Sep 10, 201208:40 AMCity Beat
Capital Opinion by Michael A. Sand, Jacqueline G. Goodwin and others.
How Can the Penn State Trustees Keep Making Wrong Decisions?
Last year, the Trustees learned too late that there were allegations of illegal activities by Jerry Sandusky that were not reported to them by Penn State administrators. If proper procedures had been followed, it is possible that further victimization of young people would not have occurred.
Did the Trustees meet with Graham Spanier, President of the University, and Coach Joe Paterno to find out what was happening? No, they fired the President Spanier and Coach Paterno late one evening with no notice, no hearing, and no courtesy.
Even when it was pointed out they had acted improperly, if not illegally, the Trustees did not resign. They made the improper decision and stayed in office.
The Trustees then made a decision to commission an independent investigation, the Freeh Report. When the Report was submitted, it was clear that some critical individuals were not interviewed and there was no opportunity for rebuttal. Did the Trustees meet to review the Freeh Report and take steps to correct its errors? No, they again made the wrong decision and just accepted the Report’s conclusion.
After making mistake after mistake, the Trustees tried to mend their ways. They said again and again that they would set policies and then hire staff to carry out these policies. They then were given an important opportunity to do this.
The decision had to be made as to whether to leave Coach Joe Paterno’s statue standing or take it down. The world waited for the Penn State Trustees to make this decision and to explain how they made it, but in an unbelievable showing of ignorance or disregard of basic management policy, the full Trustee board never even met to discuss this issue.
The President of the University, Rodney Erickson, made this decision on his own. Whether or not the decision to take down the statue was right or wrong, Mr. Erickson’s claiming that he had the power to make the decision was wrong.
While Mr. Erickson was not fired for his violation of management principles and common sense, he was roundly criticized. What could have been seen as an example that the Penn State Trustees learned lessons from the Sandusky debacle was seen as “the Penn State Trustees messed up again.”
Within days of blunder after blunder, the Trustees had an incredibly important opportunity to show the world that they knew how to exert leadership. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) notified the University that they were deciding what sanctions, if any, to place on the Penn State football program.
This critical issue would affect not only the football program for years to come but the future of Penn State University. Everyone waited for the Trustees to meet to direct Mr. Erickson as to what his position should be in his negotiations with the NCAA.
There was a major difference of opinion about which negotiating stance the Trustees should take.
One series of recommendations was that the Trustees should take the position that only the guilty should be punished. The Attorney General’s office had convened a grand jury for identifying the guilty. At no point in the entire Freeh Report were any football players accused of wrongdoing.
What actually happened was nothing short of unbelievable. Mr. Erickson decided that he had the power to negotiate with the NCAA without the Trustees having met to discuss this critically important issue.
And then, in what will go down as an incredibly destructive decision, Mr. Erickson caved in to the NCAA. He signed a consent agreement with the NCAA that he had no right to sign.
Some of the provisions Mr. Erickson agreed to without any authority to do so were beyond belief. He agreed that the team would forfeit games that they won in previous years because their coach may have done things he should not have done. The NCAA could not point to even one instance where a team was punished when no players violated any rules.
While there is legitimate difference of opinion on the effectiveness of the NCAA sanctions in preventing future wrongdoing, it certainly is the Trustees’ role to set policy, not the University President.
We have a judicial system which decides who is guilty and who should be punished. Joe Paterno heard of a potential crime and reported it immediately to University officials. To defile his name after he died without any opportunity for him to reply borders on the obscene; to punish football players because the Trustees and administrators made colossal management errors and maybe criminal acts makes the blunders worse.
We hope that the Trustees do not make any more errors. They should set sensible policies. They should tell administrators what their role is. The Trustees should stop hurting innocent football players, students, and fans.