Saturday, November 10, 2007

Because the World Needs Leaders...AKA You All Suck & I Am God

This Commentator features an article entitled "Because the World Needs Leaders." Unfortunately, this article is nowhere to be seen in the online version of the paper (an oversight? Or perhaps a deliberate attempt to prevent comments about the piece?) It's a nasty piece which indulges the author's desire to assert his superiority over everyone else, take potshots at several different people, tear organizations down and otherwise effect little to no change under the guise of supposedly engaging in constructive critique.

I will spare you the wordy introduction (suffice it to say that he prefaces the nastiness with lots of pretty words and compliments to the few organizations that garner his approval) and get to the part where things become interesting.

However, still unhappy with results, the following is the YU community's case against recent student leadership.

Excuse me?! How is one person's opinion "the YU community's case against recent student leadership?" Who gave this guy the ability to speak for me, to speak for you? Perhaps I'm perfectly satisfied with my student leaders, perhaps I don't want to bring them to trial at all! So why in the world have I suddenly been included in this diatribe against YU student leaders?

Exhibit A: Within the past few years, an undergraduate student in a prominent Yeshiva leadership position treated his student board and a few other friends to an end-of-year dinner.

So far so good. Sounds reasonable to me; obviously you want to thank your committee for all their hard work and effort during the year.

After a year when his board accomplished very little and even tried to mask its programming lethargy by donating excessive funds to minor student clubs' poorly attended events, the "student leader" found money leftover.

There's so much that's wrong with this sentence- I don't even know where to begin. The first is that this sentence expresses an opinion that has absolutely nothing factual to back it up. In the author's opinion the board "accomplished very little and even tried to mask its programming lethargy by donating excessive funds to minor student clubs' poorly attended events." Who determines whether this board accomplishes a lot or a little? Where's the evidence for any of these claims?

Probably thinking that just surviving his senior year unscathed was a noble enough success, he decided to celebrate with his board and circle of friends with, according to several sources, a $1000 dinner at The Prime Grill, one of Manhattan's most expensive kosher restaurants (That's about 80 cents of every Wilf Campus student's tuition spent that night.)

Here he has a point. If this is true, that's despicable.

"Though usually not as pricey, such dinner practices are commonplace for student leaders," the defense would argue. In addition, some recent boards, the defense claims, spent similar funds on themselves, but spread over the course of the academic year.

I'm confused as to whether these are actual quotes from the person in question or what the defense would argue, i.e. he wasn't actually asked. Once again I'll agree with the author that this is a very weak argument.

Great, so some boards are slicker with their geneiva than others.

I'm fine with this point as well.

In our particular case, believing he was clever, the student avoided the careful watch of the Office of Student Affairs by retaining checks from event-sponsors and depositing them in an unsanctioned bank account. Still not clever enough, this was the best move he made all year.

So what we have here, assuming this story is true, is the tale of one despicable person who took student funds and used them for personal benefit and personal gain. Obviously wrong, obviously problematic, but still, when it comes down to it, one person's ugly abuse of his leadership position (how much his followers/ the other students who were part of this club knew about what he did is not answered in this article so we'll assume they were unaware.)

Exhibit B: Aside from the standard Wednesday night sichot mussar, snacks for the 25 talmidim in the Main Beit Midrash for Thursday night mishmar, and a few small precedented programs that require little or no work to set up, this year's SOY board has squandered the first half of the semester.

This is intense! The part here that particularly bothers me is the mention of these "few small precedented programs that require little or no work to set up." How does the author know this? Is he part of SOY? How is he aware of how much work is required to set up these programs; I for one know that the amount of work involved is almost always underestimated. The author also seems unhappy with SOY's following "standard" or "precedented" practices. I don't see how he can fault them for this! Perhaps you want them to be innovative or original, in which case offer some suggestions- but what in the world is wrong with them simply continuing to follow an established norm?

The only event this year, an October 22 shiur delivered by RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Zvi Sobolofsky cosponsored with Stern College's TAC, was attended by 20-30 Wilf Campus students.

Why is this SOY's fault? It's their job to run events; that's what they do and what they apparently did. Here they organized an October 22 shiur that was cosponsored by TAC and it was poorly attended. Is it their fault that people didn't show up? Why? How is this fair?

By comparison, last year's SOY board held seven original events at this time, last year.

I notice that he doesn't mention how well or poorly attended these events were, only the number of them. And who defines "original?"

"What type of things should we do?" SOY leaders curtly responded to my comments.

