Commentary Magazine


Yeshiva’s Self-Inflicted Carter Wound

All eyes are on Yeshiva University this week as they prepare to host a controversial awards ceremony today. Earlier this month the YU-affiliated Cardozo School of Law announced an award whose honoree outraged many in the Jewish community, including a portion of the school’s alumni. Despite a campaign waged by outraged friends and alumni, it appears today Cardozo will be bestowing on former President Jimmy Carter its “International Advocate for Peace Award.”

As our readers are aware, there is no love lost between pro-Israel activists and the former president. If Carter had been chosen to receive this award by any other university in the country, Zionists would have scoffed and chalked the selection up to predictable liberal bias on America’s campuses. The fact that it’s Yeshiva University, a privately funded school with ties so close to Israel that her flag flies alongside its American counterpart outside university offices, is particularly egregious. While the university denies a role in Carter’s selection (they claim to have placed that responsibility on a student group’s shoulders) many of the individuals campaigning against the award wonder why the University didn’t nix the selection before it was announced. 

The situation has become a major black eye for the university. In a form letter sent to an alumni concerned about the award, university President Richard Joel responded:

While he has been properly lauded for his role in the Camp David Accords of 1978, I strongly disagree with many of President Carter’s statements and actions in recent years which have mischaracterized the Middle East conflict and have served to alienate those of us who care about Israel. President Carter’s presence at Cardozo in no way represents a university position on his views, nor does it indicate the slightest change in our steadfastly pro-Israel stance.

That said, Yeshiva University both celebrates and takes seriously its obligation as a university to thrive as a free marketplace of ideas, while remaining committed to its unique mission as a proud Jewish university.

Even if the school’s students have chosen Carter without the university’s input, one must wonder why Cardozo’s students are unaware of Carter’s record on Israel and other human rights issues. The Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this week

“I can’t imagine a worse candidate for any kind of a human rights award,” Harvard law professor and pro-Israel author Alan Dershowitz told the Washington Free Beacon Monday. “He has more blood on his hands than practically any other president,” Dershowitz said, referring to Carter’s silence in the face of Communist leader Pol Pot’s slaughter of some 2 million Cambodians.

Carter, author of the controversial book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has met with the terrorist group Hamas and rallied against Israel on the international stage, providing much fodder for the Jewish state’s fiercest critics.

“He has encouraged terrorism and violence by Hamas and Hezbollah,” Dershowitz said, who dubbed students’ desire to award Carter as “immoral.”

Carter “has done more harm to the cause of human rights than anyone I can think of,” Dershowitz said. “It’s a terrible, terrible choice.”

It hasn’t been an easy few years for the school financially, especially after the Bernie Madoff scandal helped to significantly clean out its coffers. In an widely circulated open letter published in the school’s newspaper late last year, faculty members anonymously griped about the dysfunction in the school’s administration. The financial situation at the school is especially troubling:

First and foremost, the finances of the University are much worse than President Joel portrayed them to be.  Yeshiva’s discretionary endowment[i] is nearly zero, and the overall endowment has not only plummeted in value, but has plummeted in relative value.  In 2006, the value of YU endowment was 47th among all universities in the United States, while in 2011 it was 66th. In fact, if one looks up Wikipedia’s “list of colleges and universities by endowment worth more than $1 billion,”[ii] YU is the only university to show a smaller endowment in 2011 than in 2006.  The only one. Moreover, the upswing experienced by all universities in the last three years is less at Yeshiva than elsewhere.

For example, in 2006, Columbia’s endowment was $5.2 billion and it is now $7.9 billion, whereas in 2006 Yeshiva endowment was $1.15 billion and now it is $1.13 billion.  We are running out of money, and there are very painful cuts ahead of us that will go to the muscle of Yeshiva if we are not careful. Denying the terrible mismanagement of the endowment over the last decade, and the errors the University made (that other similar institutions did not make) in response to the Great Recession increases the likelihood that we will never learn our financial lesson.  It is not about the Madoff fraud or the Merkin scandal, rather the whole structure does not work and no real information is shared about why.  No one is speaking about what caused the terrible drain on the endowment and when it will stop. In short, there is no transparency.

With the finances at the school being so precarious, it’s extremely troublesome that the concerns of friends of the university as well as alumni, both large donor bases, have been ignored as the university has clearly decided to go ahead with this event. 

From Carter’s nomination and selection by misinformed or naive post-graduate students to the university administration’s refusal to step in, there are clear and worrisome signs within the country’s most prominent Jewish university. As a former president prepares to receive the award today, the school will now have to face the shame of having to usher him and his entourage past protests of outraged members of the university community, where President Joel will then have to face the man he was forced to repudiate just days ago. Every aspect of how this situation has unfolded should have been obvious to the university’s administration weeks ago. The fact that the situation progressed in this manner should give pause to anyone concerned about the state of Jewish education both at Yeshiva and beyond. 

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