YU President Expresses `Shame' Over Abuse Findings, Pride In Current Policies

Independent report cites ‘multiple instances’ of abuse, not just at YU high school; ‘significant improvement’ since 2001.

08/26/13
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Yeshiva University President Richard Joel expressed “profound shame and sadness” over the findings of an independent report commissioned by the university to investigate allegations of abuse at its boys high school, and other affiliated schools. Issued on Monday, the report found that “multiple incidents of varying types of sexual and physical abuse took place at the boys school” and other YU schools during the last decades of the 20th century.

The report said the situation has “significantly improved” since 2001, and issued a series of recommended policies and practices to further protect students. Joel stressed, in an interview with The Jewish Week, that while the past cannot be changed, he was proud of current university procedures and pledged to adopt all of the report’s recommendations.

He said YU had moved “away from a culture of apathy regarding issues of abuse toward one of action, change and growth.”

The much-anticipated 53-page report, based on interviews with more than 145 individuals and a review of 96,000 electronic documents and 2.6 million e-mails, was released by Sullivan and Cromwell, the law firm commissioned by YU. The eight-month investigation was believed to have cost the university more than $3 million.

The research was conducted independently and was not shared with YU officials prior to being posted on the firm’s website. The investigative team noted that it sought the halachic, or Jewish legal, advice of Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, chief of the Beth Din of America, who reviewed a draft of the report and its recommendations.

Related Story: Rabbi Lamm Cites Mistakes As He Retires From Yeshiva University

The main findings appear to corroborate the substance of the allegations by a number of former YU high school students from the 1970s and ‘80s who have filed a lawsuit seeking up to $680 million in damages, primarily against Rabbi George Finkelstein, a former principal of the high school, and Rabbi Macy Gordon, who taught Talmud there from 1956 to 1983.

The allegations first came to light in The Forward in December of last year. Until now there had been no published reports of alleged abuse at other YU schools, though further details were not part of the report’s findings.

The report noted that while the YU board of trustees intended to have the report include specific details of the interviews conducted and documents analyzed, that plan changed because of the pending litigation.

Instead, YU’s special committee dealing with the issue directed the law firm’s investigative team “to describe its findings with respect to sexual and physical abuse in summary fashion.”

As a result, presumably because releasing specific details now would damage YU’s case in defending itself in court, the report is confined to general terms. (Some critics have noted that in the Penn State University case of abuse by Jerry Sandusky, details were included in the Freeh Report despite litigation.)

In the YU case the reported noted only that the investigative team found many incidents of abuse, “carried out by a number of individuals in positions of authority at the high schools at various times,” including in some cases after members of the administration had been told of the misconduct.

The report also found that incidents of sexual and physical abuse took place at other schools that are part of Yeshiva University, and that until 2001, “there were multiple instances in which the University either failed to appropriately act to protect the safety of its students or did not respond to the allegations at all.

“The lack of appropriate response by the University caused victims to believe that their complaints fell on deaf ears or were simply not believed by the University’s administration,” the report noted.

It said the university’s response to allegations of abuse since 2001 have “significantly improved,” and that the school responded “decisively” to address them and “ensure the safety” of its students.

Joel succeeded Rabbi Norman Lamm as president of YU in 2003.

Kevin Mulhearn, the attorney who represents a group of former students suing YU, was quoted in The Forward as calling the report “a gross disappointment but not a surprise,” asserting that it contained no new information. He also took exception to the inference that the former students did not cooperate with the investigation. The report said that the attorney’s clients were “not made available for interviews by the investigative team.”

Mulhearny said that was not true, and Barry Singer, one of two plaintiffs named in the suit, told The Forward he met with investigators in February for several hours.

Most of the report deals with a review of YU’s policies and procedures in preventing cases of abuse, harassment, bullying and hazing, and in reporting and responding to charges.

The team found YU to be committed to a best-practices policy and recommended various ways to improve its procedures.

Joel said that as “a Torah institution,” the school would act “in keeping with halachic caution but with a sense of halachic urgency.” He said the focus will be on improving the standards of the high schools, and he cited a commitment to adopt stricter standards on mandatory reporting than those required by state law. Thus, any alleged incident of abuse will have to be reported to a guidance counselor, principal, the university liaison to the high schools or the office of general counsel.

 

gary@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

09/04/2013 - 16:57

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It is so tragic to see people who wallow in self-pity hoping to cash in on their experiences. Look ahead not behind and be positive. Nobody gains by being a professional victim.

Now that this has been investigated I wish every success to the new students at YU and I hope they learn a lot. Many of today's teachers were not even born when all of this happened nor were the current crop of students. I hope this is now over since YU as a zero tolerance policy on this issue thanks to the victims. Let us look to the future.

No one is blaming the current teachers for anything. And, clearly, the YU institution has learned a lot and will be a better place for current and future students. However, this does not erase the wounds that the victims of past practices experienced nor does it absolve YU from its legal, moral and halachic obligation to provide long overdue compensation to these innocent victims. Since the rabbinical system failed these victims, their only path to restitution is in the court system. [A fair out of court settlement would be nice to avoid making this an even bigger hilul Hashem than it already is.]

YU seems like it now has a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior.It is not the same institution it was 40 years ago.If the victims need help they can get it from the new YU gratis. I doubt the millions of dollars they had hoped to get will probably not occur. They made the world a better place by sharing their pain and fixing a situation. They can find comfort in that. The future YU students will have a debt of graditute. That is good since YU's enrollment is up.

The yeshiva wasn't given the report ahead of its release, but they understood the outcome clearly enough to ask them to submit summary results so as not to hurt their case?

All this talk of halachic values. Help me understand where halachic values define a statue of limitations?

I must have been absent that day.

Yeh YU what a crack investigation you performed. Tell us what parameters regarding contacting MTA grads did you set? Funny, no one contacted me or anyone else I know that attended MTA during the relevant time. I would have told them how a certain MTA "Rabbi" slapped me hard because I received a 60 in Talmud.

Are you going to go through life crying like an overgrown crybaby because your rebbe smacked you. In my day school,this was an everyday thing and considered normal by the standards of the day.We didn't even hold it against our rebbe who was trained in Europe. My rebbe threw a student hard against a locker because he would not remain seated. The young man went to MTA the next year and has spent decades as a top surgeon. I doubt he even remembers it.

Great to learn that smacking kids around and slamming them against lockers leads to professional success and, if Flavor is to be believed, leaves no psychological scars. According to this "logic", it would be a shame if Flavor's own children and/or grandchildren were to be deprived of this treatment by their rebbeim without which (haz v'shalom), they may not become doctors.

Hey pal, did you really expect the investigators to spend three years contacting thousands of students who passed through MTA between 1968 and 2002? If you had something to offer, why didn't YOU contact the investigator or the law firm. And before you attack me, let me be clear - I'm anything but a YU apologist.

How would I know who to contact? Moreover, it would not take 3 years - how about ads in major papers with a website? How about email? 3 months maybe no way 3 years.

What I find strange is that neither myself nor any of my friends who attended MTA in the late 1970s were ever approached by the "investigators". Why didnt they contact as many people as they could? I and other MTA grads would have been happy to add our insight. I guess they were afraid of asking.

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