The NCAA may ban Penn State from football for “lack of institutional control” and “inaction,” writes education attorney and former higher education administrator Galen Medley.
The Pennsylvania State University is a troubled institution and needs to do some serious soul searching. Its former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of minors and probably will spend the rest of his life in prison. Nevertheless, Penn State has to continue to deal with the multitude of investigations and civil actions attempting to make it accountable for its role in the matter. Monetary settlements may not be enough for all parties. Amongst the investigations, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is examining whether Penn State had a lack of institutional control over its football program and the actions, and inactions, of relevant responsible personnel at the university. This may eventually lead to a ban on Penn State participating in football for at least a year, also known as the “death penalty,” considering the charges. It would not surprise me if that is what happens. There is strong evidence that senior university officials acting on behalf of Penn State purposely did not report the sexual assault of Sandusky’s young victims in order to protect the university.
To describe what happened at Penn State as a lack of institutional control is a gross understatement. No one in the university community who knew of Sandusky’s activities seemed to have the intestinal fortitude to put an end to his activities at the risk of the university’s reputation or their own careers. The university first investigated Sandusky for allegations involving a child in 1998 and little action was taken. In 2001, after Mike McQueary reported to the university that he saw Sandusky in the shower having sex with an underage boy, President Spanier alleged reaction in an e-mail was that it would be “humane” to Sandusky not to contact social services. In my experience, educators tend to be more concerned on doing what is best to protect a child. It seems that they had no one assessing the legal, ethical or moral implications of the decisions of its senior administration on a day to day basis.
I suspect that Penn State went without intimate legal guidance until they hired its first in-house attorney, Cynthia Baldwin, in January 2010. But little action was taken when there was a chance to mitigate the situation. Baldwin knew of the grand jury investigation and should have had a good idea of who had testified from the university. She was even in the grand jury room when university administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz gave testimony. Though Curley and Schultz now face perjury charges due to what they told the grand jury, Baldwin should have been able to figure out what had happened. A local newspaper, The Patriot-News, even detailed the allegations in late March of 2011. For everyone’s sake at Penn State, it would have been better if Sandusky had been made persona non grata on university property and head coach Joe Paterno strongly persuaded to retired in the spring of 2011 by giving him a preview of what was coming. Paterno would have had a chance to leave with his reputation and legacy somewhat intact instead of getting fired along with Spanier in a public relations and legal disaster for the university. Penn State would have been at least seen as mitigating a bad situation, albeit belatedly. Baldwin may indeed have made all of these recommendations, but Spanier and Paterno’s judgment took precedence.
There are several actions that Penn State should take to address its problems now. Voluntary suspension of its football program for the 2012 or 2013 seasons or both is one of them. This could be part of a settlement of the various investigations of this matter, though it wouldn’t quash criminal matters. Florida A&M University’s president suspended its famed band program at least through its 2012-2013 season because the program had to be restructured to uproot the culture of hazing. Penn State’s problem is not with the football team per se, but with a culture where administrators are willing to turn a blind eye to some of the most abhorrent acts imaginable to preserve the program’s reputation and a cash cow for the university.
Penn State’s leadership should suspend its football program if it is serious in its endeavor to restore its core values of honesty, integrity, and community. It will send a strong message and give them time to change the culture of the university community to ensure that its reputation does not come before the sexual destruction of a child. Penn State’s legacy will be further stained if the NCAA imposes the death penalty. If they take such action themselves, it will be remembered as the noble act of a great university trying to rebuild its soul.
More responses to the Sandusky verdict:
Death Penalty Now, By Mark Ellis
Talking Myself Out of Murdering Jerry Sandusky, By Joanna Schroeder
“Fortunately, I will never be alone in a room with Jerry Sandusky.”
“If you had it to do all over again would you do what was best for yourself and your pal Jerry Sandusky, or would you do the right thing for those boys?”
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