YU's Joel Expresses ‘Shame,' Pride

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

08/27/13
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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.

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 report 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.”

Mulhearn 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:

08/31/2013 - 21:16

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Gary:

You have interviewed Richard Joel, but you did not even bother to interview the spokesperson for the plaintiffs, relying instead on Forward quotes. Have you interviewed ANY of the victims? Irwin Kula wrote a very powerful Opinion piece that SHOULD have appeared in your publication, but it appeared instead in the Forward.

Are you going to give any voice at all to the many victims?

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