Multiple sources inform me that Yeshiva University (YU) has issued gag orders to many of its staff instructing them not to say anything in public about the sex abuse scandal. They have also been ordered not to disclose that they are under gag orders. These orders have gone, not just to those named in the lawsuits, or to others whose testimony is likely to be sought in the lawsuit. Nor have these gag orders been limited to administration. They have also gone out to tenured faculty members who normally enjoy academic freedom of speech. Some of these gag orders have gone to graduate faculty whose work never involved them with minors or even the younger adults in the colleges, that is, faculty very unlikely to be involved in any aspect of a lawsuit about sexual abuse of minors.
YU likes to blame its lawyers for its curtain of silence. Nonsense. I am sure Penn State University had competent legal advice when it chose to commission a report whose results were publicly disclosed. I am sure that YU’s attorney’s gave them options including the option of seeking early settlements with victims, pursuing full disclosure, and purging all culpable administrators and board members. In fact, I am willing to bet their PR department and their fund raisers begged the administration to be open about the issue. Had YU followed that advice they would not have suffered a major drop in bond ratings because they were likely to lose the confidence of major contributors. YU has already passed the point where its intransigence has cost it more than it would have cost to pursue settlements with the plaintiffs.
I suspect the YU strategy is not being pursued for the sake of the institution but for the sake of individual careers. According to abuse survivor and plaintiff, Mordechai Twersky, one of those who ignored reports of abuse was President Richard Joel. In truth, if YU had an independent board of trustees, they would demand that he recuse himself from involvement in the handling of this issue. Penn State’s board understood that to restore integrity they had to fire their president and Joe Paterno.
I believe the full truth will come out and it will not be pretty. But in the meantime, the damage will pile up in the degradation of YU’s integrity, academic freedom, and adherence to torah values. Eventually, there will also be serious financial damage even if they succeed in their mean-spirited goal of denying a single penny to the survivors of abuse by George Finkelstein, Macy Gordon, Richard Andron, and others who have been identified but not yet publicly named.
If I were Richard Joel I would be squirming as I read the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy. But he will probably hire a lawyer to stand at his side and guide him through. Memo to Richard Joel: it won’t pass muster up there or down here.