Don't burn down Penn State because of one criminal and four bad actors
I have read the Freeh report cover to cover. And I think there is a lot of important information contained in it. However, I don’t think it is complete. Here is my take on things. But first, a disclaimer:
My father is one of nine alumni elected members of the Board of Trustees. Jay Paterno writes for this website; I hope he will continue to do so -- he is a great writer and has a lot to offer to our audience. I am a Penn State graduate and I live and work in State College.
Now, as I see it: You have a Board of Trustees whose job it is to appoint a president of the university. It has done that more than a dozen times in Penn State’s history. And in Graham Spanier it hired someone who had been continually regarded as one of the top university presidents in the country.
You have four people who were responsible not only to the victims, but also to the Board of Trustees. Those four intentionally kept the board and everyone else in the dark. Maybe they didn’t know the extent of what they were covering up. That is not my decision; the courts will determine that.
But as soon as the regular members of the Board of Trustees found out on Nov. 4-5, they took it upon themselves to mobilize. Remember you have 32 trustees that are from all over the country and the university administration was stonewalling them.
By Sunday night the members were meeting, some in person and some via conference call. They suspended the two administrators -- Tim Curley and Gary Schultz -- who had been charged with perjury and failure to report. The Freeh report says Spanier changed the press release -- without the board’s knowledge or permission -- to say that Curley and Schultz had requested and beengranted administrative leave, when it was in fact the Board of Trustee’s decision to place Curley and Schultz on administrative leave.
While the board continued to press behind the scenes for more information from Spanier, the members didn’t get anything of substance.
Spanier let the board down by not keeping it informed. He changed its messages. He did not prepare the board or the university to be able to deal with the crisis. He failed again by releasing a statement of complete support for the charged parties – Schultz and Curley -- instead of supporting the process of justice. His fate was sealed.
You also have Steve Garban, president of the Board of Trustees at the time, who was complicit in keeping the rest of the board members in the dark. Garban did not inform it of what he knew, after having been briefed by Spanier and university counsel Cynthia Baldwin in April and then again in October, according to the Freeh report.
Garban may or may not have known about Sandusky's actions prior to April. But in October he did know that key members of the university were about to be charged. And when they were, he came out with a statement in full support of them instead of supporting the process of justice. He was forced out as president of the board for this failure.
It is my opinion that Garban should immediately resign from the board. As for the other trustees, if any of them had any knowledge of the information that was about be become public or knew about these Sandusky accusations prior to Nov. 4, they should also resign for failure to inform their fellow board members -- who all have a duty to guide Penn State through the good times and the bad. According to the Freeh report, board members John Surma and Jim Broadhurst also knew in late October about the pending charges.
As that fateful week in November wore on, telephone conference calls were not enough. So the board scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday just four days after the news had broken. The trustees from all over the country and all walks of life came to State College to meet in person, face to face, to deal with what would be the most horrific details and unthinkable crimes and for many make the most difficult decisions they have had to make in their entire lives.
Earlier that day, instead of reaching out to the board, Joe Paterno -- through the media (absent even a phone call to anyone on the board) -- said he would coach through the end of the season. The board, he said, had more important things to deal with. Hardly. And on top of that he had a quote in his press release that he wished he “had done more.”
Don’t we all? That sealed his fate even though the story was bigger. The trustees didn’t have the whole story, but they had enough. Something stunk in Denmark. They wanted to get to the bottom of it and make sure something like this never happened again.
While many organizations would circle the wagons and clam up and just worry about protecting themselves, the trustees contracted an outside third party and said, “Dig into us and find out everything that you can. Spare no expense and nothing is off limits.”
The board knew that this would open it up to criticism and provide a roadmap to civil litigation. It didn’t care. If you think any other organization would do the same, name one time when this has happened?
I believe that when you look back on this, while the messaging by the trustees may not have been the best or even very good, its ultimate response to the situation will go down as a case study. They had been left exposed by an administration that purposely misled them, and kept them in the dark. They were to be advised by legal counsel that didn't represent them, and had a clear conflict of interest.
Within four days, the Board of Trustees had fired the head coach – an American icon -- and removed the university president. By the end of the week the board had decided to hire an independent investigator to get to the bottom of the failings and get recommendations on how to correct them. The speed with which this happened was unprecedented. And was the right move.
My point is this: Penn State is so much more than these four people and one criminal. These types of criminals hide all over the place and are masters of hiding themselves. I don’t know if these four people were trying to protect Sandusky; I don’t believe they were. If they in fact were trying to protect him, they should all rot.
Did they all fail? Yes. Should the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people that depend on Penn State – who are … Penn State -- be punished? No.
Penn State is NOT these four people and a convicted child molester. Penn State the organization is already being punished with a tarnished brand, and it will be severely punished financially via civil litigation and settlements. These costs could be anywhere from $400 million to a billion dollars.
None of this money will take back the pain of what happened to the victims, but piling on by the NCAA and possibly the federal government – acting on Penn State’s not acting on Cleary Act – will not fix that, but it will hurt many others.
If Penn State is the subject of a “death penalty” -- whether administered by the NCAA for football or the federal government for failing to properly implement the Clery Act – it would hurt those hundreds of thousands. And not those who were responsible. It could decimate all of the other sports at Penn State and choke off the local economy. There is already plenty of pain to go around.
It would hurt all of the student athletes who want to play at a high level near their families and hometowns. It will hurt those student athletes who are getting an education that they might not otherwise get. It will hurt all of those people who work for businesses that are in some way affected by the Penn State economy.
Further, it would hurt the economy of Pennsylvania and even beyond. It will hurt other Big Ten schools and their economies. The governor -- who by sitting on the Board of Trustees had a fiduciary responsibility to The Pennsylvania State University – failed in that duty. He did not inform the board of what he knew was coming and abdicated his responsibility. If he could not live up to his responsibility of his board position he should have resigned his position on the board or sent someone in his place, as has been the practice of governors in the past.
Instead he inserted himself into the process, where he had conflicting interests. It is time for Gov. Corbett to step up and start to defend the actions of how Penn State has responded since this story broke. It is time for him try to help the healing and communicate all of the good that comes out of Penn State.
In the end, it is my belief that Penn State will probably become a leader in child protection research. It will also my guess that it will also become a leader in not only implementing the Cleary Act policies, but in best practices and procedures in how to implement it.
But these things will only happen if people step back and take a collective breath -- and don't burn down the university because of one evil man and four people who failed us all.