NEW YORK — Incidents of physical and sexual abuse at Yeshiva University were not limited to its high school for boys, an investigation has found.
The investigation commissioned by the university and carried out by the New York-based law firm Sullivan & Cromwell followed reports of sexual abuse by two faculty members at YU’s high school for boys in the 1970s and ’80s.
The report produced by investigators and released Aug. 26 confirmed that “multiple incidents of varying types of sexual and physical abuse took place” at the high school, perpetrated by individuals in positions of authority and continuing even after administration members had been made aware of the problem. The probe also found sexual abuse at other divisions of the university but, citing pending litigation, did not describe them in any detail or specify where they took place.
“Up until 2001, there were multiple instances in which the university either failed to appropriately act to protect the safety of its students or did not respond to the allegations at all,” the report said. “This lack of an appropriate response by the university caused victims to believe that their complaints fell on deaf ears or were simply not believed by the university’s administration.”
While the report noted that YU’s responses to allegations of abuse after 2001 improved significantly, it issued detailed recommendations for new policies at the school to prevent and report sexual or physical abuse or harassment. The report did not go into detail on the past instances of sexual abuse.
“There are findings set forth in this report that serve as a source of profound shame and sadness for our institution,” YU president Richard Joel said in a statement released Aug. 26. “On behalf of the board of trustees and the entire university community, 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.
“Although we cannot change the past, we remain committed to making confidential counselling services available to those individual victims in the hope they can achieve a more peaceful future.”
The investigation was prompted by a Dec. 13, 2012, article in the Forward newspaper titled “Student Claims of Abuse not Reported by Yeshiva U.” that focused on abuse allegations against two YU 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.
A group of former students filed a $380-million lawsuit against YU in early July, just days after YU’s longtime chancellor, Rabbi Norman Lamm, acknowledged mishandling the abuse allegations decades earlier. The lawsuit has since added plaintiffs and grown to $680 million.
After YU hired Sullivan & Cromwell to conduct an investigation, the school’s board of trustees appointed a special committee to manage the relationship and receive periodic reports. The investigation was led by Karen Patton Seymour, a former criminal prosecutor, and carried out with the help of T&M Protection Services, a firm specializing in preventing sex abuse.
Some 6,300 hours were spent on the investigation, including interviews with 145 people, according to the report. Investigators sought to interview the former students named in the lawsuit, but their lawyers declined to make them available, the report said. According to the report, 70 people who were contacted either declined to be interviewed or did not respond to requests for interviews.
Most of the report was taken up with a new set of anti-harassment guidelines recommended by T&M Protection Services, which Joel said YU will implement fully.
The recommendations include setting clear boundaries for appropriate contact between faculty and students, educating them about the rules, screening new hires, establishing clear avenues for reporting allegations and putting in place policies for investigating allegations.