NEW YORK (JTA) — The spring semester is in full swing, and the president of Yeshiva University, Richard Joel, is walking the two-and-a-half blocks from the school’s main study hall to his office.
Students and faculty members stop him as he makes his way south on Amsterdam Avenue, and Joel seems more than happy to engage them.
Joel is working to expand and improve the faculty and student body, and raise the university’s academic and religious profile. Now with Joel heading YU, the university is pouring about $30 million into its Manhattan campuses annually, renovating classrooms, expanding faculty office space and building new laboratories. Meanwhile, the university has added 56 full-time faculty positions since Joel’s arrival.
(Joel’s compensation was $619,700 in 2005-06, more than the president of Harvard earned that year.).
Propelling much of the growth at YU is Joel’s demonstrated fund-raising prowess. Perhaps in his most stunning success, Joel secured a $100 million pledge in 2006 from New York industrialist and former YU chairman Ronald Stanton (now chairman emeritus), the largest gift in Yeshiva’s history and, the university says, the largest ever to Jewish education in North America.
Joel shrugs off the latter suggestion, calling it a “bogus notion” and a “false dichotomy.” “You can’t go to most yeshivas and get multiple opinions,” Joel says. At Joel’s 2002 investiture, his predecessor and now the university’s chancellor and rabbinical school head, Rabbi Norman Lamm, called him the “unshakeable and uncompromising guardian” of the university’s “ineffable mission — Torah U’Madda.”
Where Lamm devoted his philosophic energies to extrapolating Torah U’Madda, Joel sees his job as enabling multiple types of students to find their particular paths as they struggle to meld opposites. Two days before his election, a group of leading Yeshiva rabbis told Joel to his face that they thought as a non-rabbi he was unsuitable for the job. “That I’ll never forgive them for,” Joel says now. Much of that initial opposition has dissipated, in part due to Joel’s charisma and legendary people skills. Joel also has had a long association with Yeshiva, serving as an associate dean of the law school and educating his children there.
Enrollment in the college already has grown by 9.3 percent under Joel’s leadership, but the president wants even more. Schachter subsequently apologized, saying he wasn’t serious, but Joel’s left-wing Orthodox critics protested that the rabbi was not removed from his post.
Joel is more comfortable in booster mode than refereeing university politics, singing the school’s praises to donors and strengthening Yeshiva’s role as a training ground for future Jewish leaders. That’s easily discerned during one of Joel’s walks around campus.
“Healthy, good,” Joel says, patting the fellow on the back and flashing a broad smile.