Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Happy Valley is now Horrid Valley

Within hours, a significant house cleaning is going to be complete at Penn State.

The Penn State Board of Trustees appears ready to sweep aside its president for how he mishandled the sexual-assault scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

At the same time, the university's athletic director and another employee -- both of whom are facing perjury charges -- have been dumped.

Finally, the iconic football coach has announced his retirement (and I cannot be the only person who thinks his decision was completely voluntary), but the question of whether he gets to coach his team for the rest of the season remains unclear.

The potential for others -- heretofore not named -- to be shown the door for their actions (or non-actions) in the investigation into what Sandusky is accused of doing remains possible.

Yet, no matter how many people leave Penn State University, the crisis will not quickly come to an end. In fact, the beginning of the healing does not begin with firing people. It begins with a public acknowledgement that the university's absence of communications over the previous 72-96 hours allowed for speculation, rumor and backstabbing to take place.

What eight now young men say happened to them when they were children cannot be ignored, and determining the guilt or innocence of Sandusky is the most direct way the public can get at an understanding of whether he violated those then boys in ways that are indefensible.

But the university's absence of any statement that recognized the severity of what was being discussed is preposterous. How a major university -- with professional communications people on staff -- remained mute while rumor and innuendo flared is stunning.

Yes, it is appropriate to question the ethics or morals of many people who prior to the past few days appeared to be paragons of virtue. But it also is impossible to understand why someone -- ANYONE -- within the university failed to stand up and say something like this:

"A former assistant football coach at this university is accused of doing some terrible things. To the young men and their families who say they were assaulted on this campus and elsewhere, we offer our apologies.  

We realize there could be many people at this university who failed to look into what was taking place and therefore failed to act in responsible ways. We are going to conduct our own investigation; it is going to be open, honest, frank and complete. And if it requires the dismissal of any number of people, then that will take place.

We should be angry and bitter that many people who are seen as leaders at this institution failed to demonstrate that leadership. We will hold them accountable. We will tell them to leave.

Penn State is an institution that needs to examine itself and its practices. That process begins today."

And yet there was silence.

None of us knows the full scope of what was done (and not done) by the president, the athletic director, the football coach and any number of others. Sadly, by throwing to the curb, the university's Board of Trustees could be setting up a scenario in which we never learn what happened.

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