See No Evil at Penn State

Coach Joe Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier were fired, effective immediately, on Nov. 9, 2011 by the PSU Board of Trustees. The troubling culture at Penn State was in evidence when students sympathetic to Paterno erupted into violence at the news until they were subdued by police with tear gas. Meanwhile, more victims of alleged pedophile Jerry Sandusky surfaced. PGB

SEE NO EVIL …

In light of the horrifying and unfathomable nature of the pedophile scandal at Penn State University, it is easy to forget that Penn State is a workplace.

The leader sets an important tone for a workplace in terms of signalling what behaviors will and will not be tolerated.  Which raises a question.  What did Penn State President Graham Spanier know of the incident in 2002 in which Jerry Sandusky, a retired long-time football coach at Penn State, allegedly showered and engaged in sexual conduct with a young boy at Penn State’s  football building?

According to a grand jury report, Spanier said he was told that a staff member had reported that Sandusky was “horsing around” with a young boy in the shower in a way that made the staff member “uncomfortable.”  However, Spanier says that he did not  know that Sandusky was engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with the boy.

Wasn’t it enough that Sandusky was engaging in horseplay with a young boy in the shower area?  That a staffer was made to feel “uncomfortable” witnessing the behavior?  Did Spanier have an obligation to inquire further?

Spanier obviously felt that something improper had occurred. In response to the incident, Spanier said he approved of a plan to take Sandusky’s locker room keys away and to inform him that he could not use Penn State’s athletic facilities with young people, an order that officials later agreed was unenforceable.  Was there any protocol at Penn State for investigating and disciplining alleged misconduct on campus?  Sandusky was still a professor emeritus at Penn State, and had an office there.

Sandusky is the founder of The Second Mile, a charity dedicated to helping impoverished youth who have absent or dysfunctional families. Sandusky allegedly abused at least eight boys through his contact with the club, which hosts sporting camps and events at Penn State.

According to a grand jury investigation, in addition to Spanier, the following adults were allegedly aware of the 2002 incident:

  • A 28-year old Penn State Graduate Assistant who said he saw Sandusky nude in the shower and thought Sandusky was having sex with a boy. (He reported the incident to Paterno.)
  •  The graduate assistant’s father.
  • Penn State Coach Joseph V. Paterno (who reported the incident to his bosses).
  • Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley.
  • Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz.
  • Dr. Jack Rayovich, executive director of the Second Mile Club.

None of these people, including Spanier, reported Sandusky’s conduct to the police or to child protective services.

Incredibly, this was not the first time that Penn State officials had notice that Sandusky was engaging in questionable behavior with children in a shower on the campus.

Schultz told the grand jury that he knew that Sandusky was investigated by child protective services in 1998 for allegedly showering with young boys and behaving in a sexually inappropriate manner. According to the grand jury report:  “Schultz testified that the 1998 incident was reviewed by the University Police and ‘the child protection agency’ with the blessing of then-University counsel Wendell Courtney (who)  was then and remains counsel for The Second Mile.”

Spanier, who was appointed president in 1995, denied knowing of the 1998 University Police investigation of Sandusky.

There was yet another incident at Penn State in 2000 in which a janitor allegedly saw Sandusky having sex with another boy, this one aged 11 or 12.  The janitor  told his co-workers, who expressed fear they could lose their jobs, and then he told his immediate supervisor Jim Witherite. No one called the police that time either.

State police commissioner Frank Noonan was quoted Monday as stating:  “Somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child, … Whether you’re a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building. I think you have a moral responsibility to call us.”

Both Schultz and Curley have been arrested for allegedly lying to the grand jury and failing to report the alleged 2002 sexual assault to authorities as required by law.

Spanier may avoid arrest but it remains to be seen whether he can avoid responsibility for the tsunami wave of bad publicity that has washed over Penn State’s campus because the highest ranking officials there saw no evil.

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