One of the highlights of the Yeshiva University school year is the annual Seforim Sale, a massive undertaking carried out entirely by undergraduates that grosses millions of dollars per year and donates tens of thousands to the Student Life Committees of YU. The Seforim Sale is beneficial to YU because it brings thousands of people to campus, generates thousands of dollars, and provides a selection of over 15,000 books. However, many fiscally irresponsible events from last year’s sale have left people worried about its leadership.
In a November 2, 2011 Commentator article, “An Open Challenge to the Seforim Sale,” former Seforim Sale COO Jonathan Korman (SYMS ‘10) described the large misuse of funds. He noted that “the board spent $850 at Le Marais (they had two bottles of wine)” and that “that money could have been used for numerous student events, not the gratification of seven students at Le Marais.” In an interview with The Commentator, Korman reflected on his own experiences working at the Seforim Sale, describing how the Seforim Sale is “incredible for promoting Yeshiva University, and how the students can show the face of YU on their own.” Yet, at the same time, he warned, “Day-to-day responsibilities were close to a total failure—students need to recognize that there is a lot of stress involved. Cutting corners is not the right approach.”
At the November-3 Town Hall Meeting, University President Richard M. Joel addressed these issues. Joel reassured students that “this year will be different” and that through an internal audit staff, and financial management help, the university will “make sure that everything is on the up-and-up.” Many students have been confused about how “this year will be different” for the YU Seforim Sale. In an interview with The Commentator, Sam Ulrich, this year’s Seforim Sale CEO, described some of these changes, specifically what he called “oversight on several levels.” For example, Ulrich explains that “Ron Nahum, Director of Finance and Administration for University Life, will be [over]seeing every financial transaction that is made; SYMS accounting professor Michael Strauss will be in charge of overseeing employee hires and internships, and the YU audit department has put together a manual of things that need to get improved and changed.” When asked what the financial aspects of this supervision would entail, Nahum responded that “there will be a review of all planned activities, participation in the coordination of logistics related to the sale, and financial updates on a monthly basis.” This overseeing committee will not necessarily approve each of the Seforim Sale’s expenses.
With a significantly tighter budget, the Seforim Sale has also taken measures to ensure that they only hire the best employees. The quality of employees is essential for how well the Seforim Sale runs. By adding references, a resume, and an interview into the hiring process, Ulrich hopes that this stricter process will find students dedicated to ensuring the success of the sale, rather than those whose main intention is to socialize. Ulrich emphasized the important role of the employees, saying, “Every student is playing their role as an employee by filling out W4 forms [which holds back federal income tax from paychecks] and making sure we are being run as a professional business. The interview process is making sure we receive the best possible staff.”
Responding to Korman’s concerns that, in past years, students have not had access to the financial records of the Seforim Sale, Ulrich said that at the end of the fiscal year, as a 501 C 3 (nonprofit organization) the Seforim Sale’s 990 (tax return) is published by the IRS and that “Anyone can access the document after it has been submitted.” However, according to Nahum, last year’s form is not yet published, and is therefore inaccessible at the moment.
When asked about his prediction for this year’s sale, Nahum was optimistic. He commented that “with the level of oversight and scrutiny that the Seforim Sale staff is currently under, their spending will be prudent and appropriate.” Stressing the importance of a relationship between the Seforim Sale and Yeshiva University, Nahum also added, “The Seforim Sale is an organization that is independent from the University, so we have little say in how they conduct business. However, because there is an obvious connection to Yeshiva, we have requested and have been granted broader involvement in their business, how it is and should be conducted.” With these changes, Ulrich and others are confident that they “will be able to do a good job and continue to flourish.”