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Important Report from Deerfield Academy


Dear Members of the Deerfield Community,

We write to follow up on our letter of January 28th, which reported allegations of sexual misconduct by Peter Hindle, who taught at Deerfield from 1956 to 2000. While this news was deeply troubling to all of us, Deerfield’s principal obligation is the safety and welfare of students, regardless of when they attended school. 

When an alumnus came forward with serious allegations of sexual misconduct, we had a moral obligation to learn, as best we could, what really happened years ago–mindful of the needs of a potential victim and of protecting the rights of the accused. In our earlier letter, we indicated that independent legal counsel, experienced in such matters, had been retained to conduct an investigation into Mr. Hindle’s tenure at the Academy. We instructed our counsel, the firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, to pursue the truth, wherever it might lead.

Throughout this process, we and the investigators have endeavored to preserve the privacy of individuals whenever possible. It is clear that these incidents caused deep, real, and lasting pain. We can never make that go away. However, by openly addressing this issue now, we hope to give victims validation, to keep the door open for those who might still want to come forward or seek counseling, and to reassure our entire community of our commitment to the standards we espouse.

To the many alumni and others who have provided information about these personal and difficult matters: thank you. We are now ready to share the investigators’ findings, and this letter is our report.

Overall Findings

The investigation confirmed that sexual conduct by Peter Hindle occurred with the student who came forward and there is evidence that such conduct occurred with at least one other student. Separately, in the course of the investigation, we also received direct, independently corroborating accounts from two victims alleging that another teacher, Bryce Lambert, now deceased, engaged in sexual conduct with them during his tenure. We also received other reports about teachers who were appropriately terminated at the time for unacceptable behavior. Lastly, we received reports concerning other former Deerfield employees who were alleged to have engaged in misconduct of varying kinds–principally non-sexual in nature–that investigators were not able to corroborate.

The investigation also led us to the conclusion that the Deerfield administration in the 1980s could have–in the case of Peter Hindle–moved more forcefully to address reports of inappropriate behavior. In addition, the administration in the early 2000s could have investigated detailed allegations of sexual misconduct made against a then-unnamed teacher in a letter from the same former student who wrote to us about Mr. Hindle.

Peter Hindle

The former student who more recently came forward credibly alleged that Peter Hindle first offered him backrubs and then, after several backrub sessions, performed sexual acts on over eight different occasions over an extended period. Mr. Hindle admitted–prior to our January 28 letter, in two separate interviews involving the school’s general counsel in the first instance and two independent investigators in the second–that sexual contact with the student had taken place one time. Mr. Hindle claimed the sexual contact was against his will, yet he neither resisted nor reported the incident. The detail Mr. Hindle provided to the investigators was explicit and, in no conceivable way, could it be described as a simple “backrub.” Further, Mr. Hindle made several statements to the investigators that proved to be untrue, raising serious questions about whether his admission was too limited.

By any measure, Mr. Hindle’s behavior represents an outrageous violation. Although this student has advised that he did not surface the allegations to administrators at the time, a second student in the 1980s did make an allegation, while he was attending Deerfield, regarding inappropriate behavior by Mr. Hindle, and at that time his mother sent a letter expressing serious concern about a “deviant deed” committed against her son. Mr. Hindle was confronted by the administration and denied sexual conduct. While that second student has so far declined to be interviewed as part of this investigation, we hope to speak with him, in coordination with his legal counsel, in the near future.

The investigators have been unable to confirm sexual contact with other students, but they did communicate with numerous alumni and faculty who said they had experienced or were aware of incidents that–by the standards of the day and certainly by the standards prevailing today–were inappropriate and should have raised red flags. In several instances, we were contacted by alumni who had never before told anyone about their discomfort with Mr. Hindle. There is no evidence that any of these incidents was brought to the attention of the school’s administration prior to the time the second student made his allegation and his mother wrote to the school.