The use of the word "curtly" in this sentence is so unfair. It characterizes the SOY leaders as being brusque and uninterested in hearing comments, curt suggests dismissive. The connotation isn't supported by the question asked. I think the question is very valid! If you're going to criticize, if you aren't happy with the way things are progressing, then you ought to have suggestions and valid feedback, constructive criticism and explain what you want, what you would prefer to have in lieu of what's being given to you. "What type of things should we do?" suggests the SOY leaders are listening; they would be happy to have the author's input...and yet, as we are about to see, he doesn't give them anything to work with!

For a campus that has come to treat social leaders like party-planners with expensive cell phones, all we can ask of them is to use their portion of the $150 student activities fee built into every students' tuition and the massive financial resources made possible by the SOY Seforim Sale's yearly profits toward something, anything, productive for the students.

Which basically means "I haven't the faintest clue what you ought to be doing, but I like to complain."

Exhibit C: About a year ago, IHP Head RA Yaakov Bajtner broke up a late night co-ed party in IHP, reminding the Stern students there that they are not allowed in Wilf Campus housing.

This is old news. It happened a year ago. Why is he bringing this up now?

The group included Beren Campus RAs, EIMATAI and QUEST fellows and Commentator editors.

And doubtless plenty of others who didn't hold any of these positions. But we should obviously only focus upon those people who were members of the various organizations on campus. We should also carefully filter this so that we don't mention those who were present who were part of the YP program, say, or the BMP program, or anything that would throw the least shadow upon something the author supports, the Torah true kind of leadership. Can we also mention how utterly petty it is to throw in the "Commentator editors" who were present at this party? We can instantly identify the people you are talking about; this is pure lashon hara. And utterly immature. Taking potshots at people is rarely mature.

Not to see their plans ruined, the student leaders called upon their ingenuity, packed up their alcohol based Jello shots and headed for Tenzer Gardens.

I highly doubt it was only the student leaders who decided to move the location of the party, but rather a mass consensus. Nice that apparently they get to take the flak for the decision, however. I also wonder as to the age of the people at the party; assuming they were all over 21, which seems likely, what's the matter with the alcohol based Jello shots? Simply because you disapprove doesn't make it illegal.

Even weightier than Rambam's forceful comments on this issue (Hil. Yom Tov 6:21), it's against University rules to have females and alcohol in Wilf Campus University Housing. In fact, administrators have a zero-tolerance policy for such activities.

But they aren't the ones on trial, are they? We are.

All right. You're right on this issue. It is against the rules to have females and alcohol in Wilf Campus Housing. On the other hand, considering the fact that everyone on this campus are teenagers or above, you are going to have some of the issues you would encounter on the majority of other campuses. You are going to have alcohol, drugs and parties. And this is a really minor version of such a party. Do we have Duke lacrosse team strippers; do we have people getting plastered out of their minds? No. We have a tame group of Stern girls and guys and maybe some alcohol-laced Jello shots. Are we seriously going to get upset about this? Seriously? We're going to pronounce people guilty and damn them to hell based on this?

For too long, students have hidden behind their biology textbooks and seforim claiming that they simply don't have enough time to help improve our Yeshiva. It should be evident that this is not a sufficient response.

I think this depends. Especially on the Wilf Campus, where the guys have an incredibly intense schedule, I think the ones who participate in the clubs and extracurricular activities, who assume leadership positions are the ones who give up sleep, who go the extra mile, who really put in lots of time they don't have are going beyond the call of duty. I understand the legitimacy behind the statement that there are guys who simply don't have enough hours in the day to improve YU. I don't like it and I wish that people would commit regardless, but you can hardly blame people whose days go until at least 7:00 and sometimes longer if they have night seder for not wanting to attend meetings that cut into their classes or just wanting to sleep. So it depends on the truth behind their statement and the reason it's being given, but I don't think the suggestion that it's a copout because people honestly don't care is necessarily true. It could be true. But I doubt it's always true.

In our absence, we have allowed the wrong students to take leadership roles and misrepresent us to the broader Jewish community.

And this is an unforgivable statement. Because look at the argument the author has advanced. Based on the fact that one student leader was a sneak and a thief who used student funds to throw a lavish dinner for his organization, based on the fact that SOY leaders, in the author's opinion "don't do enough" for the students (though he gives no recommendations as to what they ought to do), based on the fact that a year ago there was one party on Wilf Campus property that included females and something alcohol-based, we can therefore make the strong, damning and unforgivable statement that the wrong students have been allowed to take leadership roles and misrepresent us to the broader Jewish community?

