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Guest Column: Joe Paterno, Penn State and Child Abuse

by on February 01, 2012 11:40 AM

by Duane Steiner

There has been much discussion and hand-wringing on these topics for a number of weeks. I have been considering my response to the issues with varying degrees of sadness and anger.

After much contemplation, I have come to a point where I can calmly give my analysis of what has transpired.

First, I must give the disclaimers. I am a graduate of Penn State twice over. I received a bachelor's degree in physics in 1971 and a doctoral degree in physics in 1978. During that time, I had one personal encounter with Joe Paterno. I was out jogging in the area of campus near JoePa's house, and we had a brief, two-sentence exchange. I believe it was during the summer while I was in graduate school.

Basically, he commented on the exercise and hoped that his players were doing the same. Since leaving the university, I have worked for the U.S. Navy in the desert of California.

I. On Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary

When we are confronted with child abuse, or evil of any kind, we have several options for action. In the Sandusky affair, we see several of them. The first is to do nothing. The statistics indicate that this is the choice of the vast majority.

Why? Most people have no idea what to do. They are intimidated by the situation. If the abuser is a prominent person, the observer feels he will be humiliated or hated when accusing the individual. Others cannot believe what they saw or convince themselves that it is none of their business. I'm sure there are many more reasons.

With the tale of the janitor, we see a second path. He witnessed an alleged explicit act on a young boy and
was disturbed enough to talk with his superior. After being told how to report it by that superior, he apparently chose to do nothing.

Mike McQueary reportedly witnessed Sandusky in the shower with a young boy alone and apparently believed from what he heard and saw that a sexual act on the young boy was either happening or about to happen.

After interrupting the activity, he discussed it with his superior, Joe Paterno, according to McQueary's statements. After a night of contemplation, the testimony goes, Joe Paterno decided that the proper course of action was for McQueary to report the incident to the authorities.

Per reported statements, he even took the next step and arranged the meeting between McQueary and the authorities. McQueary met with the athletic director (who had given the retired Sandusky permission to use the athletic facilities and arranged for him to have his own key) and the head of campus security.

Who made the right and courageous choice? Obviously, Paterno and McQueary did.

It has been exasperating over the last several months to see these two excoriated by the self-righteous. Most of those in the media would have chosen the first or second path. However, to boost their own egos, they actually believe they would have done more and defame the reputation of a man far greater, and far humbler, than them.

II. Reaction to the Scandal

What is the result of the actions of these arrogant persecutors? That includes the media, the so-called experts, the child advocates and even former victims.

They have set back their cause. What is the natural human response? More will choose to do NOTHING. That way, their reputation, even if not their conscience, will be clear.

Joe Paterno died with a sullied reputation, but with a clear conscience. Why would anyone who has knowledge of abuse come forward after what has happened to Paterno? They would submit themselves to possible rebuke
because others judge that they did nothing to stop it, they waited too long, or they didn't do enough. They would be open to criminal and civil prosecution. We have created a culture which discourages reporting!

III. Response by the University

Now we move on to the university's attitude. For years, there has been extensive training on child abuse for preschool, primary and secondary education. I assume that anyone in education or childhood development at the university is trained to look for, and report, abuse.

I have been away from the university for 30 years, but it appears that no one outside those areas has been trained. Most are trained about EEO violations such as discrimination and sexual harassment. There is not an atmosphere of acceptance, just ignorance about child abuse.

This would seem reasonable since most are 18 years of age when they arrive at the university. However, many deal with youth during summer camps and campus visits. Therefore, the university needs to train everyone on how to identify and deal with potential child abuse.

As the Navy has learned, we quickly forget things we don't use, so the training needs to be repeated on a regular basis. We have to take 10 different annual trainings on such topics as security, prevention of sexual harassment, espionage, suicide prevention and human trafficking. We complain about it every year, but it is necessary.

IV. Whose Ethics

Another issue discussed is ethics training. I don't know what is being taught at the academy these days. Are they just teaching the legal issues and/or are they teaching the broader issues of ethics and morality?

Unfortunately, we have a societal disconnect. Ethics in business are expected while anything goes in our private lives. We now have very selective application by politicians and the media. If we like what someone is doing
politically or publicly, we will overlook many of their ethical transgressions, even those related to their work. If we don't like what they are doing politically or publicly, then any little mistake becomes a mortal sin.

We need to hold all accountable to the same ethical and moral standards. This begs the question: Whose moral and ethical standards? If we go with the ancient Greeks and Romans, then what Sandusky is accused of doing is perfectly acceptable. If we go with most of the world, bribery and favoritism is the accepted norm in
business and politics.

With much of the academy heading toward post-modernism, can we impose any ethical or moral standards? Obviously, the vast majority of society holds that there are some absolute standards, or we would not be having
this discussion. Who defines them?

I have my own views, but we must reach a consensus as a society and as a university. Many would like to separate our public ethics from our personal ethics. Is that really possible? Can I cheat on my wife and expect my business partner to trust me? Can I verbally berate my employees and have them believe that I treat my wife and children with kindness and respect?

This piece was submitted by a guest columnist.
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