Monday, November 21, 2011

Penn State Turnaround

penn state apologyOn November 9, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season, and added an eloquent apology to the children and families devastated by the repeated instances of child sexual assault allegedly committed by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. In his statement, Paterno said: “I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief. … With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

It was a case of much too little, way too late. Within a few hours, Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier were summarily fired by the school’s board of trustees.

Last Thursday, in my blog, I wrote that “there are there are actions that can be taken to begin turning the situation around.”

So, what actions should Penn State take that would signal the beginnings of a turnaround?

  • First and foremost, the school should audit the students, professional staff and other employees to ensure that there are no other looming issues which could explode on the heels of these sex crimes. And they should be prepared to publish the results.

  • Next, Rod Erickson, the new president of the university, should publicly apologize to the students, faculty, other staff, parents, the community, the athletic teams and all other stakeholders for the mistakes the university made in this debacle. The apology should be publicized nationally via its website and student, alumni and news media, both social and traditional. And it should be more than “I’m sorry.” Erikson made a start, last Monday, on the Penn State website, but, in my opinion, fell short in terms of detailing the practical ways in which the university plans to make amends to the people who have been hurt by its previous mistakes.

  • Thirdly, make ethics (or “Honor”) courses mandatory for students, faculty, coaches and any other university personnel whose poor choices could compromise gains made by the university from here on in. The throngs of student rioters have their values and mores misplaced. Hopefully, this kind of training can set them right.

  • There are another 100,000 victims of the scandal: the children served by The Second Mile, the Pennsylvania nonprofit founded by Sandusky and from whose ranks he apparently selected his victims. Its president has resigned and the charity, which is currently under investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, may not survive. In my opinion, Penn State should identify charities with impeccable credentials (e.g., the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Children's Defense Fund and KaBOOM!) and support one or more of them with funding and volunteers.

Thoughtful action is essential to heal the wounds and restore Penn State’s reputation.

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