By Yitzhak Graff
During the recent cancellation of student-run activities at Yeshiva University, I was intrigued by the amount of apathy the general student populace had towards the situation. The student body’s disregard and lack of interest in supporting the activities of student government is not new. The first president of the Yeshiva College Student Council (YCSC), Hyman Muss, commented about it in 1931: “It must be borne in mind… the Students’ Council can never reap any fair degree of success unless the students awake to the realization of the importance of the potentialities of the organization.”
The purpose of student government, as understood by Muss, was to serve as “the official voice of the students” to the administration and the “central organization for the promotion of extracurricular activities.” The various student councils are by no means slacking in this regard, but in my experience, it is difficult to get reliable information about the internal politics of student government. This current culture of secrecy is in stark contrast to the detailed summaries of internal politics that the student governments published in the student newspapers for the majority of the 20th century. Consequently, the student body is generally uninformed of the student government’s activities in its role as the voice of the students to the administration and are kept in the dark about the politics behind the extracurricular activities that they sponsor. There are several steps that the student government can do to improve the student body’s awareness and involvement in their activities.
1) Freedom of Information:
The student government should release its internal documents from past years. This will enable the student body to understand how student government performs its duties, and also empower student politicians to point to specific accomplishments or challenges that need remedy as they seek election. Such internal documents could include financial records, promotional material, or even the by-laws of the clubs sponsored by the student government. This proposed freedom of information program will need an active archival program to ensure that all relevant records are accounted for, released and safeguarded.
In addition to the release of internal records, opening all student government meetings to the general student populace will allow students to engage with current issues before the records are able to be released. The student government should publicly promote these meetings and provide food at the meetings to encourage students to attend. Both campus constitutions stipulate such public meetings, though from my experience, such meetings are never publicized on the Wilf campus.
2) Active Public Relations Department:
Although some student government organizations already have PR departments, such as the Stern College for Women Student Council (SCWSC) and the Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY), a centralized department designed to promote all student government activities will be invaluable in effectively communicating with the student body. In the pre-internet days, the student government published budgets and activity schedules in the student newspapers in addition to posting flyers on designated bulletin boards. Nowadays, an increased level of public engagement can be achieved through active social media pages. A PR department that actively promotes student government activities on WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok will be able to catch the attention of many more students.
3) Expansion of Student Government:
There are currently too few seats in the Yeshiva Student Union (YSU). In 1956, at the student government’s peak membership to student-population ratio, there were 15 members of YCSC compared to about 450 registered students in Yeshiva College. The YCSC, which filled a role similar to YSU today, consisted of three members from each class and three members at large. Not counting the members at large, that’s a ratio of 38 students per class representative. Today, we have six class representatives, one for each class group, with over 1,000 students enrolled in the undergraduate schools. Based on the 2021 enrollment statistics, students of Yeshiva College and Sy Syms School of Business, totaling 1,036 full and part-time students, had only 4 representatives in the Yeshiva Student Union. That’s a ratio of 259 students per representative. Undergraduate students at YU are greatly underrepresented in student government, and the student government organizations should at the very least have two class representatives for the undergraduate classes of Yeshiva College and Sy Syms School of Business.
An expanded and more aggressive public-facing student government at Yeshiva will be able to more effectively empower students to become strong and assertive leaders. This larger and more representative student government will find more success in building a deeper sense of community among the students of YU and be more capable of resisting the administration’s attempts to meddle with student activities.