What is the Real Worth of a University?

by Arthur Ruiz

Amidst the negotiations between Yeshiva University and Montefiore over the fate of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Einstein Community demands some answers.

Einstein Price Center

Einstein Price Center

What is a University? The word “university” comes from the Latin universitas, “the whole; aggregate”, and it is a telling definition. A university is the summation of the proficiencies and resources of its academic and scientific communities. It is more than the buildings, the labs, the physical infrastructure, the financial assets – it is the people, their expertise and their relationships that produce the real value in a place like the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

However, this University is under threat. The status of Einstein has been up in the air for the past year, during which Einstein’s owner, Yeshiva University (YU), has been in negotiations with Montefiore Medical Group (MMG) to sell Einstein. Financial turmoil, court settlements and bad investments have cost YU $1.3 billion over the past decade, and Yeshiva finds itself unable or unwilling to continue to support Einstein. Partnering Einstein with MMG offers a way forward for Einstein, but negotiations have been stalled out in the past couple of months. Now YU, after spending an undisclosed amount of money on the efficiency consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, has determined that eliminating the Sue Golding Graduate Program and its associated basic research program would reduce their budget deficit and ease their financial plight – but at what cost?

Einstein is consistently ranked amongst the top medical schools in the country – a new ranking model, one that specifically factors in the research and publication environment of medical schools, recently placed Einstein in the top 10% in the nation. Research investigators, clinicians, postdocs, administrators, staff and students have all worked hard to develop and maintain the worth of Einstein as an outstanding University, and the research labs at Einstein are at the cutting edge of developing the next generation of medical treatments and innovations.

When I was interviewing at Einstein, the one thing I kept hearing from almost every professor and student was: “Everyone’s door is always open. If you ever need anything, just go ask.” And it has held true – I can personally attest to the spirit of camaraderie and supportiveness present in this institution. This is not the kind of asset that can be captured in an operational spreadsheet, or trivially acquired with a pocket-full of cash. These days, a standard part of nearly every medical student’s education involves basic science research, and the quality of the Einstein research environment is a large part of the superior ranking of the Medical School. The idea of shutting down the Graduate School in order to focus on the Medical is unsustainable and counterproductive, and betrays a critical lack of understanding regarding the true worth of the institution. It makes as much sense as an “efficiency consultant” advising a group of civil engineers repairing a bridge, “People only drive on the road – spend your resources fixing that and forget about the useless support pillars that no one looks at anyways.”

The impact of the closure of Einstein’s Graduate program would extend beyond the walls of the school itself. MMG, YU and Einstein are among the largest employers in the Bronx, and MMG is one of ten largest private sector employers in New York State. The day-to-day operations of MMG and Einstein are intimately intertwined, as many investigators and clinicians hold dual appointments in departments of both institutions. Closing Einstein’s doors would also have a significant impact on the businesses, stores, restaurants, hotels, and services that depend on Einstein clientele to keep them going. A new Metro North stop, the new Marriot hotel, and the huge expansion of the Hutchinson Metro Center have all been planned with the growing and sustainable population of Einstein in mind. Shutting down Einstein will cost hundreds, if not thousands, of quality jobs for New York residents, and will have a devastating economic ripple effect throughout the local community and beyond.

Not only does Einstein contribute greatly to the economy of the Bronx, it has demonstrated a strong commitment to community service. Einstein offers a multitude of free services and programs to Bronx residents through dozens of community health, education, and outreach programs. Many of these programs have been supported by state or federal grants awarded directly to Einstein for many years, recognizing its role in enhancing the health and wellbeing of Bronx residents. Einstein students themselves have had a great impact on the community as well. The numerous student-run clubs such as ECHO, which provides free, high-quality healthcare to the uninsured population in the Bronx, demonstrate the social engagement of Einstein students. Einstein students also mentor and facilitate education programs for Bronx youth. All of Einstein’s programs are informed by the deep and longtime connection we have with our community. What will happen if Einstein is stripped of its research programs and sense of social responsibility, and reduced to a mere “M.D. mill”?

Letters of support for the Montefiore merger sent from the Graduate Student Council, the Medical Student Council and the Faculty Senate to the YU board have all gone unanswered and unacknowledged. No faculty or student representatives from Einstein have been invited to participate in the negotiations; rather than being treated as a respected partner during these negotiations, the Einstein community has been kept in the dark and relegated to a mere fungible asset. Frankly speaking, YU is trying to reverse the fallout of a decade of fiscal misfortune through the sale of Einstein at an exorbitant price. The hardball negotiating tactics of YU are having a tangible and immediate effect on the reputation and status of Albert Einstein. Rumors and stormclouds of liquidation hang over every professor’s grant proposal under review, over every student striving to stay focused on their work, over nervous staff members glancing at new job postings, over every graduate or medical applicant planning their future. What will a degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine mean on a CV in 10 or 20 years? Will it elicit thoughts of an exciting, world-class research institution, or of a casualty of administrative mismanagement and hubris?

Arthur grew up in San Diego California and got a BS in Biology at UC San Diego. He worked in biotech for a few years, then got his Master’s in Biology at NYU GSAS. He is currently finishing up his PhD at Einstein in the Microbiology & Immunology Department.  Besides science, has interests in history, politics, public policy and social justice.

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