How should have Penn State handled the Jerry Sandusky affair – an affair that is bringing down its administration and a great football coach?
In the 1990s as vice president for research at Georgia Health Sciences University, it was my responsibility to investigate any complaints of research ethics that occurred either by falsifying results or faculty behavior – including sexual advances – that could influence research programs. Every institution has problems along these lines. No institution is free of this.
Every university has codes of conduct for faculty, students and employees. Such codes not only define what misconduct is, but set out specific steps to protect an accuser and the accused from public view until an investigation’s results are final.
What happened at Penn State? Friendship, glory on the football field and lack of courage by administrators – including President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno – to enforce the code of conduct led to human tragedy.
Once there was any suspicion of a sex act using children as reported by another, Penn State had no choice but to activate its code of conduct and, if this was a criminal act, notify the state police (since this is a state-supported school). They did neither – allowing more years to go by when a very graphic act on a boy by Sandusky was seen by a graduate assistant who reported this to his mentor, Paterno.
While Paterno seemed to have discharged his responsibility by reporting an incident to two administrators, neither of these made the report as a graphic act to the president. It was seen as “boys acting like boys.”
The correct thing was for the administrators to ask the assistant for a written statement about what he saw, and use that to conduct an investigation that would include confronting Sandusky. After such an interview, he should have been suspended and the police notified.
The decisions of the president of Penn State and the other administrators to cover up (for nine years) the Sandusky episode, rather than protect youngsters he “parented,” are unbelievable. If Sandusky is found guilty, the reputation of Penn State will be sadly diminished because of its administrators’ failings to follow the university’s own code of conduct.
One can only hope that irreparable damage to the young boys involved did not occur.
Lowell M. Greenbaum