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There’s another reason that this analogy is instructive. The chair of the Lanner Commission was Richard Joel, then the president and international director of Hillel. Joel is now president of Y.U. If anyone should know about the need for a truly independent investigation of charges involving harm to children and young adults, it is he.
So the Forward asked Joel in an email: “How can the public be assured that the investigation conducted by Sullivan & Cromwell will be as independent as the Lanner report?” He declined to answer.
There’s another issue here that needs addressing. The allegations against the Y.U. high school rabbis concerned incidents from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Some of those who apologize for the school’s apparent indifference to the charges say that’s because it was a different time, a time when our society was not as sensitive to child sexual abuse and was less inclined to believe such stories from youngsters.
There’s no doubt that awareness has heightened after scandals at Penn State, and before that, within the Catholic Church. But to imply that such actions were universally acceptable and therefore understandably ignored is not only a moral abdication. It defies federal and state law.
According to Sandi McLeod, a technical specialist at the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “by 1967, an estimated 44 states had adopted some form of legislation requiring professionals to report suspected child abuse and neglect.”
New York State was one of them. Then in 1974, the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act required all states to implement mandatory reporting of abuse by appropriate professionals. Teachers and school administrators, of course, are among those professionals.
Did all school officials follow these rules? Obviously not. But they should have. It was the law. It remains the law. The issue was clearly important and public enough for the majority of states to tackle it even before Congress did. And that was nearly 40 years ago.
So the argument that “things were different then” and that abuse can be explained or excused is merely a deplorable attempt to avoid true accountability. Yeshiva University has much more to do if it is genuinely going to come clean about its past and protect its future.