By Shoshanah Marcus, Editor in Chief
In an email sent out to the undergraduate student body on June 14, 2021, the YU administration announced that the Fall 2021 classes held before the High Holidays will be in-person.
When the Fall 2021 calendar was announced, students were concerned about the fact that there would only be a week of in-person classes prior to the High Holiday break where they may wish to return home and then travel back when classes resume. A petition was created to ask the YU administration to consider offering an online or hybrid version for the first week of classes, considering that they would reportedly be offering remote instruction between the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur/Sukkot, after Sukkot break, after Purim break, and before Pesach break. At the time of publication, the petition received over 400 signatures.
The email, signed by Dean Karen Bacon, Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, Dean Paul Russo, and Dean Noam Wasserman, addressed students’ inquiries regarding beginning classes in a hybrid or remote mode, as carried out during the Spring 2021 semester. The YU administration stated that these formats “will not be possible for multiple reasons.” They included that in order “to start off on the right foot and build the best foundation for their college years, first time on campus students (FTOCs) need to start off with Orientation, face-to-face interactions with faculty and peers, and meetings with academic advisors.”
For both international students and students who do not live in the tri-state area, this decision means that they will be required to be in person for the first week of classes, and, if they wish to return home for the High Holidays, they would need to fly home a week later. In the email, the administration clearly noted that “international students need to adhere to federal regulations that mandate in-person attendance early in the semester” and that “if [students] will be absent from early classes,” they should “make up the work in the same way as [they] would make up any other absence.”
This decision has serious implications and raises concerns for many students. Eli Saperstein (SSSB ‘23) commented to the YU Observer that “After hearing that there will be no more online classes at first I was relieved. When I realized that what this means is that all the luxuries that we have come to take for granted where we can zoom in to class from anywhere we want. The fact that many of us will have to dorm or commute for a week and then take a month off and then start classes for real is a bit frustrating. I can only imagine how hard it is for those who live out of town.” Saperstein continued to express his frustration saying that “It feels like YU after building the system we used for the past year all of a sudden when the students feel it is in their best interests that maybe we shouldn’t have in person classes. YU isn’t taking our needs into consideration versus looking to provide a solution that works best for everyone. I can’t wait to start classes in person but starting in person for a week and then leaving for a month doesn’t make sense anymore.” Batia Segal (SCW ‘23) shared similar views saying, “I decided that I wasn’t going to go home this year for Chagim because it simply doesn’t make sense to spend another 100+ dollars to fly back and forth for only 6 days.”
Students have speculated what may have led the administration to this decision. Mili Chizhik (SCW ‘21) suggested that “it is likely that the administration is unwilling to allow the classes to be virtual until after the Jewish holidays because then the students would likely request that the dorms only open after the holidays. With this delayed opening, students would also demand that the housing and meal plan costs be prorated. This reduction in costs would then cause a lower profit margin for YU, therefore the requirement of in person classes seems to be from an economic standpoint rather than a practical standpoint.”
In the announcement, Deans Bacon, Kalinsky, Russo, and Wasserman reflected that “being together is a significant part of the YU experience.” They added that “YU has wonderful activities and programs planned for when we return to campus. For those who will want to stay with us over the Jewish Holidays, exciting programs are being planned that will enhance your experience as members of the Yeshiva community.” The administration concluded by saying, “We look forward to greeting all of you in person, and to helping you form the strong bonds that, we pray, will take us into a vibrant future.”