Yeshiva University’s Moody’s rating has just been downgraded to Baa1 from A2; Moody’s is currently reviewing the university for further downgrades.
How does a university get to such a disastrous place?
It was not the work of a day. Yeshiva had to make itself so notorious that students didn’t want to enroll, and alumni didn’t want to donate. This took about five years, starting with the brilliant idea of putting Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin – both YU trustees – in charge of Yeshiva’s money. Conflict of interest? Who cares.
The financial and reputational hit was a biggie. But Yeshiva was just getting started.
Instead of dealing forthrightly with its misbehavior, Yeshiva said nothing and simply erased Madoff’s name from all mentions on its website. (It couldn’t erase everything: “Madoff’s name was prominent in the program for Yeshiva’s annual Hanukkah dinner and convocation, a major fundraising event, held on Dec. 14 at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, three days after he was arrested.”) It then went about characterizing itself as an innocent victim of this mean man and his friend Ezra.
With the Madoff/Merkin mess already destroying Yeshiva’s integrity, extensive sexual scandal now hit the newspapers. Decades of important Yeshiva University rabbis preying on children, or looking the other way while children were preyed upon, are the talk of the town. Yeshiva will probably have to settle hundreds of millions of dollars on the traumatized people suing it.
A third crucial component of Yeshiva University’s catastrophe is its inability clearly to admit wrongdoing, coupled with the continued prominence of people reportedly associated with wrongdoing. Take Hershel Schachter.
The power of the rabbinical school rabbis to intervene in student intellectual and extracurricular life could also undermine [Yeshiva University’s] efforts to compete with secular colleges. Rabbi [Hershel] Schachter, who objected to the study of the Christian Bible, also [said] he sees the work of Geoffrey Chaucer as expendable and that 50 percent of an art history course is probably ‘avodah zara and gilui arayot’ (idolatry and licentiousness).”
Okay, so far just a jerk, the sort of anti-intellectual endemic on fundamentalist university campuses. But there’s more.
Earlier this year a prominent scholar at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, was caught on audiotape at a conference in London telling Orthodox leaders that Jewish communities should set up their own review boards to evaluate any complaints of child sexual abuse and determine whether to bother with the police. This contradicts state laws on mandatory reporting for teachers, counselors, physicians and such.
Schachter further discouraged police involvement by warning that accused abusers could wind up “in a cell together with a shvartze, in a cell with a Muslim, a black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.” Shvartze is a harshly derogatory racial term. Yeshiva University condemned the remarks but seemingly didn’t discipline Schachter, who didn’t respond to my request Monday for comment.
No comment, of course; and Schachter retains a high rank at YU. So does Kenneth Brander.
Better recruiting is [YU President Richard] Joel’s answer to declining enrollment. Back in June, he tasked Rabbi Kenneth Brander, head of the Center for the Jewish Future, with a special assignment: to “re-invent recruitment strategies,” as Joel put it to the Stern College student newspaper, The Observer, in an October interview.
And here is Brander in the Jewish Daily Forward:
[T]wo men have told the Forward that they tried to warn … Kenneth Brander, about Andron. Brander led the Boca Raton congregation from 1991 until 2005, when he took a post as dean of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future.
One man who said that he was molested by Andron for three years told the Forward that he called Brander during the early 1990s.
“I told [Brander], he’s definitely a pedophile,” the man said, referring to Andron. “[Brander said] he would look into it, and he never called me back.”
Another man said he tried to warn Brander about Andron a little more than a decade ago.
The man said he tried to call Brander “four or five times,” but Brander did not respond. So the man said he “had to leave a very uncomfortable message” with someone in the Boca Raton Synagogue office. Later, a “third party” from the synagogue contacted the man to say that the allegations against Andron were “rumors” and that “in any case, it’s behind him,” the man said.
Brander may well be innocent of these charges; but as far as YU’s future goes, it doesn’t matter. The school is in free fall.