Naming Peter Hindle in the January Letter

Given Mr. Hindle’s admissions to the investigators, he was identified in Deerfield’s communication to prevent, over the course of the investigation, unjustified speculation and harmful gossip about current and former teachers. The investigators also believed it was necessary to name him in order to elicit potentially relevant information.

From our perspective however, an additional reason for naming Mr. Hindle in our initial letter, and naming Bryce Lambert now, is that the practice of not being forthcoming on matters like these at many different institutions over decades has resulted in a lack of reporting by victims. A lack of disclosure of inappropriate behavior can allow individuals to maintain positions of responsibility where they are a threat to children or, as in this case, to be venerated despite their past actions. To all students–past, present or future–we have an important message: if you feel you have been treated inappropriately by an adult in our community, it is safe to come forward–regardless of that person’s status or reputation.

We have received, during the last two months, numerous communications from alumni in support of Mr. Hindle. They have praised his teaching skills and personal attributes, and often expressed incredulity at the allegations. These positive experiences, however, cannot justify what Mr. Hindle himself acknowledged did occur. Mr. Hindle’s subsequent denial to a newspaper reporter notwithstanding, there is no question that he engaged in sexual activity with at least one student.

Bryce Lambert and Other Reports

We recently received and investigated reports from two unrelated student victims alleging that Bryce Lambert, who retired in 1990 and is now deceased, had inappropriate sexual contact with them during his tenure. The alleged incidents were separated by several years and were consistent regarding the nature of the conduct. Mr. Lambert is unable to defend himself, but there is sufficient evidence to name him.

The investigators received, evaluated, and followed up on allegations concerning other former faculty members at Deerfield. Some of the allegations were raised at the time of the incidents and the faculty members were dismissed in a timely manner, and, when appropriate, reports were made to authorities; for that reason, those faculty members are not identified here. The majority of the reports concerned past incidents that were non-sexual in nature but that would not be tolerated in today’s environment. And, although three reports concerned alleged sexual behavior, the investigators were not able to corroborate them.

Deerfield Administration

Our investigation led to the conclusion that the Deerfield Academy administration in the 1980s could have moved more forcefully to address indications of unacceptable behavior by Mr. Hindle. Given Mr. Hindle’s denials and highly revered status, the administration relied solely on verbal and written warnings. The administration, however, did terminate two other faculty members for inappropriate conduct with students. We fully acknowledge the challenge of confronting a highly respected and dedicated teacher, who adamantly denied any wrongdoing, but we now realize that in this case, the Academy could have gone further to protect the victims and potential victims.

As we noted above, the administration in the early 2000s received a letter from the same former student who wrote to us last year detailing allegations of specific acts of sexual misconduct by an unnamed teacher–whom we now know was Mr. Hindle. The administration did not interview the former student or take steps to determine the identity of the unnamed teacher. The administration, however, did communicate with the student who has indicated that he was satisfied at the time with the response.

We found no evidence that administrators were aware of similar red flags relating to Bryce Lambert, and the victims never reported the incidents to anyone at Deerfield until now. In addition, we found no evidence that the Board of Trustees was informed of any allegations relating to Mr. Hindle before 2012 or Mr. Lambert before 2013.

“Standards of the Day”

Over the past two months, some members of the community have suggested that the “standards of the day” were different in the 1980s, and that looking at past behavior through today’s lens might be unfair. Our investigation took this important caution into account. We agree that less was known in the 60s, 70s and 80s about these kinds of issues and that people were less alert to warning signs of sexual misconduct. Protocols were also far less established in how to report suspicious behavior and manage the delicate balance between justice for victims and protecting the rights of the accused.

However, we do not think the “standards of the day” argument exonerates the Academy or any individual, primarily because this view ignores the plight of the victims. As painful as this process has been, we believe that disclosure and a public apology is the only responsible action. The healing process of the victims has been, and will continue to be, our overriding concern.

