Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What is Penn State?

Dear MT readers:
We have both been here at Penn State University for 26 years.  When we got here, Joe Paterno had already become legendary and had been our football coach for nearly 20 years.  He had already long and publicly stood for doing the right thing.  Students that do not cheat, that honor themselves and the university, and that graduate, even if not all in high-pressure majors.  In many, many ways that ideal is just what he achieved, and with few precedents anywhere in the United States.

Legions of Penn State students (and faculty) have acted with pride and dignity, and for things that were right, and just. Our graduates were recently shown to be among the most active in service to their communities, and the like.

But it's well known, and sad, that another major part of our reputation, and what draws too many students here, are sports well out of control, and a culture of riotous drunken behavior. 

That is one of a number of issues that Penn State did not confront.  It has been an insular university, where 'loyalty' means promoting from within, and unfortunately, circling the wagons when it comes to controversy.  Loyalty to our image--our 'brand'--has taken far too much precedence when it comes to dealing with things like the drinking party culture, the excessive stress on sports and similarly superficial things, and the scandal that is now engulfing us.  Pleasing undergraduate students and a fine Nittany Nation image, have taken precedence over academic rigor.

This is not just about hypocritical judgments in hind-sight on our part.  Probably there are more facts to emerge, and it seems unlikely that they will be in any way exculpatory.  Those in charge went through a few of the motions, but did not press to see that reports of sexual abuse were followed up.  More probably knew more, long ago even, about the sex abuse than has come to light so far.  Who knows--perhaps innocently, conveniently, administrators just hoped it would go away.  Perhaps no one wanted, or dared, to be the one who brought negative light on 'dear old State'.

Our President was always someone for whom it seemed that appearance and spin consistently took precedence over substance.  He was very good for us in many ways, raised a lot money and built many buildings.  But one can see how his over-riding need for smiling before cameras is what led in many ways to where we are now.  Had he been a person more about substance than appearance, even a whiff of child abuse would have, or should have, led to action.  Instead, a mentality of covering up rather than taking stands on difficult issues, of which there are many examples, allowed things to build to a point when they could no longer be contained.  We are, properly, paying the price for that today.

On the other hand, we can assure any MT readers who many not know it, that there are many, many very fine, good, intelligent, delightful, thoughtful and decent people here--among our students, our faculty, and our staff.  We hope this will not be overlooked.

We are embarrassed, but more importantly, we are saddened for the boys who were abused, by a person of power in the storied Penn State football program.  The abuses went on for so long, many here on campus, that many of these boys are now men.  The fact of their pain should not be forgotten.

But we will move onward.  Hopefully, a new administration will pay more attention to the real issues facing universities, ours as well as others, and less to football, partying, and photo-ops. 

It is a moment, and we hope we'll seize it!

We owe that to our many, many very fine, good, intelligent, delightful, thoughtful and decent people here--among our students, our faculty, and our staff.


Pat Shipman said...

"The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." (Act 3, scene ii of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Mark Antony).

It would seem that the evil one man has done has buried the good many others have done. I always felt JoePa was the last honest man, the one football coach who thought learning, a library, and graduation were more important than playing ball. I imagine those boys have also been badly damaged, that some have lost the ability to do the good they might once have done because of the overweening sickness of one man. so many others -- families, students, other coaching staff, administrators -- are being called to account for their lack of decisive action and yet no single person could have stopped this abuser.

Ken Weiss said...

When the mentality is about image rather than substance,as so often happens, and clearly was the over-riding theme here, then bubbles get built.

Had JoePa followed up on what must have seemed awful (he, a Catholic, and when the Church's similar problems were all over the news), and simply said I didn't think about how serious this was so I tried to ease Sandusky out without a public stink (if that's an unsaid scenario resembling what actually happened), or in other ways--had he done that, he'd have exonerated himself as well as purged the sore.

But even Second Mile was apparently afraid to have this become news, as apparently they've known about the investigations for a couple of years or more.

Whether Mark Antony was evil or good, only Cleopatra can say. But their ends opened the way for Augustus, who was apparently, overall,a good Emperor. I hope we'll get a good new Emporer, and one who has clothes.

Nick Kilzer said...

"and yet no single person could have stopped this abuser. "

I cannot agree with that.