Monday, April 11, 2016

Lakewood Lies

Let's pause to recognize the deeply disingenuous article published on 4/7 in the Wall Street Journal by Avi Schick in which he attempts to argue that BMG is an ordinary school, and the contested $10.6 million state grant it received was used to build an ordinary library.

In fact, let's give the whole dishonest mess a good solid fisking

Rabbi Aharon Kotler arrived in the U.S. on April 10, 1941, having escaped Lithuania as the Nazis approached. Even as the Holocaust proceeded to destroy Jewish life in Europe, Rabbi Kotler declared that he would rebuild it in America.

He convinced 13 students to join him in Lakewood, N.J., where in 1943 he founded Beth Medrash Govoha. Today, BMG enrolls more than 6,800. Another mark of its success is that the school now has become caught up in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2013 the state of New Jersey decided to give grants to colleges and universities to promote business and job opportunities. BMG was awarded $10.6 million to help build a new library and improve other of its facilities.

But the ACLU filed a lawsuit against New Jersey, objecting that the grant violates the state constitution. It is also offended that BMG is an all-male school, even though that is perfectly legal. After years of procedural wrangling, the lawsuit will be heard in a New Jersey appellate court on Monday—75 years, almost to the day, since Rabbi Kotler debarked in San Francisco and set about to transform Jewish life in America.

If that isn’t a sufficient good omen

Um... I apologize for not being well-versed in spells and portents, but why is this any kind of omen at all? Even if the hearing was to occur on the exact same day as the disembarkation, I'd say who cares, but "almost to the day?" How does that carry any significance at all? 

there is also Harvard Law School Prof. Noah Feldman’s prediction, in a Bloomberg article shortly after the lawsuit was filed, that the ACLU’s challenge “is on shaky constitutional grounds and will probably fail.”

You can read Feldman's article here. While Schick is trying to make you think Feldman wrote a detailed and comprehensive review of the law, the article is actually a Lakewood Valentine, entitled "Where Jewish Life Thrives in America" Its true that Feldman calls the ACLU suit "shaky"; however,  the rest of the article is such an unapologetic puff piece its fair to wonder exactly how rose-petaled Feldman's glasses were when he made this "prediction"

Let’s start with a stated purpose of the grants, which were intended to help spur economic development.

Where exactly is  this purpose stated? Schick doesn't say, and I can't find it. However, via my mad Googling skills I came up with this description of the grant program that provided BMG with the money:
The projects, many of which are shovel-ready, include cutting edge research laboratories, the latest computerized classrooms, and cyber networks that will allow students and faculty to interact with colleagues around the world through long-overdue construction, maintenance and attention to the State’s higher education community.
The cite is from the Governor's press release in which the grants were announced. It doesn't say anything about spurring economic development. It says that the point of the money is to repair and revitalize New Jersey's colleges and universities, and provide NJ students with better academic opportunities. In fact, here's how the governor describes the grants in his own words 
"Today, we begin a new era of opportunity for New Jersey’s colleges and universities,” Governor Christie said. “To keep more of our best students in the State and to make our colleges more attractive research partners for industries looking to bring good paying jobs and businesses here, we need modern facilities to remain competitive.”
So according to the governor, at least, the point of the money is to "keep the best students in the state" and "to make our colleges more attractive research partners." Not, economic development.

BMG’s primary achievement is as an academic institution, but along the way it has transformed its hometown. Thousands of its alumni have purchased homes, raised families and created businesses in Lakewood and across New Jersey. A 2015 report commissioned by the school shows that its alumni have created more than 3,000 businesses and employ about 11,000 people in Lakewood alone. The report credits the BMG community with paying more than $100 million in annual property and other local taxes. All of which is to say that the yeshiva fits the profile to be eligible for the grant

I don't agree. The governor said that the grants are meant for schools that keep the best students in the state and want to open modern facilities that are attractive to research partners. Does that describe BMG? And can we be honest for just one second please? The typical BMG graduate isn't managing a blue chip firm. He, or more likely his wife, is running a small businesses that is probably paying minimum wages. 