No! No, no and no! The argument is not solid; it doesn't stand up at all. It's incredibly weak! These are all isolated incidents that the author has thrown together, many of them are lacking in support and only seem to be based on the author's point of view or perception of events (see the SOY organization comments) and from these few incidents he determines that across the board the leadership is flawed, across the board we have failed, across the board we are guilty! We have allowed the wrong students, in his opinion, to misrepresent us to the broader Jewish community!

And what about the other students? What about the students who are doing things right, the students involved in the Social Justice club, the MedEthics society, Kol Hamevaser, the new Tanakh Journal? What about the students who aren't embezzling or thieves or attending parties that happened a year ago? No, they too get lumped in, they too are painted black with the same brush, they too are the wrong students who "misrepresent us to the broader Jewish community!"

The cheek, the utter cheek in making such a statement, the arrogance it mind-boggling...

During our time on campus, Yeshiva University is our community. More than any administrator, rosh yeshiva or faculty member, the students, the full-time residents of this campus, set the tempo and ideology of this campus.

Debatable but we'll let it go. It's reasonable enough.

Whether we fervently believe in the University's mission or consider this place a top-tier yeshiva that also provides reasonable opportunity at making a decent parnasa, YU is whatever we make of it.

And that's the most logical statement you've made thus far.

Because this campus needs leaders...

And luckily, we have them. We have Yonah Bardos, Aaron Kogut, Chani Schonbrun, Laura Schuman, David Lasher, Mattan Erder, Gabi Goodfriend, Etana Zack or any of numerous other impressive, amazing, fantastic people who dedicate so much of their time and effort to making sure things happen on our campuses, we have these people. And it is a shame and a crime to deny them because a select few make poor choices.

So let the murmurs of lashon harah about CJF and the rampant cynicism of each segment of the University end.

Is this a nice way of saying this piece is coming to an end? Because the only lashon harah I've heard has been beautifully this very article...

Making time to evoke change does not necessarily translate into less time in the beit midrash or lower grades on tests.

It doesn't? Says who? In order to make time to do anything important, you have to cut corners elsewhere. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much one person can give or do. The majority of the student leaders I know have to rearrange their schedules, skip classes or stay up till insane hours of the night in order to accomplish the things they accomplish. It is simply illogical to claim that people can mantain the saying goes, something's gotta give.

It may require more coffee, but it is mostly a matter of wanting to make a difference.

And here's another place where the author makes a good point. You can't teach desire. You can't teach people to want things. They have to want them on their own. They have to want them, desire them and then they have to be motivated to fulfill their goals.

And, if we don't end the apathy; if we don't evoke change, then the prosecution rests its case and let the jury turn in its verdict.

Another sensible statement, but somehow this has nothing to do with what this article is about. This article has only focused on the negative. It has focused on isolated incidents and extrapolated from these to suggest the entire leadership system is flawed, that we are in dire need of new leaders who must arise from hiding behind their sefarim and textbooks. But this has nothing to do with ending apathy. I would have liked to read an article about effectively ending apathy and evoking change. I would have been fascinated to read the author's suggestions about how one might accomplish this. But I don't seem to have read that article, now do I?

We're Guilty as charged.

So let's see. We take three isolated incidents, string them together into a pretty line, paint all the student leaders with one brush, create a crisis where there isn't any, assume that the answer to that crisis is to get the seforim or textbook-reading crowd to take charge and then end off with grand statements about ending apathy.

Do we have any plan? Has this article advanced any suggestions about how to change the apathy that the author claims is so prevalent? Has this article shown us how we will entice the seforim and textbook-reading crowd to get up and take the stand? Have I gained any practical advice about how to go about making a difference; is there a plan, is there something new here, something that will tell me and others how to proceed in order to change things for the better?

Is there, in other words, something constructive in this piece?

Because I wouldn't have minded constructive criticism. I wouldn't have minded hearing "the SOY leaders have done this and this thus far, but in my opinion they ought to be focusing on this. Here are a couple of ways in which they can do X, perhaps through leading and funding events through A, B and C." That would have been an interesting article. That would have been a helpful, effective way to end the apathy (if indeed it must be ended) and help create change.

But this? This is a nasty, accusatory, petty stab at various people, entirely negative, entirely unproductive, a whining and complaining attack on the school that claims to speak for me and for you, for the entire YU community.

I know that the author does not speak for me in this piece.

I'm hoping he does not speak for you.

