Sunday, November 13, 2011

Penn State scandal short-lived?

From the New York Times:

Certainly, it will take years, perhaps a decade, to resolve the fallout from the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the football program — including the university's own investigation, the likely lawsuits and possible action by the Department of Education and the N.C.A.A. And there may be months of new revelations, resulting in hitches in fund-raising, athletic recruiting and even admissions.

But citing other universities' experiences with crises, many higher education officials and crisis-management specialists predict that the effects will not last a year.

"From other situations where universities have had what I'd call Category 5 crises, like the Texas A&M bonfire collapse or the Virginia Tech shootings, history suggests that even if there are short-term effects on donations, applications or recruiting, they fade fairly quickly," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education.

The only problem we see with the comparison between the current scandal in Happy Valley and the Texas A&M bonfire and Virginia Tech shootings is simply this--neither of those two tragedies consisted of an institutional coverup. The bonfire incident was a tragic accident. The Virginia Tech shooting spree was the act of a crazed madman. You could also add the Notre Dame incident last year, where a graduate student was killed when the scissor lift he was filming a practice from was blown over by high winds. Those are all random events that make you shake your head and wonder why something like that has to happen.

The Penn State case is much different. Nothing compares to a decades-long pattern of abuse of innocents, which institutional officials chose to keep quiet. Penn State officials--from the President's office through the head coach of the football program--simply hoped it would all go away. It didn't and it has thorougly horrified the nation.

How much so? Well, we don't recall NBC News filling a prime time news show with the Texas A&M, Virginia Tech or Notre Dame tragedies.