Forty-six institutions submitted applications, and the money was awarded solely on secular criteria, agnostic about religion.

If the selection process was so fair, and blind and agnostic, why did BMG see fit to hire one of the top lobbyists in New Jersey, Dale Florio, head of Princeton Public Affairs Group? According to the Star Ledger, Forio met with lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate seeking changes to the criteria that were used to award the grants. For its efforts, Princeton Public Affairs was paid $25,000 by Beth Medrash Govoha.

All 46 that applied were awarded grants. The overwhelming majority of the $1.3 billion allotted was given to public colleges.

Private schools received about $85 million. They include nine religiously affiliated institutions, including Georgian Court University and the College of St. Elizabeth. 

Neither school is "religiously affiliated" Both are secular colleges that offer regular old liberal educations, without imposing any sort of religious test on applicants.

Oddly, the ACLU only filed suit to block the grants awarded to two schools, BMG and Princeton Theological Seminary.

Its not odd at all. BMG and PTS exist to prepare people for the clergy. That's their goal and reason for existing. The same can't be said of Georgian Court University and the College of St. Elizabeth. The latter two institution offer programs in things like social work, criminal justice, and accounting. BMG and PTS do not. (and Schick knows this, which means he's disassembling/lying)

New Jersey’s state constitution does prohibit using public funds for “building and repairing any church or churches, places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry.” But a problem for the ACLU is that BMG is none of those things. It is a school.... What offends the ACLU most about Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary is their success. They continue to attract students to study texts written thousands of years ago. And they succeed in creating a cadre of graduates who fully participate in the modern world while being informed by an old-world code of morals, ethics and conduct.

Did Schick read the ACLU's complaint? Or is he dumb enough to think that in this Internet age no one else has? For the ACLU, the issues are simple. They oppose state dollars going to an institution that (1) discriminates in hiring and in the provision of services, and (2) exists primarily to prepare men to become Rabbis. Schick knows that both of these allegations are true, as does anyone who has spent even 10 seconds around a real Yeshiva.

BMG is certainly doing something right. About 5% of its graduates become rabbis, and many become educators. But most of its alumni enter secular professions and do well there. They also regularly gain admission to Ivy League graduate schools. I guess the admissions officers at Harvard, Columbia and Penn know something that the ACLU doesn’t about a BMG education.

This is by far the worst and most dishonest paragraph in a horrible and dishonest article. BMG exists to create rabbis. There is no possible way that only 5 percent of its alumni are rabbis, unless Schick is considering pulpit rabbis alone which is, again, dishonest. Also, BMG graduates REGULARLY [="very often"] gain admission to Ivies? We're only talking about the law and business schools (obviously) but how many BMG alumni go to Harvard or Columbia Law? I don't have the numbers in front of me (and neither, I expect, does Schick) but I'll bet my house that the numbers are too small to justify the use of the word "regularly" in this sentence.

Rabbi Kotler understood in 1941 that America’s respect for diversity, combined with the totipotency of the Talmud, would lead to a historic revitalization of Jewish life and learning. 

Did he? Or was he just rolling the dice and hoping for the best?

His vision of the U.S. was far more optimistic and liberal than the one being pushed by the ACLU. 

Did Schick write this with a straight face? Or are we using Pravda-style definitions of words like "optimistic" and "liberal."  (A vision that includes the establishment of a men-only yeshiva based on Talmudic teachings may be wonderful and worthy of support but its not "liberal")
When the judges gather to hear this lawsuit on the 75th anniversary of Rabbi Kotler’s arrival, let’s hope that it is his vision that guides them.

Um, dude. Up above you said it was the "almost" anniversary. Anyway,  what does Kotler's vision have to do with a court case that will determine how state funds should be used? I get that you were trying to close with a seeping emotional appeal, but try not to use one that collapses under the weight of 2 seconds of ordinary thought.

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