When will Yeshiva University ever learn? When will modern American Orthodoxy’s flagship institution learn to own up to its mistakes, genuinely reform its procedures, live out its values and, above all, provide a safe and honest environment for its students?
The latest revelation, that Y.U. hired a new faculty member who had been convicted of inappropriate sexual behavior with boys, starkly illustrates the gross mismanagement and hypocrisy of the university’s current administration. Here we have an institution reeling from allegations that for decades — decades — its leadership ignored the sexual abuse of students at the hands of at least two of its most prominent staff members. Here we see an institution that covered up the abuse, allowed the offending rabbis to take jobs working with children elsewhere in the Jewish community and, even after the Forward uncovered this sorry and painful story, refused to acknowledge its own complicity and grasp the opportunity to help with the healing process.
Instead, Y.U. spent $2.5 million on an investigative report that its own top officials then sought to largely suppress, emphasizing instead that it is reforming its policies and procedures to prevent abuse and deal with it forthrightly if and when it occurred.
Zero tolerance was promised.
Zero tolerance was not delivered.
As the Forward’s Paul Berger reports, Akiva Roth, who started this new school year as a Hebrew teacher at Yeshiva College, pleaded guilty in 1997 to four counts of lewdness against several boys in his work as a private bar mitzvah tutor. He was sentenced to ten years probation by a judge who railed against Roth’s arrogance and “lack of appreciation for the wrongfulness of his conduct.”
Roth, 42, has not been accused of misconduct at Y.U. But his employment by Yeshiva College was a reckless violation of basic management principles. “I teach my students that of all crimes, pedophilia has the highest rate of recidivism, over 90%,” Rabbi David Teutsch, who leads the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, told the Forward. “No way can you trust someone like that around kids.”
The fact that the events that led to Roth’s guilty plea happened some time ago is, experts say, irrelevant. It is impossible to know for certain whether another crime was committed in the intervening years, especially given the unusually high likelihood of repeat offenders.
Compassion dictates that Roth be allowed to move on with his life and be employed in any number of professions. But teaching should not be one of them. Especially teaching on a university campus in Manhattan’s Washington Heights where the college classrooms are as close as a block away from the high school buildings.