On the Art Floor Reallocation and COVID-19

By: Molly Meisels  |  March 22, 2020

By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief

The COVID-19 outbreak has initiated a new administrative-student relationship at Yeshiva University. In this crisis, YU’s leadership has recognized that transparency and accountability are the best ways to combat the effects of COVID-19 on our student population. The administration has worked closely with the Department of Health, shut down campuses in a timely manner, reached out to students to support them in their times of need, and have adapted their educational systems to run smoothly in our virtual world. They did this in a matter of weeks. Imagine what they could do with months and years of focus on other issues impacting the student body. 

Before COVID-19 consumed our daily lives, the administration was faced with a barrage of pertinent issues, most publicly the LGBTQ+ community requesting rights on campus and students enraged by the art floor reallocation. These issues are ones that the administration will need to deal with when this crisis blows over. Instead of returning to their usual methods of ignoring student pleas and concerning themselves with Public Relation nightmares, they should use their newly acquired transparency to deal with student issues in compassionate and collaborative ways. 

As an institution of higher learning that depends on students for its success, we, the students of Yeshiva University, should be the main voice of reason in cases of LGBTQ+ rights and maintaining the art floor for art students. Along with student rights, the university has an obligation to its faculty. YU’s faculty is represented by a faculty council. This council, similar to those at other universities, is meant to “enable Yeshiva University to maintain and improve its position as an eminent academic institution, [therefore] it is essential that the University provide a forum that enables faculty from across the institution to consider and resolve critical governance and educational issues.” For instance, in a decision as large as the reallocation of the art floor, faculty and the administration should have an equal decision-making voice. At other universities, faculty vote as a bloc and have power in administrative decisions. Instead, the decision to split the art floor and sever the art department’s ability to provide for its students, was made behind the backs of those keeping this university afloat — leaving faculty to pick up the pieces of academic disruption that the administration caused. 

It is clear that the only supporters of this art floor reallocation are the Katz School of Science and Health’s MS program in cybersecurity and President Berman’s administrative team — as this program is nothing but revenue for the university. However, undergraduate students, faculty, and alumnae are furious at this decision. This is clear through a petition composed by art students that has gathered 1,014 signatures thus far. It is clear through faculty support — with professors gathering signatures for the art department in their classrooms and rallying behind the chair of the studio art department. It is clear through alumnae outrage, with well-known individuals who majored in art at Stern College advocating on behalf of the department. 

“The art department should be growing, not getting smaller. Cutting this space will force women who want to major in art to go elsewhere, or worse give up their desired career,” shared Leah Gottfried, YU graduate and the creator and producer of the Soon by You web series. “Art is just as important as all the other majors, art is just as viable a career as anything else, and I would argue that empowering female Jewish artists and giving them the tools they need will not only help them flourish in their careers but allow them to continue to contribute to the Jewish community and the world. We need them.” Another former Stern College student, Sara Pool, has built props for Hamilton, The Cher Show, School of Rock, and more. She currently works at Juilliard and contributes her success largely to the Stern College art department. “The art department at Stern has produced many skilled and accomplished graduates. It would be a real mistake to undervalue the impact of the art department and the importance of arts education at Stern College,” she said. 

What we have seen from administrative responses to significant student issues is widespread lack of transparency and protection of student necessities. For quite some time, YU has chosen to bury pertinent information in an effort to lessen the blow on their reputations. This has been obvious in their secretive art floor deliberations, conducted behind the backs of faculty and students, and a deadly silence in the matters of LGBTQ+ rights on campus. 

Yes, the Katz School is a revenue treasure-trove. Yes, this money will benefit the university. But at what cost? What is this money going to be used for? If students and faculty are the administration’s top priorities, increasing revenue at the cost of education is counterintuitive. The money made by the cybersecurity program is useless if undergraduate students and their mentors will be paying the price. 

YU has some time to deliberate. Over the next few months, we will need to unite as a community with responsible disclosure, as we have done in this COVID-19 crisis. In an email to the YU community on March 20, President Berman shared, “Throughout this crisis, we have led with our values. They are our compass in these uncharted waters. Our central value is the preciousness of life which directs us to take every measure to protect the safety and health of our students and faculty, community and fellow citizens. Together with our core commitments to learning and education, faith and prayer, kindness and compassion, we have moved forward in this challenging time.” If YU’s central value is the preciousness of life, when the COVID-19 emergency ends and the debates over the art floor reallocation and LGBTQ+ rights return, administrative responses to students must align with this value. Transparency must become the status quo. Student and faculty voices must be placed on a pedestal of decision-making. 

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Photo: Artwork covered up by students to protest the art floor reallocation. 

Photo Source: YU Observer