A Forward investigation into allegations that two staff members at Yeshiva University High School for Boys’ Manhattan campus sexually abused students during the late 1970s and early ’80s has led to a startling admission by the university’s chancellor: The school dealt with allegations of “improper sexual activity” against staff members by quietly allowing them to leave and find jobs elsewhere.
For years, former students have asked Y.U., the premier educational institution of Modern Orthodox Judaism, to investigate their claims that a former principal had repeatedly abused students in the all-male high school that is part of the university. Another former high school student said Y.U. covered up for a staff member who sodomized him.
Y.U. President Richard Joel said in a statement issued on December 3 that the school was “looking with concern into the questions” the Forward had raised.
But Norman Lamm, who was president of Y.U. from 1976 to 2003 and is now chancellor, indicated in an interview December 7 that he knew about some of the allegations and chose to deal with them privately. In one case, a suspected abuser of high school students was allowed to leave for a position as dean of a Florida school.
No law enforcement officials were ever notified, despite “charges of improper sexual activity” made against staff “not only at [Y.U.’s] high school and college, but also in [the] graduate school,” Lamm said. “If it was an open-and-shut case, I just let [the staff member] go quietly. It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry.”
Asked whether in the case of staff assaulting minors the abuse should have been reported to police, Lamm said. “My question was not whether to report to police but to ask the person to leave the job.”
Lamm would not reveal names of the staff members involved. But he stressed that the incidents took place at a time before abuse scandals involving Catholic clergy or schools such as Penn State University, when institutions were ignorant of how to deal with such allegations. “This was before things of this sort had attained a certain notoriety,” Lamm said. “There was a great deal of confusion.”
Lamm was speaking following a Forward investigation into allegations of sexual assault committed at Y.U. high school’s Washington Heights campus by a former Talmud teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon, and by former principal Rabbi George Finkelstein.