Dean Bacon’s Goals and Aspirations for the Joint Undergraduate Departments of Stern and Yeshiva College

By: Miriam Pearl Klahr  |  November 13, 2015
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An Interview with Dean Bacon

Last year, Yeshiva University announced a merger between the Undergraduate Departments of Stern and Yeshiva College to be led by Dr. Karen Bacon. The specifics and practical ramifications of this decision were not disclosed at the time and as of yet, this change has not impacted students in any significant way. However, Dean Bacon, who began her work as Yeshiva University’s first ever dean for both the Beren and the Wilf Campuses this fall,  commented that students will begin to see changes when they look at course offerings for the upcoming 2016 Spring Semester.

Dean Bacon, who describes herself as “goal oriented” and one “who doesn’t let things hang,” has spent the last few months working tirelessly to create a coherent, unified plan for the Chemistry Department of Stern and Yeshiva College. She explains that the choice to start executing the merge specifically within the Chemistry Department was due to the substantial disparity between the number of faculty and course offerings between the two schools.

With the new changes, the course offerings in each school will not be identical, but for the first time Stern College students will have access to chemistry courses and professors that until now have only been available on the Wilf Campus.

Dean Bacon plans on focusing on the Psychology Department next. She explained that at Stern there are many tracks offered within the psychology major. The goal is to offer students of Yeshiva College the opportunity to pursue more specific tracks, as well. In this manner, the eventual goal is to unify the arts and science departments of both undergraduate schools, one department at a time.

On the condition that there is sufficient demand, an additional goal is to make available majors which were only offered at one school newly available to the other. The first step in this process will be enacted in Fall 2016 with the reintroduction of a computer science major at the Beren Campus.

Dean Bacon also emphasized that unifying the undergraduate arts and science departments of Stern and Yeshiva Colleges will not result in identical course offerings at both schools. Each school must continue to cater to its specific needs. For example, the English Department will differ between the uptown and downtown campuses since the course offerings mostly reflect their respective professors’ areas of expertise.  However, the aim is still to create some unity within the department to the extent that the objective of students studying English at both schools is similar.

With some exceptions, the purpose of the merge is not for the two campuses to share faculty. Dean Bacon is not in favor of teachers moving around since it is important for a residential college to have faculty members who are sitting in their offices and easily accessible to students. She clarified that the merging of the departments is taking place on an intellectual and not on a physical level.  

When asked about overarching goals for her new position, Dean Bacon mentioned that she wants to unify many of the two schools’ policies. An example of such a policy is the discrepancy between Yeshiva and Stern College in regards to accepting AP credit. Stern accepts 4s and 5s, while Yeshiva only gives credit for a score of 5. Dean Bacon believes both schools should have the same policy and give credit for a score of 4 or higher.

However, Dean Bacon also stressed that she is less concerned with delineating specific goals. Her main focus is for the two faculties to work together. “When people talk and work together goals will organically emerge,” she added. When asked if this cooperation is taking places, Dean Bacon said it is, but very slowly.

She believes that a big part of the issue is the geographical distance between the two campuses. On a personal level Dean Bacon also finds the geographical distance challenging. “The fact that the campuses are so distant puts a certain sort of pressure on having a shared position.”

She described how difficult it is to plan a schedule. Dean Bacon ends up spending more time uptown since she knows the administrative team at Stern extremely well and knows that they are familiar with Beren Campus resources to answer any questions or concerns. That beings said, she is still intimately involved with the decisions regarding both campuses.

Commuting, however, does not only come with disadvantages, it also allows Dean Bacon to develop a better understanding of the culture of each school.  She believes that the women are more career-minded than the men, which can be psychologically advantageous but intellectually limiting. She also noted that the added stress of Yeshiva College’s rigid schedule makes it almost impossible for students to have any flexibility when arranging their days the way Stern students do.

Dean Bacon also expressed her strong support for single-sex education after being asked if she believes the combination of departments will ever lead to mixed classes. She clarified that as of now Yeshiva University is committed to operate classes during the academic years and that the traveling would be a waste of time. She explained that an all-women’s college is beneficial to women as it takes away social pressures, and forces every faculty member to take each woman’s voice seriously in a way they may not have in a co-ed classroom. It also encourages women to think out of the box about what they can and can’t do, and invest in studies that are not classically women’s fields. She pointed to the strong but small Physics Department at Stern which makes every woman feel empowered, as if the entire department exists just for her.

Dean Bacon also believes that men are more comfortable in an all-male environment. The high level of comfort allows students to engage more fully with their studies.

“School is a one-time opportunity that students can’t go back to, and it is important that students learn in an environment that allows them to engage with their studies in as focused and comfortable a manner as possible” she concluded.

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