After more than two months of concern and uncertainty about the future of Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, the board of trustees of the university Tuesday approved the continuation of the school on its Washington Heights campus, and pledged to strengthen it academically and financially.The decision, based on the recommendation of two committees, is a victory for advocates of the 80-year-old high school, some of whom may be wondering what the fuss was all about in the first place.
Ever since university officials in January raised the possibility of closing the school, whose enrollment has decreased since 1992 from 520 to 340 students, a number of alumni, parents, students and faculty have lobbied for its continuation. They asserted that the school, known formally as the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA), is improving academically and has become more selective in its enrollment.
Those who had called for closing the school had argued that YU did not need the financial burden of operating a high school, and could use the space on campus for the men’s university, which is growing.As the outcry against closing the school intensified, Dr. Norman Lamm, the university president, appointed two committees to study the situation. One was comprised of the board of RIETS, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and chaired by attorney Julius Berman. Businessman Jack Bendheim chaired the other committee. Both committees supported the continuation of MTA on the YU campus as an integral component of Yeshiva’s overall commitment to Torah and academic excellence.
In an open letter this week to the YU high schools community — there is also the Samuel H. Wang girls high school in Queens — Lamm said he expected that “a number of changes will be made to further strengthen” MTA. “We also anticipate more vigorous philanthropic activity in order to ensure that the enhancements succeed and that both schools continue to thrive.”The letter appears on page 9 of this issue.
There was no elaboration on the nature of the changes or enhancements, though one board member said there is a need to be more selective in hiring and reappointing MTA faculty, as well as paying more competitive salaries.Ironically, then, while one of the reasons given for closing the school had been that it is a financial drain on the university, losing more than $1 million a year, the outcome is a financial commitment to invest more in the school.
Rabbi Michael Taubes, the principal of MTA, said he was hopeful that the open letter will “restore confidence to parents,” particularly those of incoming ninth-graders for next fall, that the school is continuing. He added that one positive benefit from the last two months of intense discussion about his school’s future is that so many parents and alumni came to its defense, underscoring “the important role this school plays as part of Yeshiva University and of the community.”
The RIETS board will play a more active supervisory role and oversee the operation of both the boys and girls high schools, Lamm said. He also indicated that YU plans to begin “other initiatives to support Jewish education” for teens. “These may include collaborative arrangements with other Jewish high schools in the metropolitan area and, eventually, a nationwide network of affiliated high schools and day schools.”