As a Penn State blogger who worked in a public university for 13 years, I feel a need to express my feelings about the sordid mess Penn State is in over Jerry Sandusky and his alleged exploits with young boys. Although Sandusky, Curley, Schultz, Spanier, Paterno, and McQueary, the major players, are innocent until proven guilty, a sacred principle of our society, I need to make some worst case assumptions here. This is in no means an attempt to try those who are charged with offenses here in my blog; the assumption of guilt of some of them is merely a “what-if?” on my part. Obviously, if everybody is innocent, there’s nothing to speculate about. We’re not here to pat these men on the back for the good job they’ve done; we’re here to think through the situation if the worst case comes to pass.
Let’s start out with Sandusky. Things look bleak for Jerry. Those of us on the outside looking in knew something was up in 1999 when he suddenly retired, but we could not have guessed that it would be multiple counts of child molestation. Behind the scenes, things were happening at Penn State. Ass-covering administrators were no doubt running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
“It is typical for public universities to want to handle bad situations internally so they don’t get blown out of proportion by the media.”
It is typical for public universities to want to handle bad situations internally so they don’t get blown out of proportion by the media. Frequently, the effort to keep elements of sordid affairs under wraps borders on paranoia. I mentioned that I worked for a public university for 13 years. During that time, I witnessed several scandals swept under the rug because administration officials wanted to protect the university’s reputation and not impede the flow of large donations. One such scandal, which I personally unearthed, involved a professor abstracting funds from an NSF grant for personal use. This was a big deal, which if handled poorly would harm the university chances of getting future grants from NSF, a huge funder of research grants. I was called into an associate dean’s office and told that he and the department chair would handle the situation — essentially, thanks for dumping this mess in our laps, now go away. That wasn’t good enough for me. I told the ivory tower servant that I wouldn’t rest until the professor in question was fired and returned the money to the university, and if he didn’t want to pursue the matter, I would be happy to sit down with the State Auditor first thing in the morning. That didn’t make any friends for me, but I eventually got what I wanted. I stuck around long enough to insure it: the professor was hauled into a meeting with the president, provost, and department chair, and given two options, resign voluntarily, pay back the money, and keep his pension; or fight it and be charged with a felony. He wisely chose the former.
The story above has a connection with what I’ll write later about Curley, Schultz, and Paterno, but now I’ll get back to Sandusky.
There is evidence that Penn State dealt with the Sandusky child molestation issue behind closed doors when it first came to light in 1999. The university conducted its investigation, involving the university and State College police departments presumably to provide the appearance of propriety, should anyone ever dig for details. The police department(s) never brought charges, and as far as they were concerned, the case was closed. Meanwhile, I’m thinking that back in the ivory tower (perhaps meaning the Lasch Building, or perhaps Old Main), furtive deals were being cut with Jerry, essentially that the university had swung its weight to keep the thing under wraps, so Jerry owed them big time, and only his resignation would do. To soften the blow, Sandusky would get a key to the Lasch Building and office space there. (I doubt that anyone specifically mentioned use of the showers, but he also had free access to those.)
When Mike McQueary witnessed a sex act taking place between Sandusky and a young boy in the shower, it was over two years later and Sandusky was enjoying his new arrangement. McQueary was taken aback by the scene before him — who wouldn’t be? — which he recounted to his father that evening and Joe Paterno the next morning. McQueary was a 28 year-old graduate assistant at the time who would later become an assistant coach on Paterno’s staff. As a GA in the football program, he was assigned to Paterno, so reporting the unholy event to the old man was McQueary’s only responsibility. Whatever happened from there on was not his concern. I think that unless there is evidence that McQuery lied about something or tried to suppress information, he should be completely absolved of any lingering burden from the Sandusky affair. He was the messenger, and as far as I know, he did his job well.
What happened from there is where the university political games start creeping into the picture. Paterno claims to have immediately reported the incident to his “boss”, athletic director Tim Curley. McQueary then heard from Curley ten days later when Curley asked him to come to the ivory tower to recount what he saw. While he presumably told Curley the same story he told Paterno and, later, the grand jury investigating the Sandusky affair, somehow the story changed when Curley was asked about it later by the same grand jury. What had been a sexual molestation turned into “horsing around,” which Curley thought was minor; therefore, he didn’t involve the police or child protective agencies.
Today the university barred Sandusky from its main campus. Meanwhile, Sandusky had been arrested yesterday and bonded out with $100,000.
Did McQueary lie to Curley? I doubt it. I think that the mind of a GA trying to work his way into a permanent, full-time job works quite differently from that of a full-time university administrator. While they’re both out to save their own asses, the procedure for doing that differs. The GA knows that dishonesty will probably blow his opportunity, whereas the administrator realizes that if a far reaching scandal were to happen, his ass would be compromised, as it had occurred under his watch, in his athletic department, on university premises, between two non-employees, one a minor — and the worst part is that Curley was probably instrumental in cutting the 1999 deal (in my opinion) with Sandusky. That deal, as you recall, swept the 1999 incident under the proverbial rug and gave Sandusky the keys to the castle.
Or did Paterno lie to Curley? What would Joe have to gain by lying? Protection of an assistant who served Paterno for over 30 years? Paterno is smarter than to simply change a story involving an eyewitness to protect an old friend and colleague. I believe that Paterno probably told Jerry that he was going to have to throw him to the wolves, knowing that the mindset in the ivory tower was such that the approach that would be taken going forward would be the one that the administrators there thought would do the least harm to the university. Paterno was once AD himself, so he undoubtedly knows how they think up there. I believe that if Paterno gave a truthful account of what McQueary told him along with a good word for Sandusky (“Try to minimize the damage to Jerry. He’s been through a lot.”), Curley would do the “right thing” and try to sweep it under the rug as much as possible. Curley, sitting in the ivory tower, is probably arrogant and stupid enough to believe that he could accomplish that.
Curley knew that there had been closed police reports relating to the 1999 incident. That made this one all the more onerous. He and Schultz could have had a private meeting to strategize just how the 2002 incident could be hush-hushed and what preventive measures could be taken to give Sandusky a token wrist slap. The story that came out was that “horsing around” didn’t constitute a criminal offense, so with full knowledge that they were taking a major risk, they did not call the university police. They admonished Sandusky to not bring children inside the Lasch building anymore. Curley later admitted that he had no way to enforce that sanction. You would think that Curley would at least take Sandusky’s keys, ending the arrangement that facilitated Sandusky’s peccadilloes with boys on university property, even if it was just a case of a 58 year old man “horsing around” with a young lad in the shower, but he didn’t even do that!
I suppose I could speculate about what dirt Sandusky has on the administration that could be used as blackmail to suppress any reprisals for his actions, but I don’t want to get into wacko conspiracy theories. I’m already far enough out in left field.