Conclusion

At the recommendation of the Board of Trustees, Deerfield is in the process of reviewing and enhancing our policies regarding sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. The revised policies and procedures will be posted on our website.

The Board of Trustees has determined to rename the Peter G. Hindle ’52 Schoolmaster’s Chair, remove his name from the School’s squash facility, and forbid him from attending events on campus. Further, the Board has determined to rename the Bryce Lambert Fund and the Bryce V. Lambert Writing Fellowship.

Our dedication to the safety and welfare of our students–past, present, and future–is unwavering. As noted in our January letter, “we have zero tolerance for inappropriate teacher-student relationships of any kind.” We should have added, “no matter how revered the teacher.” We continue to speak with students to ensure that they have the knowledge and support to both identify and report inappropriate behavior of any kind.

We hope that the discussions that have ensued from this process ultimately will make our community stronger and more resolute than ever in cultivating our core values–respect, honesty, and concern for others.

On behalf of Deerfield Academy and its Board of Trustees, we offer a heartfelt apology to the victims–and a pledge to ensure the safest possible environment for our students.

Yours respectfully,

Philip Greer ’53, P ‘94, GP ’13, ‘16
President, Board of Trustees  

Margarita Curtis H ‘57
Head of School




Chronicle of Higher Education: Mr. X


 

Mr. X

March 28, 2013, 12:01 am

The current issue of The New Yorker contains a very long article by Marc Fisher entitled “The Master.” It is a remarkable, scrupulous, and devastating account of many reprehensible actions of Robert Berman, a former English teacher at Horace Mann, a private school in New York City. The article alleges that in his career at the school, which started in the mid-1960s and ended in 1979, Berman sexually abused at least four of his male students. The parents of a fifth student, who committed suicide, have made similar allegations regarding their son. (The school only began admitting girls in 1975.) Berman, who is in his late 70s, denies the allegations. But the students independently told Fisher credible and strikingly similar accounts, and I cannot see any reason not to believe them.

I went to Horace Mann and Mr. Berman was my teacher. The student who committed suicide and one of the students who spoke to Fisher were my classmates. To tell you the truth, Berman was more than a teacher to me. It was nothing sexual, I hasten to say. To explain what “it” was, a good place to start is a passage in the New Yorker article. Fisher (who graduated from the school in 1976, five years after I did) writes:

Assigned to Berman for tenth-grade English, I took a seat one September morning alongside sixteen or seventeen other boys. We waited in silence as he sat at his desk, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges cigarettes and watching us from behind dark glasses. Finally, Mr. Berman stood up, took a fresh stick of chalk, climbed onto his chair, and reached above the blackboard to draw a horizontal line on the paint. “This,” he said, after a theatrical pause, “is Milton.” He let his hand fall a few inches, drew another line, and said, “This is Shakespeare.” Another line, lower, on the blackboard: “This is Mahler.” And, just below, “Here is Browning.” Then he took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the chalk onto the floor, and, using the heel of his black leather loafer, ground it into the wooden floorboards. “And this, gentlemen,” he said, “is you.”

Yes, but on the other hand no. I remember the omnipresent dark glasses (as well as the shaved head and the extremely imitatable monotone); I remember the great-man theory of art and literature, and the bordering-on-absurd pronouncements and rankings. I do not remember the chalk-grinding or the cruel disdain it seems to represent in Fisher’s tableau. In my recollection, Berman delivered his dicta with at least a little humor, some awareness of the hyperbole of it all. He had an unexplained hatred for Yale, which, as with his other eccentricities, we spun elaborate tales to account for. I applied there anyway, and I remember him once telling me (imagine a robot voice), “Mr. Yagoda, I would rather have you run over by a Mack truck than go to Yale.”

