Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)
A Towson University senior who is taking a class Rabbi Barry Freundel taught prior to his arrest said she and “a couple of other girls” were invited to tour his synagogue.
“I had never planned on doing the mikvah, but going to the synagogue sounded like a cool experience,” Karen Berry, who is a student in the “Judeo-Christian Perspectives in Medical Ethics” class, said Thursday afternoon outside the classroom.
Freundel was arrested on Oct. 14 for allegedly setting up a hidden camera disguised as a clock radio in the National Capital Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath next door to his Washington, D.C., synagogue, Kesher Israel Congregation, in Georgetown. He is charged with six counts of voyeurism, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He is suspended without pay from his synagogue and suspended from all faculty responsibilities at Towson.
On Wednesday, the university began its own investigation into whether or not Freundel violated Title IX guidelines that pertain to sexual misconduct, university spokesman Ray Feldmann said. His office in the university’s liberal arts building was searched by police the previous day.
“There are parts of the Title IX law that pertain to sexual misconduct and behavior that creates what’s called an ‘impermissible hostile environment,’” explained Feldmann. A violation would mean Freundel’s actions interfered with a student’s ability to continue his or her education at Towson. “We’re certainly not accusing Dr. Freundel of having done these things, but we’re looking at whether or not he did.”
Feldmann said university officials felt they had enough reason to investigate Freundel based on information from students, which the university has been collecting since the arrest.
He said the university probably won’t make a decision on Freundel’s long-term status at Towson until both the Title IX investigation and the criminal investigation have concluded.
Berry said Freundel, who first started teaching at Towson in 2009 as a tenured professor, seemed knowledgeable.
“He was very prominent in the Jewish community so I figured he would be a good professor,” she said.
At least a half-dozen other students used the National Capital Mikvah during class trips, according to an unnamed woman who helped Freundel with the mikvah from late 2013 through May, The Washington Post reported. She wasn’t sure if students were recorded, but is afraid they might have been, she told the newspaper.
Another woman told The Post that she noticed a clock in the bath area as far back as 2012. According to reports, there was also a fan in the mikvah, and a manual for a fan with a hidden camera was found at Freundel’s home.
Nicole Coniglio, a senior mass communication major, told student newspaper The Towerlight that she toured the synagogue for a religious studies class she was taking with Freundel. While on the tour, she and other students were asked to shower in the mikveh, and while she declined, two of her Jewish classmates accepted.
Towerlight editor-in-chief Jonathan Munshaw, who is in the same class as Berry, said students came to class the day their professor was arrested and waited about 20 minutes before leaving.
“The arrest occurred in D.C., so even as a reporter, I was, frankly, behind the story,” Munshaw said. He wrote a piece later that afternoon, but since removed himself from reporting on further developments. He said the next class was “emotionally draining.”
That class resumed on Tuesday with Rabbi Avram Reisner of Chevrei Tzedek teaching.
“At the end, he just said, ‘This is obviously a very unfortunate situation. I’m very disappointed,’ and just opened the floor to everyone who wanted to share their thoughts,” Munshaw said of the new professor on Wednesday.
Reisner said that first day of teaching Freundel’s classes was somewhat difficult, but his job was to get things back on track academically.
“When I walked in, there was a little bit of discomfort among the students,” he acknowledged a day later. “Today, I’m teaching a normal class.”
Feldmann said that in addition to gathering information, the university is offering resources to those with questions or having difficulty processing what happened.
“A lot of students are very upset, feel like he was a good professor,” Feldmann said, “somebody they admired and looked up to.”
The university is also encouraging students who may have information that could aid in the police’s criminal investigation to report it to university police, who may then refer them to Washington, D.C., police.
“Anything Dr. Freundel is accused of doing in D.C., we don’t believe he did anything like that at Towson University,” Feldmann said.
While there have been no complaints against Freundel in the past — the university even looked at past student evaluations — and learning opportunities outside of class are encouraged, Feldmann said taking students to the mikvah was “where it would have crossed the line.”
“We encourage our faculty to create off-campus learning activities for our students,” he said. “The mikvah portion of a class trip is something we would not have condoned or sanctioned had we known about it.”