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.

14 comments:

Jim In San Diego said...

One cannot help notice the difference between the results of the Duke and Penn State investigations, and their consequences to the institutions.

Duke basically covered up the malfeasance of its faculty through a blizzard of favorable propaganda and a tepid investigatory cover up.

Penn State,on the other hand, invited Freeh to investigate, and to write a scathing tell-it-like-it-is expose.

Which approach has fared better for the two Universities?

Duke and the relevant actors there today proceed as if nothing happened. The primary culprits have received, in some cases, multiple promotions to high positions of responsibility. So far as we can tell, no one at all has been held accountable within the University.

Penn State has paid a $60 million fine to the NCAA. Its football program has been shattered. Top administrators have been fired, or resigned. At least two are under indictment. Some threaten to review Penn State's accreditation. And the beat goes on.

We do not reward people today for admitting they have chopped down the cherry tree.

We shall see what future administrators learn from the disparate experiences of Duke and Penn State.

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

I remain ashamed of Duke...and the more so, after all these years, because NO ONE in the Administration or the 88 has had the courage, decency, integrity or character to admit miserable acts and to apologize.....for all of it. Shame on the University and all those who, to this day, would rather be employed than honest.

Anonymous said...

Is Sandusky a Communist?

Anonymous said...

right now the "professor's Club" is not only trying to demonstrate that DUKE is past history and unworthy of review while praising Penn State which allows them to go after ATHLETICS, their mortal enemy9as most professors arent capable of bouncing a ball)...the same "professors club" is also trying to run economic policy by killing off "wealth creation" as we know it...the stock market might be higher BUT its because the professors have interest rates at ZERO...amazingly the false logic they apply in DUKE is the same logic they apply to zero rates and democratic manipulation by its BIG FUND believers such as Blackrock whose CEO chose to TELL traders to buy the day the market fell last month...Justice may take a lifetime in DUKE BUT these professors will have their day in the sunshine that shows how biased they really are

Dianne Weiss said...

Penn State and Duke both has a reputation to protect. I sure did not approve of their ways and was particularly disgusted for protecting a criminal. But I guess it happens to a lot of schools out there who has a reputation to keep. Not protecting criminals, but having dirty little secrets that the faculty and staff are willing to sweep under the rug.

Anonymous said...

KC,
Do you believe it is fair to indict a "culture" that includes tens of thousands of people based on the actions of a few? Isn't that part of what Freeh's report did, or am I misinterpreting it?

Anonymous said...

To follow up with Jim in San Diego--

Great point! And those of us here in the belly of the beast can't help but compare what is going on at UNC Chapel Hill with Duke. No child abuse and no celebrated indictments in Chapel Hill (yet), but plenty of academic malfeasance and corruption. So far the response seems to be reactive, do just enough to hold the anti-UNC-management forces at bay but not enough to get to the bottom of anything. It looks like Brodhead at Duke has shown the way for Thorp at UNC-CH to survive.

This is still playing out but it may offer yet another interesting comparison to our beloved Duke Lacrosse debacle/fraud and it's just down the road.

KC Johnson said...

To the 7.49:

When "the few" include four of the most powerful people at the university, and when at least two members of "the few" were arguably the two most powerful people at the university, and when these two appear to have been widely admired (to what appears to be an unhealthy degree) by most members of the university, and when a pattern existed of improper past conduct (the efforts to influence judicial efforts against PSU football players), then yes, I would say condemnation about the culture is in order.

Anonymous said...

So then it would be fair to indict the entire Duke community, including the Economics Dept, Law School, and Fuqua faculty based on Brodhead's, Moneta's, and Dean Sue's actions during the lacrosse case. All part of the same culture worthy of condemnation no doubt.
-the 7:49

KC Johnson said...

To the 9.36:

Perhaps we have a differing understanding of a "culture" of a university. I've never understood a "culture" of a university to apply to every single person at a university-and, indeed, have never seen it so defined. By this standard, Harvard would have had a healthy campus culture in spring 2005 as the mob homed in on Larry Summers because Harvey Mansfield, Ruth Wisse, and Stephan Thernstrom spoke up in Summers' defense.

To take another example: it's not my sense that those who condemned the culture of the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal ever claimed that each and every priest supported child abuse, or that each and every priest deserved to be indicted, or even that each and every priest looked the other way. Rather, the criticism (correct, in my opinion) was that the general attitude--in this case, an obsessive concern with the image of the church and a fear of losing the church's growing political power--created a culture that discouraged the reporting of crimes.

It seems to me perfectly reasonable to indict the behavior of the Brodhead administration and the Group of 88--entities that reflected the loci of power on campus--as reflective of Duke's campus culture in 2006-7 while simultaneously praising the professors who had the courage to publicly dissent. No doubt, the blog often did as much, and saw no contradiction in so doing.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I always get suspicious when some sort of collective is assigned blame instead of or in addition to individuals. I suspect the Penn State faculty felt the Freeh report assigned some level of guilt to them. If in fact it did, I don't blame them for responding defensively. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, their arguments were not articulated well.

Anonymous said...

It looks like the PSU Board wants to move on now while some feel the board has a responsibility to continue searching for the complete and acuurate history.

From ESPN:

"This board wants the general public to move forward, but I'm here to tell you that this is not going to happen because the stakes are too high," Masella said. "There are many thousands of individuals who cannot heal until the truth triumphs ... I can tell you with no uncertainty we are not going away."



"Critics of the school's handling of the Freeh report have said Penn State "accepted" the findings, but Dambly said that wasn't the case.

The board said in a statement after findings were released July 12 that it "accepted full responsibility for the failures that occurred."

"There have been lots of suggestions that we accepted all 267 pages (of the report). That's not accurate at all," Dambly said. "We did not take any action on the Freeh report. It's open to anybody's interpretation."

Freeh challenged the trustees to look at the culture of the university. But, Dambly said, "We don't suggest that the entire culture of the university is flawed. None of us have ever said that. Unfortunately, it's been construed that way."

http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8378507/penn-state-board-trustees-does-not-plan-review-freeh-report

Anonymous said...

During the press conference after the 3 were declared innocent - I remember one of them thanking KC - just imagine helping, having a hand in making sure someone isn't wrongfully convicted of a crime. That must be a great feeling, I can't understand how someone can be critical of that, looking at one's life it is hard to think of something so important.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic.....Professor, the Durham News is reporting that Mangum wants to fire Woody Vann and represent herself. (with the able assistance, I am certain, of both Sidney Harr and Nifong). And, no, you absolutely cannot make this stuff up. I guess Nifong is still itching to put his spurs back on, huh.....