On Thursday, September 10, 65-year old Richard Joel, the president of Yeshiva University, made the announcement in an email sent to Y.U. staff, students and alumni, that he will step down by the end of his current term. In 2018, his term is scheduled to expire. The email was obtained and first publicized by JTA.
In the letter, Joel wrote, “I am well into my 13th year of the presidency and the 28th year of leading Jewish educational institutions. When I accepted a third term as president, I informed our chair, Henry Kressel, that it would be my last. As we now are poised to advance, I have asked chairman Moshael Straus to begin the process of transition and to identify and recruit my successor. This wonderful and committed lay leadership deserves to have the time to be deliberate in that process.”
JTA reported: “Joel’s tenure at Yeshiva University, considered the flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy, has coincided with a severe decline in the university’s financial health.
The first major public financial hit to the university came in 2008, when the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme caused significant losses to the Y.U. endowment and many of its major donors.
But as the health of the overall economy improved, Yeshiva’s losses grew, and Y.U. has run an operating deficit for seven straight years. It lost $84 million in 2014 — despite the sale of some $72.5 million of real estate and staff cutbacks, according to audited financial statements cited in the Forward — and lost $64 million in 2013.
In an interview Thursday, Joel told JTA that he anticipates neutralizing those losses by the time he steps down in 218. ‘We will be sustainable,’ Joel said. ‘It’s going to take a couple of years to be in a cash-positive situation, and I am committed to leading us there.’”
According to Cleveland Jewish News: “In Thursday’s email, Joel announced the signing of a deal to transfer Einstein’s operations and finances to the Bronx-based Montefiore Health Systems. Y.U. has been attempting to offload Einstein for some time. The university first announced in May 2014 that Montefiore would take over operational control of Einstein, but the deal fell apart several months later.
Around that time, Moody’s, which had downgraded Y.U.’s credit rating to B3, indicating a high credit risk, warned that the school could run out of money before it had time to address its deep deficits.
‘The severity and long duration of Yeshiva’s operating deficits are primarily due to weak financial management and the board’s unwillingness or inability to act,’ said a Moody’s report in March 2014 that warned the university could run out of money in 2015. ‘Historically ineffective internal controls and limited transparency contributed to an inability to identify and correct problems.’
This past March, the undergraduate faculty overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding no-confidence motion against Joel, prompting the board to issue a statement supporting him. The board said it was working with the outside advisers Alvarez & Marsal to implement a new financial plan and identify areas for streamlining and realignment.”
Many other recent positive developments at the university were mentioned in Joel’s email; including: a new gift from Mordecai and Monique Katz for $15 million; the planned launch of a new School of General Studies and Continuing Education; the planned offering of an online master’s program in marketing; and an increase in net undergraduate tuition revenue by close to $6 million during the last two years.
“We have just launched a Strategic Planning and Restructuring Implementation Team to carry the restructuring forward,” Joel wrote. “Now we are moving from restructuring to an academic and operational turnaround.”
Joel’s retirement announcement came at the end of the letter.
In an interview with WSJ on Thursday, September 10, Joel said, by telling the board that he won’t seek another term, “it gives them the time and the ability to find the best person to succeed me and move the institution forward.”
He also said that he has not made any post-presidency plans yet.
Joel explained to JTA, “It is exceedingly challenging to find that person. It’s a person with hopefully traits and convictions that are a match for what people call the flagship for modern Orthodoxy, but who also has the capacity and the agenda to lead people and deal with the everyday vicissitudes that come with this job.”
In his interview with JTA, Joel explained the large amount of progress achieved on the financial front.
He said, “You have a Yeshiva University that’s now transformed. Academically, it’s in a wonderful place. In a financial way, it’s in a turnaround place.”
According to public tax filing by Y.U., Joel was paid $873,337 and earned an additional $397,973 in other compensation, in 2013. He was the 24th highest-paid university president in the nation for 2012, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Joel was president of the international Jewish student group Hillel, before being assigned to Y.U.’s top position in 2003. He was the first non-rabbi to lead Yeshiva, which was founded in 1886. The three predecessors at Yeshiva of Joel’s had much longer tenures. Lamm, his immediate predecessor, led Y.U. from 1976 until 2003.
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