The Joe Paterno statue is down, and the NCAA has hammered Penn State because of Joe's and the University's inaction at a repeat child abuser who liked the cozy showers of our Athletic Department. It's not fair in lots of ways, but life is that way. The University didn't see to business properly, and a number of boys were seriously harmed--even if this had nothing to do with the athletes or the rest of the university.
But the memory of Joe Paterno, the rightfully legendary coach, will now be in disgrace for a fault that will overshadow his accomplishments. Taking away his victory total is a ridiculous part of the punishment because it's wholly unrelated to the failings. But there were certainly real faults--there was clearly too much power given to athletics and too much idolization of the coach, too much brand-consciousness and risk aversion. Keep anything negative quiet!
So Paterno's statue, which really should never have been put up while he was still active, is gone. In fact, as most of us here knew, he had outlived his glory days before the main events that caused all this. Had he retired at age 70 or so, when his coaching and recruiting skills and involvement were waning, and there was a lot of sentiment for him to become a senior statesman, this wouldn't have happened.
Of course, it did happen, and we pay the price. So what do we do? Our new administration has been saying the university will re-balance 'academics' with athletics. Maybe the NCAA's sanctions will force us to actually do something to match those words--which, otherwise, will just be more cotton-candy from the spin machine that is in full gear trying to do just what got us into trouble: damage control.
Now that we will have a limited-talent football team for several years, perhaps we can really take our academic responsibilities seriously. There might be, say, 50,000 fewer people at our down-graded football games. Maybe some of the students just won't bother to go. This should be seen as an opportunity.
We should raise the standards for student admissions, to attract here students who actually want to study and learn something; there might not be be nearly as many as we have here now, because this won't just be a 4-year party & football attraction. Maybe they'll actually go to class (sober, at least more of the time), and classes will be smaller. This will surprise them, since suddenly their work will be under scrutiny....but they'll also get more actual faculty attention than they can now. Which is what they're paying for.
We should raise the standards for earning high grades, retention, and passing courses. Reduce the subtle pressure on faculty to be entertainers, or to retain students who don't measure up, freeing those students to transfer and save on the cost of our very high tuition and go somewhere more suited to their abilities and interests--and enabling us to provide a better product to those many very fine students here who deserve that. More homework, no graduation without basic skills compatible with a major university education. Raise what it means to have earned a Penn State degree.
The sexual abuse scandal was dreadful, but its having been bottled up reflected a much broader pattern of image ('brand') protection, and looking the other way from serious problems, hoping they'll just go away has become a widespread kind of institutional reflex. It's about image and revenue--and Penn State is not the only one at this game!
There is a national problem in higher education (not to mention K-12), in which universities are processing their 'student customers' in an exploitative way for their tuition that is not so different from how we exploit 'student athletes' for ticket and TV money (except Penn State and Joe Paterno insisted that the 'student-athletes' actually go to class!).
We can perhaps take some leadership nationally now that even if we wanted to remain obsessed with sports, we won't be able to. We'll have to find some other way to contribute in a worthy way to society. Why not start by giving our students a much better education, when they're no longer so distracted by football?