Friday, July 13, 2012

We Are All Penn State

The last 24 hours start the next phase for Penn State.  I read that in a lot of places.  That is false.

Whether we like this or not, to bastardize the rallying cry of the Happy Valley faithful, we are all Penn State.

There are some events that touch everyone within an industry -- this is one.

Louis Freeh summed it up into a single quote at his press conference:

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.  The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect children whom Sandusky victimized.”

The underscore becoming a banner deck headline on the front page of the Philly Inquirer today.

I've seen some of the comments of the defendants -- lawyers for the soon-to-be former athletic director and retired senior VP -- that the Freeh Report did not "tell the whole story."


History is written by the victors.  In this case, it is recorded by the participants.  What part of the "whole story" didn't get documented in email or memoranda? The part that was spoken back and forth so there would not be a record in the future?  That's convenient -- and unfortunate.

Because if there is exculpatory material to the chain of command's decision making, bring it out.

I suspect there isn't.  It would already be in the report.

See, that's the thing about 17 1/2 minute gaps in the tape -- or the "whole story" not being recorded -- it looks like what it is.

A cover-up.

Administrative history is written by the supervisors.  A record which justifies the actions taken is what we create.  Not just today -- I've read my share of "memorandum of conversation" letters composed by high functionaries of the FDR administration during the 1930s and 1940s as they sought to put down for the record their version of what transpired.

This is human nature, not a byproduct of email trails and social media postings.

What should be the issue for all of us in higher education -- athletic or academic -- was the janitor's testimony to Freeh's investigators.  He didn't report what he was told because he feared for his job and his safety.

Let's not kid ourselves.  That's not just a "Penn State" thing.

One big reason why the disinhibited behavior is so popular in social media?  The anonymous bomb thrower is also the anonymous whistle blower.  Too many have seen what happens to the janitor in any industry.  So we have the hoggrads of the world trying to get the word out.  They too have agendas which makes the monitoring of and response to social -- even the crazy conspiracy theories or the malcontent agitators -- so important.

This is why we are all Penn State today.  Take a moment for serious reflection.  What happens at your institution if similar events transpire?  Before tut-tutting the lack of Clery Act work by Penn State (or Montana -- just to make sure everyone understands PSU isn't a one-off isolated problem), what is your institutional procedure for compliance?

Call a meeting.  Have yourself a little table top exercise.  Maybe even, dare I suggest it, an honest conversation about what would we do.

Good luck.  You'll need it.  Wear a cup when you suggest it.

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