Mr. Berman’s schtick—kind of a Walter Pater-100-years-on-with-detour-into-late-Salinger kind of thing—was perfectly pitched to his audience. He told us to disdain any edition of Moby-Dick that didn’t include the hyphen, to avoid any edition of a Russian novel translated by “Constance Gar-nett” (the robot voice), to apply a specific brand of library tape to the binding of our Penguin paperbacks, that Leonardo (never to be referred to as “Da Vinci”) couldn’t be included on his mimeographed list of the 1,000 greatest humans in history because he was “off the human scale.” He happened to be right about all those items, but they basically represented a fan-boy’s view of literature. It resonated with a lot of us because we were right in the fan-boy demographic.

My classmate Rob Watson, now a professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles, who is quoted in the New Yorker piece, was smart enough to see through Mr. Berman while we were still in school. “Berman’s ‘greatest’ lists were fascinating at first,” he wrote me in an e-mail, “but they also seemed to start seeming an awfully crude and jejune way to respond to art.” Rob aptly calls Berman a “con man.” But I didn’t realize that, realize it fully, until reading Fisher’s article.

Instead, after graduating, I came to think of him as a kind of a Wizard of Oz showman, who, when it came down to it, didn’t have a great deal of substance to offer and covered up this lack with smoke and mirrors. This first hit home at the end of my freshman year—at Yale, as it turned out. I learned that Mr. Berman was about to publish a book on Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess.” A whole book on a single poem! I put in an advance order at the Yale Bookstore, and remember picking it up with great anticipation. ButBrowning’s Duke was more or less a vanity publishing venture which, I quickly realized, wasn’t brilliant. In fact, it was ponderous and dull. (I still have my copy, though.)

The following year, for an “Introduction to Folklore” class taught by Bill Ferris, I wrote a paper called “The Folklore of Mr. X.” I tracked down a number of Horace Mann graduates from different years, and charted the (impressively varied) tales they had heard about Mr. Berman. One that came up a number of times was that his wife had been killed in a car accident on his wedding night, and that he had worn the sunglasses ever after in memoriam.

Nobody mentioned anything about sexual abuse, or sex. Nor did I have any inkling  of these transgressions till Fisher’s shocking revelations. Now, I have to reconcile the Berman who was an important and mostly positive influence on me with the predator portrayed in Fisher’s piece.

I think my path to doing so starts with absorbing the fact that, far from being brilliant, Mr. Berman was of no more than ordinary intelligence, exceptional only in the mystique he succeeded in creating around himself, and his shrewd and wicked manipulation of vulnerable kids. He wrote to Fisher:

I regret that such ‘accusations’ as you mention have reached the level that necessitates my complete denial of their validity or recognition of any accuracy whatsoever. (However, as we all know, proving a negative would always be difficult.) I can comprehend that sundry people are (were, will ever be) both insensately vindictive and—not wholly unrelated—unhappy with what they perceive in rare encounters with the mirror as failed lives, and are commensurately eager to compose or pursue tangible causes for that in the form of other people with whom they might have had tangential contact a long while since.

There you have the charlatan laid bare. The man who claimed to be the standard-bearer of greatness, the acolyte of Milton, Shakespeare, Browning: when he is called on to express himself in words, that man is opaque, pretentious, and banal.

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http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2013/03/28/mr-x-2/



Riverdale Press: Alumni Group Says HM Ignored Abuse


Alumni group says Horace Mann ignored abuse By Sarina Trangle
3/27/13
Horace Mann School faculty received and failed to act on at least a dozen reports of sexual abuse between 1970 and 2011, according to an alumni group.



NY TIMES: Compensation Talks in Horace Mann Abuse Cases


March 21, 2013
Compensation Talks in Horace Mann Abuse Cases By JENNY ANDERSON Thirty-two former students of the Horace Mann School have said they were sexually abused by teachers and staff members, and they have been meeting with school officials in the past two weeks to negotiate compensation, according to a person knowledgeable about the talks.



Kamil Testimony at Markey Hearing


March 8, 2013
Good Morning Chairman Lentol, Assemblywoman Markey and Members of the Committee: 
“I’m about to tell you something I haven’t even told my wife.” 



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