ‘what does it count for?’ We decided to make it easier for students to try things out,” she added.

How will the ‘no minor requirement’ impact Stern students? According to Bernstein, “it will encourage more students to take a Syms class. Instead of going back and forth whether or not to take it, just take it.”

Making it easier for Stern students to take Sy Syms classes is important, according to Dean Pava, because all students, regardless of their major, will be confronted with different aspects of business in their careers. As he put it, “whether going into business or not, you will be going into business.”

As to the new ‘Judaic studies requirements policy’, Dean Pava thinks that it not will have a “major impact.” He added, “It will encourage more solidarity at the Beren campus and if you plan accordingly it shouldn’t be a hurdle.” According to Dean Bacon, “Some will take more Jewish Studies courses. For many there will be no impact. For others it will be wonderful to have more Jewish Studies—that’s why people come to Stern.”

What about having non-majors in Sy Syms classes? “This won’t be such a big deal,” Dean Pava insists. “Students have done this in the past. This is all for the good—diverse students, diverse perspectives.” Dean Bacon offered a less enthusiastic view: “It’s possible classes will get bigger. Popular classes will get bigger. I don’t know if heterogeneity will be positive—it’ll be an experiment.”

Current Syms students do not have to scramble to fulfill the new Judaic requirements since they are ‘grandfathered’ in, with the new Judaic policy taking effect with the incoming freshman class. Though the e-mail about the policy changes did state that “graduating seniors who might have difficulty fulfilling this requirement should meet with their Academic Advisor,” this seems to have been some sort of mistake and Academic Advisement has since been notified about the stipulation that current Syms student are exempt from the new policy change.

SCW student Rena Blatt ’15 remarked that “it’s amazing Stern is willing to accommodate students who have an interest in business but aren’t able to minor in it.”

In light of the policy changes, Bernstein encourages students to continue to bring suggestions and concerns to SAAC’s attention. “It is helpful having a conduit where meaningful discussions can take place. Good suggestions will make the Deans enthusiastic,” she remarked. Added Joshowitz, “Sometimes students don’t think issues are important. We are a good liaison. We don’t mind bringing these issues up.” According to Dean Bacon, the administration is receptive to the feedback of the student body. “Our doors are always open,” she stated. “Come in anytime and talk.”

Though the old policies were long-standing, their purpose was unclear even to the Deans. When asked about the origins of the ‘minor required for Syms courses to count’ policy, Dean Pava commented “I never understood the old policy. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to be honest.” As to the origins of the differing Judaic Studies policies, Dean Bacon similarly answered, “I don’t know. Maybe a mistake? An oversight? No logical basis.”

Students, faculty and deans all want more reciprocity between the two schools at the Beren campus, and given that many of our current academic policies were made by previous administrations and so their origins are often unknown, dialogue between the students and administration, faculty and administration is clearly essential. Maybe two Town Hall meetings a year is not enough.