It’s pretty much the same process at any university that loses accreditation (both of these universities are distinctly heading that way), loses its financial base (both are Moody’s basket cases), loses alumni donations (SCSU never had much of that, but Yeshiva did, and it’s losing it), and loses students (enrollment is tanking at both schools). If you want to know how to drive your school into the dirt, you can learn the procedure at almost any failing or failed university. A few schools (Sweet Briar) shut down because of market or demographic forces they really can’t control (very few women want to go to single-sex schools), but the overwhelming number of institutional collapses of the sort Yeshiva and SCSU are undergoing display the same mix of factors. Let’s review them, using as our focus this account of the latest developments at Yeshiva.
UD used to think that boards of trustees were pretty pointless – rich businesspeople overseeing, in a vague way, the activities of a university, but, basically, above all, and ever and ever, being called upon to transfer huge chunks of their personal fortune over to the place. Indeed this non-interventionism might be more or less the way things are at high-functioning schools… Maybe you’ll find one or two trustees who actually do understand universities, and who actually have a meaningful relationship with the school’s president… At happy roly-poly little sports factories like Auburn you’ll find one or two trustees (they played for the team back when) actually setting admissions policies and sticking their noses in recruitment, but this form of corruption doesn’t push the school in the direction of collapse. You can’t collapse a school that’s already, like Auburn, an intellectual joke. And it can in fact be perfectly serviceable to have a BOT made up of clueless sheep herded by a brilliant Babe.
Most BOT’s, in other words, don’t amount to much in the smoothly running institutional scheme of things; they’re like US ambassadors to Malta. How badly can they fuck up? You don’t want the person you appoint ambassador to Malta to be ambassador to Afghanistan; for Afghanistan, you need someone who knows how to be an ambassador. For Malta, a rich donor to the current President’s campaign will do. For trustee, a rich donor to the university will do.
But it turns out that a truly depraved board of trustees can bring down a school. Truly stupid, self-serving, self-righteous, risk-taking cronies of the sort Yeshiva and SCSU boast can take an already vulnerable campus and pound it into the dirt.
The key is greed and secrecy.
The key is assembling a group of male buddies (if you want total destruction, the more men the better), many of whom are in each others’ pockets financially, none of whom knows or cares anything about universities as such, and all of whom think they’re doing the lord’s work – for race, for religion, for class. Schools that implode tend to be fantastically parochial. Their trustees are fantastically parochial people, ignorant of much beyond their particular political or spiritual orthodoxy. These trustees routinely bring on board characters like Jonathan Pinson and Bernard Madoff and let them run the show because hey Jonathan! Bernie! My man!
So now your trustees are hard at work stealing the school’s endowment while, one by one, being very publicly carted off to prison or court – a carting off that really does very little for your school’s reputation and its alumni loyalty. For president at this point you have one of two types: The twelfth deer in the headlights you’ve hired in twelve days (the board merrily ignores this person) or just the opposite – a loyal long-serving crony-servant.
The process of destruction is now so bad at Yeshiva and SCSU that the faculty is routinely voting no confidence left and right… But another problem with BOTs of this sort is that they do not know that the faculty exists. What does a faculty do? Students they get – students go to concerts and games and students provide the money the BOT misappropriates. Students, yes. Faculty? So this sort of BOT/university president essentially does not communicate with faculty. Their relationship to faculty is restricted to firing most of it when the BOT’s years of malfeasance destroy the school’s credit rating and they can’t borrow any more money.
“It’s the time of year when we put the schedule together, and we realized we were paralyzed because we didn’t know which faculty would be around,” said [Gillian] Steinberg, an associate professor of English and director of writing at YC. “The administration won’t tell us who will get a contract renewal.”
She can’t take it anymore; she’s leaving Yeshiva.
Then there are the students. You can see Yeshiva cultivating a good longterm relationship with them as well.
According Yadin Teitz, a junior at Yeshiva College who has been leading student efforts to get information from the administration, the “administration operates without consulting the faculty.”
“There’s no connection between what’s going on at the top and at the bottom,” Teitz, an editor at The Commentator student newspaper, told The Jewish Week. Teitz’s March 3 article was the first time students, and many faculty members, found out about cuts being made to the core curriculum.
“There’s no transparency,” said Teitz, who said it was “crazy” that faculty members had to find out about cuts to their own programs through a student newspaper.
Exactly the same at SCSU. You’ve basically got a semi-criminalized sect sequestered in a building somewhere on campus, working feverishly to continue bleeding what money they can out of the institution before it utterly bleeds out.
March 20th, 2015 at 5:24PM
Yeshiva’s still got a $1 billion endowment, as of 2014. Their immediate numbers aren’t looking good, but that’s a lot of cash to be sitting on.