PSU administration, trustees failed to lead

November 10, 2011

By admin

From the Patriot-News (Harrisburg PA) –

We now know in incredible and awful detail how various leaders at Penn State let down innocent children.

We then watched a first-class university being let down by some of those same leaders, including out-going President Graham Spanier, and even by a lack of action from its board of trustees right after the child molestation allega­tions became public.

The vacuum of leadership has put this remarkable institution’s reputation in peril. It is almost unbelievable.

Sara Ganim of The Patriot-News reported in March on the front page of our newspaper that a grand jury was investigating allegations that coaching legend Jerry Sandusky was abusing children. She reported again in August that the grand jury was wrapping up its probe, having spoken with multiple alleged victims.

Spanier, Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley, Vice President Gary Schultz didn’t need us to tell them that. They had all appeared before the grand jury hearing the case.
Yet when the horrifying details in the grand jury report were made public last Friday, the university seemed totally unprepared to deal with them at any level. Spanier was clearly unprepared. The board of trustees was also unprepared.

And as each painful day has slipped by, that hasn’t changed. No one has appeared to be at the helm of one of the top 15 public universities in the country. Where was Spanier for the last six days as the university battled through a crisis? His only public leadership was to send out two statements. One was so callous as to be mystifying.

In the midst of a scandal involving child molestation and charges of perjury against two of his top employees, Spanier threw his support unconditionally behind them — not the children. He sent a second statement the next day that seemed more of a makeup for the first one than anything else.

Where was Steve Garban, the board chairman? The trustees are charged with complete responsibility for the government and welfare of the university and all the interests pertaining to students, faculty, staff and alumni. On Wednesday, Joe Paterno basically attempted to retire without any apparent input from the school’s leadership or the board of trustees.

In the past two days, the board finally seems to be asserting itself. On Tuesday night, board members put out a strong statement distancing itself from the administration and standing firmly with the Penn State community. “We cannot begin to express the combination of sorrow and anger that we feel about the allegations surrounding Jerry Sandusky,” the board wrote. “We hear those of you who feel betrayed and we want to assure all of you that the Board will take swift, decisive action.”

That action came on Wednesday night. The board made the decision that both Spanier and Paterno need to step down, and new leadership put in their place.

The findings of a grand jury presentment have opened a floodgate of questions about how top officials responded to the awful allegation in 2002 involving Sandusky and a little boy in a football locker room shower.

John SurmaJOE HERMITT, The Patriot-NewsJohn Surma, Vice Chairman of Penn State’s Board of Trustees, backed by other members of the board announces that university president Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno are no longer employed at the university.

This from the university that has the No. 1 student-run philanthropy in the world, raising more than $78 million for the Four Diamonds Fund for Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital since Thon’s creation in 1977.

This from a multibillion-dollar institution that receives the highest number of applications for enrollment in the country. This from the top school in the country for company recruiters from around the world, according to the Wall Street Journal. This from a research powerhouse, a first-class athletics program and a top school for agriculture.

It is beyond question that Penn State’s leadership needs to change. After all, this is the same leadership whose response to allegations of a sexual assault by Sandusky was to ban him from bringing boys on to main campus and then ignore that ban.

On Wednesday, Patriot-News staff writer Jan Murphy reported that Sandusky was allowed to hold overnight football camps for young kids at Penn State Harrisburg and Erie after the ban — and as recently as 2008. It is appalling that parents unknowingly sent their children off to these camps long after Spanier, Curley and Paterno said they knew at least part of the terrible allegations.

As Tina Phillips of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance in Harrisburg said: “Just when you thought you couldn’t be more horrified, you can’t do anything except shake your head. It’s unfathomable.”

The fate of Sandusky, Curley, Schultz and maybe more as this plays itself out is in the hands of the legal system. The fate of the university needs to be in the hands of real leaders. We hope, with last night’s decisions by the board, that is about to happen.