Karen Heller: Penn St.'s sins, for all to read

Louis Freeh discusses his findings: "The most powerful menat Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect children whom Sandusky victimized."
Louis Freeh discusses his findings: "The most powerful menat Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect children whom Sandusky victimized." (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: July 16, 2012

The massive investigation into Penn State's appalling failure to stop pedophile Jerry Sandusky is a study in how not to educate, lead, or protect, roles that are the very mission of a great university.

"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," says chief investigator and former FBI Director Louis Freeh. "In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity," Freeh noted - because, gee, that would be horrible - "the most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect children whom Sandusky victimized."

What we have here is a lose-lose situation: Sandusky continued to rape and abuse children, and Penn State's reputation lies in tatters.

Joe Paterno, by not doing enough, lost his job and now, posthumously, his legacy. Last week, his name was yanked from Nike headquarters' child-care center, while there are increased calls for the removal of his statue outside Beaver Stadium. Had the university's leaders done the right thing, promptly and without reservation, instead of worrying about protecting the "brand," this damage could have been avoided.

Penn State is not an auto factory but chartered as "an institution for the education of youth." Every year parents entrust faculty, administrators, and coaches with the care of their children.

After the crime - clear and horrible, Sandusky found guilty on 45 or 48 counts - we have the quagmire and collateral damage of what Freeh called a cover-up, almost a decade and a half of president Graham B. Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley, and Paterno not doing the right thing and ultimately dismissed from their jobs.

Paterno died of cancer in January. Schultz and Curley, whom the report describes as Paterno's "errand boy," are awaiting trial. Penn State is paying Spanier's and Curley's legal bills. The report charges that Spanier "failed in his duties as president." A family therapist by training who led the university for 16 years, he has yet to be charged, though the grand jury is reportedly scrutinizing his role.

In 1999, after the first instance of Sandusky's transgressions, the assistant coach retired with an unprecedented $168,000 lump-sum severance, plus an "emeritus" title. Nonetheless he did not stop visiting Penn State's campus. His very access to athletic facilities was the bait for "grooming" victims, the showers a favored hell of his crimes.

Compare that lack of action with how swiftly administrators took disciplinary action when a sports agent had the gall to give a football player $400 worth of clothing. Spanier banned the agent from Penn State's campus for life, writing that he had "fooled around with the integrity of the university, and I won't stand for that."

The president wrote this e-mail the very same week in May 1998 that he learned of Sandusky showering with an 11-year-old in Penn State's Lasch building. The boy's mother reported a possible sexual assault to campus police. The boy would later be named Victim 6 in the grand jury report. Spanier, who has written extensively on human sexuality and adolescent development, and is a founding editor of the Journal of Family Issues, made no mention of the ongoing investigation to the board of trustees. He told the special investigative counsel that, according to the report, "no effort was made to limit Sandusky's access to Penn State.

So, to recap: Giving $400 worth of clothing to a college athlete merits a campus ban for life, but an assistant coach's showering with and possibly sexually assaulting an elementary school student results in no action whatsoever.

Something was rotten in Happy Valley. "There is an overemphasis on 'the Penn State Way' as an approach to decision-making, a resistance to outside perspectives, and an excess focus on athletics," the report states, with "a culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community."

Paterno's final compensation package is estimated at $5.5 million, though the institution fought tenaciously to keep this payment secret for years even though it is funded partially by taxpayers. The football coach earned more than twice the president, a practice far too common at universities where sports is perceived as essential to the institution's reputation.

The trustees were sheep, and they did little to challenge Spanier's authority. One trustee admitted that the president was "left to float too freely by himself" because, the report states, "he felt he could fix anything." He tended to show trustees "rainbows" but not "rusty nails." I suppose Sandusky was a rusty nail. So Paterno was not the only god at Penn State, the only man above question.

The report recommends that the university "create a values-and-ethics-centered community where everyone is engaged in placing the needs of children above the needs of adults."

To quote Spanier, it was campus leaders who fooled around with the integrity of the university, and no one should stand for that.


Contact Karen Heller at kheller@phillynews.comor 215-854-2586.

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