US rabbinical school says probe of seminary found no systemic sexism or homophobia

But American Jewish University does not intend to release report that questioned 200 people, despite calls for transparency from some who alleged abuse

An aerial view of American Jewish University's Sunny & Isadore Familian Campus in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Communications Department, AJU via JTA)
An aerial view of American Jewish University's Sunny & Isadore Familian Campus in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Communications Department, AJU via JTA)

JTA — A law firm hired to investigate allegations of a discriminatory and toxic culture at American Jewish University’s Conservative movement rabbinical school in Los Angeles did not discover systemic problems, the university has announced.

But some students did experience sexism or homophobia amid what many have perceived as an atmosphere of favoritism toward men and people who conform to traditional gender roles at AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies, according to a summary of the investigation that administrators distributed to the campus community by email.

Several of the former Ziegler students whose complaints led to the investigation challenged the conclusions the school outlined in the summary and called on the university to release the report itself.

“Let transparency drive this conversation,” one of the former students, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, said in a Facebook post responding to the university’s email. “If there’s no systemic harm, great! Lovely! Share the report and show your math.”

Keren McGinity, a #MeToo activist who counseled and helped organize the former students, called on the university to take an example from Hebrew Union College, which three years ago hired a law firm to conduct a similar investigation and subsequently released the law firm’s report.

“Not releasing the full report — as HUC did — suggests they have something to hide,” McGinity said of AJU. “Refusing to make the investigation report public prioritizes the institution and those who caused harm rather than those who were harmed.”

A spokesperson for AJU told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the school has no plans to release the report.

As part of its investigation for AJU, the law firm, Cozen O’Connor, circulated an anonymous survey to current and former members of the campus community, receiving responses from some 200 people.

Cozen O’Connor also interviewed 60 people, including 12 of the 13 former students who signed their name to a letter last year whose allegations triggered media coverage and the university’s decision to commission an investigation. (The ethics committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, an association of Conservative rabbis, launched a separate investigation into the matter at around the same time.)

In the email announcing the conclusion of the investigation, the university pledged to take steps to improve its culture and update relevant policies. A Title IX coordinator will be hired to handle training, education and prevention around discrimination and harassment and struggling students will be provided additional support.

“We acknowledge these experiences and sincerely apologize to those individuals who have been harmed, particularly in a rabbinical school that prioritizes care and pastoral support,” the email said. “Through this period of introspection and self-reflection, we have learned many valuable lessons about how to best care for our students, and we will take the necessary steps to ensure that the process of repair described above will be effectively instituted.”

Most Popular
read more: