A Case Study of Failure

In the wake of the Sandusky scandal, Penn State University engaged the law firm of former FBI director Louis Freeh to perform an investigation into Penn State’s role in the matter. They were given free rein to do a complete and independent study. Freeh did a very thorough job, interviewing 430 people and examining literally millions of e-mails and documents. The resulting report, issued last week, makes very interesting, yet very troubling, reading.

The findings are frankly shocking. They point to a culture where the football program, which had brought so much glory to the university, was to be protected at all costs. To quote the report, there was a “total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” The study found that this failure started at the top and was consistent down the line. The president failed to alert the university’s board of trustees about allegations that arose as early as 1998, let alone the more serious ones that resulted in a grand jury investigation. Once the board was finally informed, they took no action. This pattern continued down to the level of janitors, who had allegedly seen Sandusky abusing children and did not report it because they were afraid that if they did they would lose their jobs. One of these janitors said, “I know (Head Football Coach) Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone.” He explained, “Football runs this university,” and said, “the university would have closed ranks to protect the football program and its $75 million annual income at all costs.”

The result of this consistent and complete lack of concern for the victims resulted in the disgrace of Coach Paterno and many of the university’s highest level administrators and the shaming of Penn State. It also has opened up Penn State to the possibility of enormous lawsuits. The lessons we should draw from this are clear. The Freeh Report calls for revamped reporting procedures and better monitoring from the top down to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again at Penn State.

The culture of protecting the powerful is a dangerous thing, as the Penn State example shows. This should be a cautionary tale for all of us. We need to look, listen and talk. We need to look for signs that kids are being abused, we need to listen to kids when they tell us of abuse, and we need to tell the proper authorities when we suspect abuse is going on. None of these things were done at Penn State. Instead they showed a culture of greed with seriously distorted priorities, and as a result kids suffered repeated, preventable abuse at the hands of a monster and a serious shadow has been cast over a once-respected university.

If you would like to see the whole report, it is available on line at http://thefreehreportonpsu.com/

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this. You can call my office in Augusta at 287-1515 or visit my website at www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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