Last year, when Pennsylvania State University finally acknowledged that it needed to thoroughly probe allegations that one of its top coaches had abused boys in his care, it turned to former FBI chief Louis Freeh to conduct the investigation. Eight months later, after he and his team interviewed 430 witnesses and examined 3.5 million emails and documents, Freeh issued a 267-page report and discussed it at a televised news conference. Openness, personified.
Contrast that with the way Yeshiva University is responding to the allegations reported in the Forward that two of its staff members repeatedly abused students at its Manhattan high school for boys, and then allowed the alleged abusers to leave quietly. Y.U.’s board of trustees hired a respected international law firm, which in turn hired an abuse expert, to conduct what it calls a “full and completely independent investigation.” But the university will not say what will happen to the final report, whether it will be delivered orally or in writing, or whether it will ever be made public.
Yeshiva University is arguably the most important educational institution in the Orthodox world. It owes its students, its alumni, its many donors and supporters a far more transparent accounting of why abusive behavior was apparently allowed to persist for decades in what appeared to be known to everyone but those in charge.
And Y.U. does not have to look only to Penn State as a model, which is, after all, a massive public institution operating outside the framework of Jewish law. Instead, it can look closer to home, to the commission charged with investigating allegations of sexual abuse and financial improprieties by Rabbi Baruch Lanner when he was head of the Orthodox Jewish youth group now known as NCSY.
NCSY is sponsored by the Orthodox Union, and after The New York Jewish Week exposed Lanner in a brave series published in 2000, the O.U. appointed a nine-member special commission. Five of those members had no ties whatsoever to the O.U. (Y.U. won’t say if the law firm it hired, Sullivan & Cromwell, has ties to the university.)
The law firm brought on to assist the investigation reported to the special commission, not to the O.U. (Sullivan & Cromwell report to the Y.U. board.)
The commission interviewed 175 witnesses and estimated that it reviewed 50,000 pages of documents gathered from the O.U. national office, the regional office in New Jersey where Lanner worked, and from various witnesses.
The stark conclusions — that Lanner had, indeed, abused NCSY youngsters and had diverted donations for personal use — were made public in a 54-page executive summary that still is available from the O.U. (The full 332-page report has never been released.) No such transparency is promised by Y.U. so far.