Russell Frank: PSU Faculty Weighs in on Sandusky Scandal
Vincent Colapietro, a philosophy professor, describes our colleagues at Penn State as "a community of inquirers devoted to recovering what has been lost and discovering what has never been known." We are also a community of writers and so the appalling allegations that have come to light this month have driven many of us to try to outline the process of recovery and discovery that lies ahead.
Many of you, I'm sure, would like nothing better this Thanksgiving weekend than to take a breather from the Sandusky scandal – from the monster TV trucks on College Avenue, the shrieking newspaper columnists, the lurid shower scenes. I don't blame you. As I said to my students before the break, never has a vacation been needed so badly by so many.
But for those who have the stomach for it, maybe not this weekend, but after, when real life resumes, I offer the links to what Penn State faculty members have written about the scandal so you can read the ones you might have missed and get a sense of how this community of inquirers is struggling to make sense of it all.
Malcolm Moran, New York Times: Moran, the director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism in the College of Communications, looks at the scandal from his multiple perspectives as a sports writer, a Penn State professor and a father. Quote: "I have seen the faces of students become distorted as they describe their anger, bewilderment and despair."
Michael Berube, NYT: Berube, the Paterno Family Professor in Literature, calls on Penn State faculty to play a more active role in the governance of the university. Quote: "This is our place that has been trashed, and we care deeply about cleaning it up."
Matt Jordan, Huffington Post: Jordan, who teaches media studies in the College of Communications, sees a connection between the Sandusky scandal and the steady unraveling of the social safety net since the Reagan administration. Reduced government funding, both of education and of anti-poverty programs, he argues, has increased a far less healthy dependence on philanthropy at the level of the university and the individual underprivileged kid. Quote: "As a culture, I hope we...learn to focus less on the elite men who we are taught to follow and think more about the victims that the cult of leadership often overshadows."
Steve Manuel, CNN: Manuel, who teaches both public relations and photojournalism in the College of Communications, writes about the university's crisis management missteps and about his students' reactions to the firing of Coach Paterno. Quote: "The initial uproar on campus at midweek had been replaced with the realization that the larger, more important issue in this dreadful event was the sexual abuse of children, and Penn State's students re-focused their attention and in the process crafted the message the university had failed to do."
Vincent Colapietro, Centre Daily Times: Colapietro reminds us that we do not yet know whether we are looking at "a definitive conspiracy of silence" or the lapses of "finite, fallible and arguably fallen beings." Quote: "What I do know about humans is that we have great difficulty in seeing what stares us in the face."
This might only be a sampling of what's been published by Penn State profs thus far: It's possible I missed some. Even if you do not agree with every word of these columns, I think there is comfort to be found in them. They offer a peek at how the professors at this damaged institution are applying the critical skills they've honed as philosophers, media scholars and literary scholars to the task of articulating the lessons the university and the larger society might learn from what's happened here.
Of course, the musings of Penn Staters represent a fraction of the reportage and commentary generated by the Sandusky scandal. Papers published as far as away as Beirut, Bangkok, Sydney and Seoul have run wire service reports.
Though the news media have been widely criticized for sensationalizing the riotous response to Joe Paterno's firing, a friend who has observed the coverage at close range finds that the reporters who have made the journey to Central Pennsylvania have generally done a good job.
It's the armchair pontificators, the ones who don't know if all the fuss is happening in State College or College Park or College Station, who have issued the sweeping condemnations of the entire university community and the sweeping calls for the elimination of the entire football program.
For a couple of notable exceptions in the New York Times, see Daniel Mendelsohn, who thinks the homophobic culture of sports contributed to Penn State's failure to act on the allegations against Jerry Sandusky; and David Brooks, who sees the failure to do the right thing in the face of evil as a manifestation of "our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive."