Sorry, ESPN haters, but I’ve got to react to Don Van Natta’s OTL piece about the Penn State Board of Trustees’ oversight of University President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno.
“The Penn State Way is an approach to decision-making, a resistance to seeking outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the university’s reputation as a progressive institution.” —Freeh Report
In November 2004, the same month as Spanier and Tim Curley sat at Paterno’s kitchen table asking him to retire, seven members of the BOT proposed to strengthen the board’s oversight power over Spanier and other campus leaders, including Paterno.
Paterno had defiantly demurred when he was asked to retire, telling his ostensible bosses that things were fine the way they were. His so-called bosses slunk back to Old Main with their respective tails between their legs. Joe let them know who was boss, all right.
Spanier and then board chair Cynthia Baldwin applied the same approach to the proposal by seven trustees. They read it, considered it briefly, and demurred without a vote of the full board. Quashed. Moving right along…
Van Natta reported the following:
Joel Myers, a longtime trustee, said the Freeh investigators told him that if the good-governance proposal had been adopted by the board back in 2004, “This (crisis) could have been avoided.”
The 2004 proposals are eerily prescient considering how the trustees, according to the Freeh report, were left in the dark by Spanier, Baldwin and trustee Steve Garban as the Sandusky criminal investigation escalated in 2011. If the proposals had passed, the trustees say the measures might have made a difference in the way the board had responded to the Sandusky matter.
Two trustees said Freeh’s investigators had asked them and other trustees about the 2004 good-governance proposal and appeared determined to find out why it had not been adopted. One trustee also said Freeh’s investigators told them they had obtained emails between Spanier and Baldwin and others discussing the merits of the trustees’ proposal. The trustee also said Freeh’s investigators said that the emails showed “Spanier and Baldwin put a stop” to the good-governance proposal. “They didn’t want the added scrutiny,” the trustee said.
“It was a big, missed opportunity,” said Al Clemens, another longtime trustee. “Back in 2004, we just knew there wasn’t enough accountability, and it seemed like a reasonable step to try to protect the university. It seemed like the right thing to do.”
After this proposal was rejected, at least four boys were abused by Sandusky. The failure to act could hurt the university as civil law suits are tried. The university’s leadership, including the chair of the board of trustees, essentially said that they were running the show and would do it their way.
The Penn State Way.
Alums and current students have long revered The Penn State Way. The Penn State Way means tradition, loyalty, and success with honor. However these revelations present a seamier view of The Penn State Way as approached by its internal leadership. For them, The Penn State Way equals Our Way. Moreover, Our Way means that we keep it to ourselves as much as possible.
The culture of secrecy rears its ugly head once again. Even the board of trustees doesn’t know what the hell is going on there, and no one cares, except for a few disgruntled trustees.
Van Natta’s story brings that to light through interviews with current and former trustees. Al Clemens provided significant insights into the operation of the Board and its interaction with Baldwin and Spanier.
The Penn State Way is mentioned in the Freeh Report, to wit:
The Freeh report found that Spanier and Baldwin dealt with the escalating Sandusky crisis throughout 2011 with no outside advice from lawyers with experience dealing with grand jury investigations. Spanier and Baldwin also failed to seek the full advice of the board on how to handle the crisis.
This failure was noted by the Freeh Group, which referred to the administrators’ “over-emphasis on ‘The Penn State Way.’ ” As defined by Freeh, “The Penn State Way” is “an approach to decision-making, a resistance to seeking outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the university’s reputation as a progressive institution.”
The last time the Board had amended its general policies was January 19, 1996. Van Natta writes that much has changed since then, including the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation of 2002, that affects the way the Board and top administrators must operate. Yet The Penn State Way is to ignore the law while doing it Our Way, so those in whom the power was invested, namely Spanier and Baldwin, never saw the need to change anything.
Proposals for changes in operating policies and practices never made it to the full, 32-member board for a vote. That’s The Penn State Way.
Once again, it is obvious that the story is one of power and corruption. The oligarchy that ran Penn State had no need for outside counsel. No need to share the pie. The Troika of Spanier, Baldwin, and Paterno did it Our Way. (Cue Laverne & Shirley theme.)
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Good men are almost always bad men.
Lord Acton wrote that before the great era of political correctness, which this Turkey hopes is on the wane. Now, we have the great pleasure of rewriting the second sentence to include women. Hey, they wanted it; they got it. Now, they can be just as criminally culpable as men.
Cynthia Baldwin says nothing anymore that isn’t filtered through counsel.
The same corrupt culture thumbed its nose at the Clery Act, which as of today still hasn’t been implemented as required at Penn State.
Defiance, arrogance, and secrecy. A festering, corrupt corporate culture. Bad men and women. The Penn State Way?
Read Van Natta’s full story.