Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two new reports paint ugly picture of Penn State culture

image Two of the country’s largest and most influential daily newspapers—the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times—have feature stories on key figures in the Penn State case that has engulfed a state’s largest public institution in scandal and controversy.

The Times has a story from Richard Perez-Pena explaining how former university President Graham Spanier enjoyed both success and secrecy, despite being one of the highest profile presidents in the NCAA.

Spanier, according to the report, had a policy of shoring up defenses when his institution’s actions came into question:

In his 16 years as president, Spanier and his administration had a history of circling the wagons in the face of criticism or scrutiny, fitting into what many say was an insular Penn State culture that preceded his tenure. It occurred when high-profile Penn State employees came under fire, when student actions threatened to embarrass the university, and when people sought to obtain information that almost any other public institution would be required to release.

That instinct might have accelerated Spanier’s downfall. On Nov. 5, when Gary Schultz, a senior vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, were charged with perjury, Spanier released a statement saying he had “complete confidence” in their handling of the accusations against Sandusky — a statement that incensed university trustees, according to people briefed on their deliberations.

Also today is a detailed report from the Journal’s Reed Albergotti, who describes how Joe Paterno often bitterly fought school officials over disciplinary issues facing his players. Time and time again, and with increasing frequency in later years, football players would be caught or accused of serious wrongdoing, only to have the coach attempt to prevent school officials from imposing the same discipline it would on ordinary students.

Paterno’s insistence and an ultimatum delivered to Spanier forced the school official responsible for student judicial affairs system to back off, and eventually resign over “philosophical differences.”

Taken together, these and other stories—such as those outlined in this piece by LivingCrimson—show that the school’s carefully crafted image as a model institution of compliance and success was a fraud. It’s this revelation that probably has so many college football fans reeling over the news of the last few weeks.

Until news of the Jerry Sandusky indictments on child sexual abuse charges, Penn State University and the Penn State Nittany Lions were universally revered as what was right and good about major college athletics. Penn State was held up by the school itself and many mainstream media figures as the kind of program all should strive to be.

But as more of these news stories peel back the layers, the more this case feels like learning that the parish convent was running a brothel.

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