Daily News editorial: Damning Penn State report calls for serious reforms

Posted: July 13, 2012

IN PARTS OF Pennsylvania, you can't drive a quarter-mile without seeing a Penn State decal on the rear window of a car. There are over 290,000 Penn State alumni living here, many of whom are leaders in government and industry. The institution is a giant economic engine, too, with a $4.1 billion budget. Penn State is not just a state school. It is the state's school.

And it's an embarrassment. Actually, the word "embarrassment" doesn't come close to doing justice to the twisted priorities and abdication of responsibility that took place at Penn State, as outlined in a report from former FBI director Louis Freeh.

Following the report, conducted at the behest of the Penn State board, the worst that can be said of Penn State is that it is a morally bankrupt institution whose higher-ups — from the trustees on down — covered up and/or downplayed the abuse of young boys. From 1998, with the first police investigation into an allegation that assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky showered with a young boy, to 2001, when graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed and reported Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers, to 2011, when Sandusky was arrested, the school gave him unfettered and unquestioned access to its facilities.

The best that can be said is that the university was pathetically clueless to the implications of Sandusky's crimes or its own response. That is best summed up by a letter written (but never published) by head coach Joe Paterno following the Sandusky scandal in which he said: "This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one. It is not an academic scandal and does not in any way tarnish the hard-earned and well-deserved academic reputation of Penn State. That Penn State officials would suggest otherwise is a disservice to every one of the over 500,000 living alumni."

Those words are probably the most telling indictment of all, written from a culture of privilege and insulation that blinded the university's leaders to knowing which was more important: the grievous wrongs done against children by one of its own, or the need to keep the school's reputation unsullied.

But don't take our word for it. Freeh's report is eloquent on "the weaknesses of the university's culture, governance, administration, compliance polices and procedures for protecting children."

Which is why it's now incumbent on all of Pennsylvania to call for drastic measures to fix Penn State.

Children can't be un-molested and terrible errors in judgment can't be undone. But Penn State can start by replacing its entire board of trustees and the rest of its top officials. This is not to imply that every one of them is culpable for the abuses of Jerry Sandusky, but would signal a clean break from the leadership that presided over decades of scandal.

The school must also address the culture of worship of football at Penn State that may well have contributed to the coverup of Sandusky's crimes.

Finally, lawmakers must move on strengthening Pennsylvania's child-abuse reporting laws, which have serious weaknesses.

Paterno wrote in his post-Sandusky apologia that "Penn Staters across the globe should feel no shame in saying, “We are Penn State." It's a safe bet that today, many do — and rightfully so.

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