Friday, November 11, 2011

The light shines

Just 2 days ago we posted a lament about our university, Penn State.  We've been beset by a scandal of large proportions, in which brand-protection by safe administrators allowed unsafe juveniles to be branded for life by experiences inflicted on them by a very prominent member of our football coaching staff, apparently over many years.

The famous, even revered head coach Joe Paterno, and our President (along with some others) were summarily fired by our Board of Trustees, when they learned of this.  Then, protecting the brand, and the iconic JoePa, some of our dregs (every university has dregs) rowdied in the streets, adding a new ugliness.

But Penn Staters have long been known for high levels of social activism, and the top-enders here recognized the need to go beyond football and coaches when it comes to something much more important, in this case, pedophilia.

Our best are already experienced and organized for doing good things, and in almost no time plans were made for ways to honor the victims, and remember this is not about football.  They organized a candle-light vigil in respect for and for protection of abused children.  Thousands of blue t-shirts were made, using the color already designated for such anti-abuse activities, and thousands--many thousands--of our students assembled on the lawn in front of the President's office.

However, hundreds of thousands of the Penn State family don't live here.  Do they care?  Take a look at this immediate response on the web and even more poignantly, look at this on YouTube.

And then a pep rally for the game was cancelled and the candle-light vigil drew an estimated 10,000 (of our best) students:

So, while the media do their job and find the many more shoes that are clearly likely to drop,  to reveal how much deeper the cover-up by the University and Second Mile were, a Phoenix of good may come of this.   We've lost our legendary coach and our public-face President, which seemed like a heavy blow, but by the time the stories are all out, perhaps nobody will be left to regret that.  Now Penn State needs to reform, regroup, reinvigorate ourselves as a serious university that happens to have a football team.  What a good example and pace we could set, if the moment is taken at its current flood!

Maybe we could start by not admitting any more goons, and reduce our class size so we could give the deserved attention to the students who actually want to be here to learn something.


Texbrit said...

Viewed from afar, I think it's interesting that people are seeing this as a "Penn State" issue, even coming to sociological conclusions which begin to delve into the Penn State / State College "class system" (to apply a British way of thinking to the matter) - of townies and gownies and so on. There is a lot of hand-wringing over what this means to "the University", and what the role football has and whether drunken lager-louts represent the "real" university and so on. But Penn State is not an organism, or a church. It is a community of tens- or even hundreds of thousands of independently-thinking individuals. It is an employer, a place of learning, and a social place. But what is interesting is to see the various forms of wagon-circling that are happening, of various factions of Penn State people crying out to define or deplore what "is" Penn State. Even State College or PSU people crying or baying about "our" scandal. But this is tribalism falsely applied, because Penn State is not a tribe.

What we have here is a failure of humanity, not of Penn State. We have some despicable and vile animals who need to be punished. It just so happens that they are affiliated with this "city" that is PSU. Even if the University president helped cover this up, that does not mean that "Penn State" need be considered tarnished by this, because it was not "Penn State" that perpetrated these horrible crimes. Because you, and I, and many thousands of others besides "are" Penn State. So, the candlelight vigil was misguided to consider themselves to represent "Penn State", the "other" Penn State. No: the this is a human tragedy, not a Penn State one, and it is one that requires all of humanity to respond in force.

One can't help but draw parallels to the Catholic Church scandals of an identical nature. But they are not the same. Where they are the same is that Catholocism, like PSU but in macro scale, is millions, or even billions, of people - not just the quantity of very sick men that are amongst its administrative ranks. It is not the catholic faith that is to blame for abusing children by the thousands, or millions. And it is not Penn State that is to blame for this scandal. The differentiator between the Catholic Scandal and the "PSU" one, is that the Church has a SYSTEM that helps turn decent men into bad ones (through their system of enforced celibacy, and a system that means that mostly only defective men are interested in applying).

Not so, Penn State.

Ken Weiss said...

I largely agree. But this is the result of too much power in the athletic department (esp. here because of the Paterno tyrannical hold), and of the risk-averse corporate PR-based trend in universities, of which Graham Spanier was an exemplar. There are deep issues that need seeing to here as well as in other universities, but as long as money and no concept of a social contract rule, they won't be addressed because they might drive away ticket-buyers or tuition-payers. So in that sense it is institutional, not just a bad apple.

Your point about the heterogeneity of the community in the way you describe it is of course right. The tribalism is partly because this was such an assault on the PSU 'brand', and the recovery (candle-light etc.) is also an emotional, tribal or crowd phenomenon.

But again this does reflect the untrammeled athletic dept; if it had been an Anth professor preying on little boys, they'd have had him out and with only a brief story in the paper. If the Head had tried to cover it up (why would he, since the dept is not a public image thing?), the Head would be gone as well, quietly returning to teaching.

And it went on here for who knows how many years (20?) being papered over, and perhaps also involving The Second Mile in ways they, too, simply covered it up so their donations could continue to flow in.

Anne Buchanan said...

True, we don't require celibacy here at Penn State, the Church of Football, but kneeling at the altar is pretty much expected.