Student News

Important Report from Deerfield

March 30, 2013

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

 

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MEDIA MAY CONTACT:

David Thiel, Director of Communications
413-774-1878 (direct)
dthiel@deerfield.edu
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