When Will Y.U. Learn?

Editorial

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Published October 10, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
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Roth’s employment calls into serious question Y.U.’s vaunted, “zero tolerance” hiring process, which is supposed to include background checks on all new hires. Was the screening so poorly conducted that Roth’s guilty plea in a New Jersey court was overlooked by the New York institution? A simple computer search turns up the information. Were there extenuating circumstances that argued in favor of Roth’s application and persuaded Y.U. to ignore its own procedures? If this is true, if politics or favoritism was behind this hire, then the university is especially culpable.

Were there really no other Hebrew teachers available in all of New York?

As we have sadly come to expect, the university effectively shut down communication when the Forward posed these questions, several days before publication of Berger’s shocking story. As of presstime, it still has offered no explanation, only the promise that it is continuing to review the matter.

Not only is this mystifying, it is highly irresponsible. Y.U. is facing a $380 million lawsuit filed by 34 former students who allege that the university fraudulently covered up abuse that occurred between 1971 and 1992 and that it misrepresented the safety of the school. Y.U. is fighting this lawsuit by arguing that the students waited too long to file it, since New York State’s restrictive statute of limitations had run out years ago.

But it was only last December, when Berger’s stories first were published, that many of these students — now men ranging in age from 39 to 60 — realized that the sexual, physical and emotional abuse they suffered individually at the hands of rabbinic authority figures was actually widespread. The administration, however, knew. Rabbi Norman Lamm, who was Y.U.’s president at the time, acknowledged in a voluntary interview that he knew of the abuse and failed to properly report it, and then, when he stepped down as chancellor in July, asked for forgiveness for his failures.

Now Lamm’s lawyers argue that he is too cognitively impaired with dementia to testify in the lawsuit.

We think he may be the only honest leader at Y.U.

Richard Joel, who replaced Lamm as Y.U.’s president and was told about the abuse soon after he took office in 2003, said in a statement in August: “Today, the university is a safe place infused with a culture of warmth. For years we have enacted and enforced policies and procedures to protect our students and community members.”

In the case of Akiva Roth, that is blatantly untrue.

When will Y.U. ever learn?

And when will its board of directors, its vast alumni network and community of supporters, hold this administration accountable?


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