Because I know too many good people who have been entirely ignored by this piece (even admitting for those mentioned in his introduction, the "several groups who have done well so far this year,") too many wonderful people who have given up their time and energy for this place and I would find it extremely upsetting that an incoherent rant based on nothing but three isolated incidents, one of them wholly based on the author's idea of what ought to happen (SOY) would convince you that we have "allowed the wrong students to take leadership roles and misrepresent us to the broader Jewish community."

There are many ways to encourage greater commitment, more productivity and less apathy on campus. There are ways to offer productive and constructive criticism, to advance suggestions of what ought to be done and create the change one wants to see.

This is not one of them.


fudge said...

i think one of the most interesting facets of this article is that, as you've said, it functions remarkably well as a gossip piece. with just a few key words i can identify nearly everyone he's mentioning here and i must confess some disbelief that such individuals behaved as guiltlessly as he claims.

but regardless, this is the kind of old-school opinion piece you once saw a lot of in yu's undergrad papers: people who are upset or feel wronged yet have no concrete idea what should have been done differently. they are left with a vague feeling of having been let down, but are not necessarily willing or even capable of picking up the slack. they write pieces like this because they feel like somehow this is doing their part - or, as you said, because they like to complain, or it makes them feel important or intelligent to do so. an example of this would be the 'there should be more unity on campus!' or 'stern is so clicky!' articles of yore - something that is easily said and usually without any plan of implement.

it is indeed sad that he is taking down the good and the bad indiscriminately. but i think it is easy to target those in power, and you in particular have seen more of the good and personable sides of student leaders than most simply because you yourself devote more of your energy - and more of your time - to producing and attending these events. for many students, people like Chani and Aaron and Yonah are signatures on an sstud. his generalized term "leaders" may go down smoother than you realize, and i'm not sure he has someone specific in mind at all times throughout this article.

the only point you make i could take issue with is that of the poorly attended events; you're right, there's no way to know, but when only 20 guys show up, it sounds like the event suffered from bad advertising or poor information, and those are things that can be fixed and would seem to indicate a less-than-enthusiastic leadership. i know because i myself make for a disastrously slothlike event director and when mine suffer, it's usually because i didn't do enough to engage the student body or spread interest about the event - by not reaching out to different groups i didn't know or making it sound appealing enough in my e-mails or speech. sometimes an event falls through with no expanation whatever - but there usually is some.

on the whole, though, his argument is without concrete evidence or advice, so it becomes very rhetoric-y and empty.

what i found particularly amusing was when he deplored this year's board for not having the creative programming that last year's board - the ones he bashed in the beginning of the article - effected. i felt like he'd switched teams or something. 'now just wait one minute...'

Anonymous said...

As an old friend of mine once told me "don't make the same mistake and reason that people actually care." At moments when I feel so saturated with disgust and contempt, like when I first read the article, I always feel the need to step outside of myself and slowly assess the situation. This is an attempt to vent and something of the same nature could be said about your piece, although I do think of you more in the right here. Petty and pathetic though it may be, take solice in the fact that at the end of the day - it doesn't matter. One dean recently told me that the Commentator was looking more and more like a children's newspaper. While that affected me some, it may me reflect on the position the newspaper has on campus. I haven't quite finished that reflection yet, but I do notice more of these papers sitting unread in the bins then say... last year. So, ma'am, I would like to suggest two tacts to take, and this is something I've suggested to many others in the same boat you were in. How do you define your role as a student leader - to do your job? or to better the school? The choice is yours. But, and although I know how theraputic it may be, complaining is quite often unbecoming. That said, remarkably well written as usual. If I ever become the editor of something...

Mordy said...

To Chana:

When a member of the Commentator asked me what I thought about the article, I told him that blind items belong on Page 6, not in the Commentator. Honestly, if this stuff is news, it should be in the news section. And if it's not news, it shouldn't be anywhere at all.

To Anonymous:

The Deans aren't the only ones who share this opinion. The Commentator is barely a newspaper, let alone a children's paper. It's become, on its best days, a press release packet, and on its worse, this kind of bitter, virulent ranting. Perhaps the article is really a guilty admission of failure on behalf of the writer: The Commentator as a non-leadership institute.

A.B. said...

