Monday, September 10, 2012
Penn State Followup
A few weeks ago, disgraced former Penn State president Graham Spanier launched something of a media blitz. His attorney held a press conference denouncing the Freeh Report (while conveniently saying that Spanier, who wasn’t present, would answer the tough questions about the report’s factual findings). Spanier did an interview with the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, who declined to press Spanier on the critical piece of evidence uncovered by Freeh—an e-mail from Spanier admitting that the decision not to report Jerry Sandusky to police might leave the university “vulnerable” in the future. A follow-up Spanier interview with ABC mostly revolved around the unconvincing argument that because he was the victim of physical abuse as a child, it was inconceivable that he wouldn’t have reported the allegations against Sandusky to authorities.
I wrote about Spanier’s unconvincing defense at Minding the Campus; and, as DIW readers know, have been interested in the similarities and differences between how Penn State responded to the Sandusky scandal and how Duke’s administration responded to the lacrosse case. Stuart and I penned a WSJ op-ed looking at how Penn State, for good or ill, authorized a comprehensive inquiry into what went wrong and why—in contrast to Duke’s decision to have two “diversity”-obsessed advocates of the status quo “investigate” and produce a “report” on the administration’s response to the lacrosse case.
It’s hard to imagine that Penn State’s (or any school’s) faculty could do anything comparably embarrassing to the Group of 88 statement (and the Group’s subsequent rationalizations and refusals to apologize). But it’s also hard to imagine what 30 former and current faculty leaders at the school could have been thinking when they produced a recent letter that exhibited a sense of epistemic closure that would rival the Group of 88 in its bunker.
After what comes across as a token expression of outrage and sadness on behalf of Sandusky’s victims, the PSU profs quickly get onto the real victims—people who work at Penn State, victims of the “current hyperbolic media environment.” (The professors couldn’t find space to identify a single example of this “hyperbolic media environment.”)
Of the Freeh Report, the letter concedes its “investigation appears to have been reasonably thorough, given that it could not subpoena testimony.” (Ironically, a document released by Spanier’s attorney criticized Freeh for relying on subpoenaed testimony from ex-assistant coach Mike McQueary, rather than defying prosecutors’ requests and interviewing McQueary himself.)
But . . . “as a document in which evidence, facts, and logical argument are marshaled to support conclusions and recommendations, the Freeh Report fails badly. On a foundation of scant evidence, the report adds layers of conjecture and supposition to create a portrait of fault, complicity, and malfeasance that could well be at odds with the truth.”
In what ways is the Freeh Report’s evidence scant? Who knows? Is the document truthful or not? Who knows? Far be it from Penn State faculty members to examine the evidence presented in the report and demonstrate items in the report that are factually inaccurate.
Such work, it seems , isn’t necessary—because “as scientists and scholars, we can say with conviction that the Freeh Report fails on its own merits as the indictment of the University that some [who?] have taken it to be. Evidence that would compel such an indictment is simply not there.” The evidence for this sweeping assertion? The “scientists and scholars” present none. Perhaps they ran out of ink.
The “scientists and scholars” seem particularly perturbed with the Freeh Report’s (and the NCAA’s) remarks about Penn State culture. “Not only are these assertions about the Penn State culture unproven,” they thunder, “but we declare them to be false.”
The evidence for this sweeping assertion? Their own personal experience. “As faculty members with a cumulative tenure at Penn State in the hundreds of years, and as former Faculty Senate chairs with intimate knowledge of the University stretching back for decades, these assertions do not describe the culture with which we are so very familiar. None of us has ever been pressured or even asked to change a grade for an athlete, nor have we heard of any cases where that has occurred . . . Some of us have privately witnessed swift and unyielding administrative actions against small transgressions, actions taken expressly to preserve academic and institutional integrity.”
The “scientists and scholars” apparently didn’t notice the interference by the former football coach in the disciplinary process—in instances far more significant than “small transgressions”—that were revealed in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Do the professors “declare” those “to be false,” as well?
The professors’ letter is an embarrassment to their institution. As “scientists and scholars,” they should know better.