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What's Right and What's Wrong With Penn State in Aftermath of Sandusky Scandal

by on June 18, 2013 3:51 PM

It’s already well established that I am part of the Penn State community that believes we don’t have most of the facts in the Sandusky scandal.

I believe that most of the damage that’s been done to the University’s reputation has been caused by the rush to judgement by the national media. I also believe that the university’s leadership should have done a better job of defending the school against the Freeh Report and the sanctions from the NCAA.

But I was starting to wonder if I am in the minority. Most of the Penn Staters whom I speak with are like-minded in their assessment of the handling of the Sandusky fallout, but the “move on” drumbeat has been getting louder in recent months. A vocal group of media pundits have criticized efforts by Paterno supporters as being a disservice to the victims.

So in an effort to find out where the Penn State community stands, I put together a short questionnaire on Survey Monkey and posted it on FaceBook and Twitter.

I thought that I might get 100 responses, but close to 700 people took the survey.

The results were not surprising. They were, admittedly, far from scientific, since the majority of people who took the survey are angry with the University; particularly the board of trustees.

Only 64 of the 699 respondents indicated that they were satisfied with how Penn State has responded to the scandal. I would have liked to hear more from the contingency who support the University’s decision-making process, but I don’t know where to find them.

What became most apparent through the responses is that the community desperately wants to be heard. More than 200 people took the time to write comments, some of which could take up a whole column by themselves.

Most people expressed their unhappiness and frustration with the way Penn State has been portrayed. Many of the same sentiments were echoed repeatedly and boil down to the general belief that the truth about who knew what regarding Sandusky’s actions are still unknown.

It’s safe to say that most respondents believe the NCAA sanctions were handed down, and accepted, prematurely. Several people cited believe that any action against the University should have been postponed until after the trials for Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz. The following statements were made by separate anonymous commenters:

“Curley, Schultz and Spanier deserve their day in court so all of the facts can come out. Despite the Freeh Report, we still don't know who knew what when, or what their understanding of the situation was.”

“I'm waiting to hear actual evidence before forming favorable or unfavorable opinions about Curley, Schultz and Spanier. It is difficult to understand why the entire community is being demonized and punished. We had a devious predator living among us. We had experts who allowed him to adopt children. We had a system that somehow ignored an expert's report that Sandusky had all the signs of a predator and yet no one is talking about that or blaming them for missing that opportunity to stop him before the shower incident ever happened. It is much easier to blame the community or the university, apparently and because of this we have no voice any longer when it comes to this matter. Therefore, many of us just want it to be over so that we can hopefully go back to being recognized for the amazing good that we do both collectively and individually.”

Many people also indicated that they want to know the full truth of what happened, no matter where it leads. More comments from anonymous community members:

“I just want to know the truth, plain and simple as I will never be able to ‘move on’ until I know all of the facts. Defending Joe Paterno does not make me a ‘Joebot,’ but I am a Truthbot and just want to know the truth. The victims, students, athletes, alumni, fans, administrators deserve nothing less.”

“We have to find the real truth in all of this. The truth is the only real thing that can help the victims and University heal. The truth is the only real thing that can help EVERYONE ‘move on.’”

One of the questions I asked is whether the Penn State community should “move on” or “fight on.” While 79 percent said we should “fight on,” State College resident and Penn State alum Frank Cianfrani pointed out that the issue is more complicated.

“It is possible to aggressively pursue the truth, hold those responsible accountable, and move the university forward, past the scandal,” Frank said. “These goals are not mutually exclusive, despite what many on both sides claim.”

Dozens of people expressed concern for Sandusky’s victims and are dismayed by the public perception that Penn State supporters are only interested in athletics.

“I resent the implication that my support for rescinding the unjust and immoral (and possibly illegal) NCAA sanctions is deemed by many, including many in the media, as excusing Sandusky's behavior,” says Bill Cox, a 1971 graduate.

What strikes me most from this survey is that there is obviously a very large group of Penn Staters who are not being listened to by the university leadership. The comments about “moving on” that they hear from the BOT are so distant from their own feelings.

They have questions about what happened, what the leadership knew, and why Joe Paterno was made the scape goat for the whole scandal. These are valid questions that must be addressed before this group will ever be able to “move on.”

Until then, I think the divide is only going to get worse. I fear that at some point, those in the “fight on” contingency are going to get frustrated and walk away.

If they continue to be met with so much spin-doctoring when they seek the truth and get roadblocked when they ask questions, they will “move on,” but it’s not going to be with Penn State, it will be away from the school.

Penn State and the BOT have a unique opportunity right now to start making things right. Acknowledge the feelings and frustrations of the community. Let us know that you think the NCAA sanctions were too tough.

Remind us, and the media, that Penn State is and has always been a safe place for children outside of this one predator.

Instead of taking all the blame for Sandusky, encourage district attorneys to take a harder look at the activities of the Second Mile and how he repeatedly was approved to adopt children. Penn State did not create this monster, but it does have an obligation to see that it doesn’t happen again, here or anywhere.

Finally, not because it’s the most important but because its the easiest thing to do on this list — give us an official indication that Joe Paterno will be honored.

Set a date, even if it’s next year. It seems so trivial, but it would make a lot of people happy.

According to its own website “The Board of Trustees of The Pennsylvania State University is the corporate body established by the charter with complete responsibility for the government and welfare of the University and all the interests pertaining thereto including students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

Honoring Paterno is a main part of the current alumni, faculty, and staff interests.

I am going to send this column along with the all of the comments to each member of the board of trustees so they may review the concerns of fellow Penn Staters. There is a need for the leadership to step forward and defend the Penn State Way.



Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at hollyannswanson@verizon.net.
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