Very sharp piece, Chana. Although I think he had some important points to make, he could have written it in a way that didn't reek entirely of gossip. 3 berries on the ground does not mean there is an bush nearby. I pray this article will not turn into anti-YU ammunition for certain people, who can hold up this article and say "and this is why you shouldn't go to YU".
I suppose this theme of apathy that the Commentator is harping on echoes from the previous issue's editorial. Maybe he is trying to find someone to blame, so blame the leadership for the rank-and file's apathy. Easy targets. Its not entirely their fault. Or maybe if the leadership truly is as shoddy as he claims, its part of a larger malaise. Treat the cause,(apathy) not the symptoms.

jackie said...

Editorials in the Observer and the Commie have been bemoaning student apathy for as long as I've been on campus. I agree that he may not have presented this complaint in a very nice way, but the opinion he's stating is old news.

And to some degree, at least, he has a point there.

Anonymous said...

LOL. Im so glad i went to a real college that had actual admission standards. At its best the commentator looks like the product of a bunch of monkeys left alone at typewriters.

jackie said...

Why do all of the comments bash the overall quality of the Commie? This year, the paper has come out already some eight or so times, and each issue has been pretty large. But not only has it been prolific, it's covered important news stories and sparked productive conversation. [In my floor of Schottie, if you're not holding in the Commentator and the day it's published then you won't understand the floor chats. Although we love the Observer too, we don't read t as religiously.] And unlike last year, the Commie this year hasn't pushed its readers' buttons in unabashedly naked attempt to up the readership.

Sure, the paper has its rather embarrassing pieces that make you wonder "why was this published?", but to expect the paper to be completely devoid of lousy articles is an unfair expectation for so small a school. And of course the paper has unproductive complaining in it--it always has had and probably always will. But why get so critical of this year's Commie? If anything, they're probably doing a better job than the past few years' staffs have done.

G said...

"You All Suck & I Am God"

Hey, you can't do that! I have that trademarked on my personal coat of arms.

Yosef said...

This year the Commentator certainly has had a more right wing slant then in the past, which makes some people happy and angers others.

But there is one problem this year that many agree on. The Commie comes out too often. This puts immense pressure on the writers and editors--some of them quit in order to keep up with their other commitments. The quality of the paper also suffers tremendously. In the 2nd issue, an entire page was printed twice. There are numerous spelling mistakes and grammatical errors throughout as well. Also, is there that much going on at YU that we need to read about it every week?

But although I'm still wondering what "the central tenants of Modern Orthodoxy" have to do with the other denizens in my apartment building, I can't say I don't still enjoy reading all the paper's articles and numerous complaints.

the apple said...

I agree with Jackie. And I think you're being a bit harsh, Chana.

Harry said...

The writer had some very good points, and perhaps the only real fault is the ultra-terse wording.

Nevertheless, the student groups criticised have been VERY non-active this year. I emphasize the fact those criticised are deserving of such - NOT those you mention, since they were not the target of the article. (I know this from having overheard the conversation that led to the writing of this article).

This is the reality. I can easily see a very stark contrast between those who currently fill the bashed positions vs. those who held them last year. Last year, many different events were organized, and it seemed like something was going on all the time. The leaders of these groups were very much in the public eye, attempting to garner interest in forthcoming events, almost to the point of being a little annoying - but that's their job - to plan the events, publicise them out the wazoo and then run the events.

In fact, there was uproar last year when the current leaders were elected, and the same claim was made - what are they going to do!? Much more proactive and energetic candidates lost because of a simple issue of popularity amongst the voting bodies for each organization (ie: MYP for SOY etc). Now we have actually seen that their fears have actual cause, and the leaders HAVE been sitting there and doing basically nothing all year.

Just compare the flood of YSTUD emails last year from the leaders in these positions vs. the utter lack of almost anything this year (except for an occasional sichas mussar). That alone should be evidence to the difference in the performance of the current leaders.

I see your point, but you may not understand the situation as well as those on the Wilf Campus do. This is not to your discredit, since you don't live here on a day-to-day basis, and simply would not see the difference.

Are You Kidding? said...

I have to confess that I was taken aback by this particular post and the subsequent comments. The Commentator, as far as I can tell, comes out more often than ever without compromising the number of news stories found within. The writing is sound and the news and feature stories cover the entire range of issues on campus. As for the opinions, it seems like the editors stopped talking about Torah u’Madda, finally, and are bringing up serious issues pertaining to both aspects of the campus.

Finally, the piece covered in this post is an EDITORIAL. That being the case, one cannot complain that the writer decided to use language and cases to prove his point. You might disagree, but formulated as an editorial, how is this any different than any other column? The writer does not impose his view – he tries to shock his readers into realization that not everything is so great amongst student leaders.