The Tragedy at Penn State
Some time has passed since the crisis at Penn State, which resulted in the summary termination of the University’s President, Graham Spanier, and its revered football coach, Joe Paterno, and the criminal indictment of several Penn State employees based upon evidence that they had lied under oath.
The innocence or guilt of the protagonist of the crisis, Jerry Sandusky, who continues to claim that he is innocent of all criminal charges, is not the issue.
Although we only can speculate as to what actually occurred, several lessons are clear, the most critical one being that until the Board of Trustees took action several weeks ago, the so-called “tone at the top” had been consistently absent.
Sandusky is accused of sexual misconduct with minor boys under his influence. Under Pennsylvania law at the time, accusations of possible sexual misconduct were reportable to State officials. Yet, each and every one of the Penn State employees who were aware of the allegations made a decision to stay silent. Whether each of their individual decisions was based upon the very significant financial consequences that could arise (football has been responsible for more than $50 million of net proceeds being received by Penn State each year), the view that “someone else” should tattle first or just gross ineptitude, there was no “tone at the top” exhibited by any of the leaders of Penn State either at the time of any of the reported events, or even thereafter, when the Grand Jury commenced its criminal investigation.
A leader is responsible for setting the moral code of any organization. Continued failure to do so at Penn State was a sign of arrogance and overwhelming hubris. And, if the charges against Sandusky are proven to be true, then a far greater tragedy has occurred.
If a proper tone had been set, events such as the Sandusky charges would have been reported and fully investigated, and then taking appropriate and timely actions would have been a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the significant ultimate consequences to the entire Penn State community would have been avoided.
Hopefully, the moral lesson will not be forgotten by any of us — most importantly educators who have a responsibility to set the tone, and do the right thing by example. #
Arthur Katz is a member of the law firm of Otterbourg, Steindler, Houston & Rosen, P.C.