Yeshiva University President Richard Joel said the school feels deep regret and shame at the findings of an investigation into allegation of sex abuse — but a lawyer for alleged victims dismissed the report as a “gross disappointment.”
The investigation commissioned by the university following reports by the Forward of sexual abuse by two faculty members at Y.U.’s high school for boys in the 1970s and ‘80s confirmed that “multiple incidents of varying types of sexual and physical abuse took place” at the school.
It also said the abuse extended beyond the high school for boys, to other divisions of the university, but gave no details.
The probe, carried out by New York-based law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, also found that individuals in positions of authority perpetrated the incidents, which continued even after administration members had been made aware of the problem.
“I express my deepest and most heartfelt remorse, and truly hope that our recognition of these issues provides some level of comfort and closure to the victims,” Joel wrote. “Although we cannot change the past, we remain committed to making confidential counseling services available to those individual victims in the hope they can achieve a more peaceful future.”
The statement, released on Y.U.’s website, also pledged renewed commitment to a series of programs designed to prepare ordination candidates and rabbis in the field to properly identify and prevent child sex abuse.
Kevin Mulhearn, a lawyer for a group of students who have filed a $380 million lawsuit against Y.U. called the report “a gross disappointment but not a surprise.”
“There’s nothing in here that wasn’t known in January 2013 when this report was first commissioned,” he said.
Mulhearn also took issue with the implication in the report that the ex-students did not cooperate with the investigation. He called those claims “hogwash.”
Mulhearn said he provided Y.U.’s investigators with a fact sheet, detailing the assaults against each of his clients and the reports of the assaults that they made to Y.U.
“For them to say we didn’t cooperate with the investigation is just a lie,” Mulhearn said.
Barry Singer, one of the two former students named in the lawsuit, was also shocked by the implication that they refused to cooperate with investigators. He says he met with investigators from Y.U. for several hours in February.
As to the report’s finding that the abuse was not limited to the institution’s high school for boys, Singer said he is not surprised.
“I’ve been saying [that] all along and I told the investigators that [abuse] was endemic to YU and systematic. It was part of the culture,” Singer added in an interview. “It was not a one-time thing.”
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, honorary president of the Rabbinical Council of America, called the report a “critical milestone” in Y.U.’s handling of the abuse allegations.
Goldin noted that although Y.U. was constrained by the pending lawsuit, the report was “very sobering in its limited findings.”
“The report clearly admits wrongdoing on the part of the university,” Goldin said.
He added that Joel’s remarks should “serve as a clarion call to people like myself and other leaders in the Jewish community” to respond better to abuse allegations in future and to ensure that such allegations “are not swept under the carpet in any way.”
The report was sparked by abuse allegations against two Y.U. faculty members: Rabbi George Finkelstein, an administrator and faculty member from 1963 to 1995, and Rabbi Macy Gordon, a teacher from 1956 to 1983.
Finkelstein was accused of groping students and rubbing up against them, often under the guise of wrestling, at school and in his home. Gordon was accused of sodomizing boys, including in at least one instance with a toothbrush. Both men have denied the allegations.
Rabbi Norman Lamm, the longtime chancellor of Y.U. admitted knowing about the allegations at the time and allowing the accused men to leave the institution without informing authorities.
Lamm recently retired, citing mistakes in handling the abuse case.
A third man, Richard Andron, is named in the suit as well. The suit claims Andron, a prominent volunteer for Modern Orthodox groups, plied students with porn and was given access to Y.U. dorms.
The statute of limitations has expired for filing legal claims related to the sex abuse claims. But Mulhearn argues in the suit that the statute of limitations does not apply, because Y.U. fraudulently covered up the abuse.
Anne Cohen is the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.