Wednesday, January 11, 2012

View from the cheap seats....

These are the things I think, I think:

I think you have to live in our insular world to have any concept of what has happened here, and continues. This is what I've finally sorted it down to. Hopefully, this will put it to rest for ME, for a little while anyway.

I think the alumni, university community, and neighbors who are still railing about the "unfairness" of the firing of Paterno (there is at least one new whine about this daily on the op-ed page), and to a lesser extent Graham Spanier: folks, think about this. If you were unable to do your job any longer, no matter why, would your employer keep you on? Maybe some do want to place "blame" at the feet of Paterno, and certainly it is their right to do so, however, that, in my opinion, had nothing or little to do with the board's decision. Paterno and Spanier, were "players" in the NCAA and Big Ten communities. They sat on rules committees, boards and other groups that literally guided the ethical approach to college athletics and academic integrity. Even though, recently, he was a coach in name only, Paterno was still the moral/ethical leader of the football and athletics programs. This was a large part of both of their professional responsibilities. With the exposure of a possible crime that was committed under their watch, they lost the authority to represent a cogent ethical presence. Was it fair? Nope. But life is anything but fair. Ask the victims, particularly the victim who was "outed" by overzealous NYT reporting. (Nice work that.)To the cry babies who lament that he was "fired by phone". Please remember what the environment was like that Wednesday evening (and if you weren't here, take a gander) - the hordes of media outside the Paterno home, and the conference center where the board meeting was held. What would the pictures have looked like if a contingent of grim reapers marched up to the Paterno's home? Why would you want to do that to ANYONE? They attempted to keep a sad and bad business as private as possible. I'm tired of your whining. I'm sorry, but I am.

I also think Paterno built the culture that ultimately was his undoing. He had "control" issues. So do a lot of athletic coaches. In Paterno's case, it started out to be a good thing. Mandatory study groups for his players, EVERY NIGHT, mid-semester reporting for all athletes. (I once had a football player in one of my classes who missed a fair number of classes because he had an extraordinary number of relatives "die". In my mid-semester report to his adviser I mentioned that I hoped his family was coping with the tragedies (wink, wink). Not 24 hours after receiving my report, the adviser was on the phone to me asking me about my comment, we talked about the student's progress, how (and if) he could make up for lost time, and at the end of the conversation, the adviser said "His mother is going to KILL him!" I had to laugh. This was a good student who was getting lazy. He finished well. This is the only problem I've ever had with ANY athlete in more than ten years.) But in Paterno's case it progressed to other university aspects. He wanted to do EVERYTHING under the athletics umbrella. This athletics' omerta means that in general, unless you are here, and have some connections to athletics you didn't hear the "other stuff". I did, so I, and many others were not fooled by the press clippings. It was "normal" some good, some not so much. This is your wake-up call. Everything was not rosey all the time. The clue phone is ringing pick it up.

I think the cover of the current alumni magazine, we got it early last week, is brilliant. It is black, with shiny black letters that spell out the name "The Penn Stater" crumbled into a heap. But what is even more brilliant is an article by one of our sociology faculty, Eric Silver. Remarkably he was teaching sociology of deviance (BTW: this isn't exactly what you're thinking), and covering the topic of adult-child sexual contact when the story broke. In his essay, he focuses on the sociology of bureaucracy. It is lengthy, and I wish I could link to it, but here's one quote: "Everybody likes to think they would be the whistle blower. What I told my class was this: Statistically you're full of crap." The reason is that a whistle blower is deviant in his environment. This man is on to something. He also differentiates between moral and professional responsibility. Could we be seeing a decline in a moral imperative in our environments?

I think if I had to pick one of the administrators at whose feet to lay the bulk of this mess it would have to be the former business director. He oversaw the University police and met with the chief of police every two weeks. How hard would it have been to call the chief on the phone and explain what he learned and ask how to proceed. No one is blameless, but jeepers....he met with the chief, regularly. It was his job!

I can't imagine what to think if the state can't get a conviction. I think it is a realistic worry.

The students, themselves, are still struggling to make sense of this - to put it in some context. Most of them were in grade school, when Sandusky allegedly began his crimes. I think this is a worthy attempt to figure it out. Music and lyrics were written and performed by the two students.

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