Brief thoughts on Penn State

I don’t have any special knowledge of what’s going on there–to be clear, I went to Penn by the way, which is in Philadelphia and on the entirely other end of the state of Pennsylvania.  I’ve never been within 60 miles of State College, to my knowledge.  (Like most Penn grads, it rankles me to be associated with Penn State.)  But readers have written to ask when I’ll comment on the accused child rapist who was protected by the football program there, so here goes:

  1. I’ve seen a lot of commentary to the effect that “institutions do a poor job of policing themselves.”   That may be a part of the problem, however, it seems clear to me that this is more of a gender problem than anything.  The facts of the case so far show that men are reluctant in the extreme to interfere with the sexual prerogatives of other men, even when their sexual behavior is criminal.  Furthermore, this is not just a comment on the institutional power of the football program at Penn State–all of the university administrators accused of crimes and/or who lost their jobs yesterday are all men.  I would expect that a female AD and/or a woman vice president or president of the university would have acted swiftly on eyewitness accounts of child rape and would have called law enforcement, not because women are more virtuous or braver than men, but simply because women who make it into positions of authority tend to be more willing to blow the whistle than their male peers. 
  2. Even the supposedly cleanest, best-run sports programs may be nests of crime and corruption, so once again I point out that running free farm clubs for the NFL and the NBA should never be seen as central to the mission of a university, and in fact should be viewed as a heath and safety risk to the university and to the surrounding community.
  3. Penn State students:  keepin’ it classy!  I wonder what victims of rape and sexual assault there are thinking right now with their classmates rioting in protest of “JoePa”‘s dismissal?  a) alienation, b) fear, c) loathing, d) disgust, or e) all of the above?
  4. What the heck is a “Nittany Lion,” anyway? 

Busy day for me–your turn now.  Enlighten me with your informed commentary below.

69 thoughts on “Brief thoughts on Penn State

  1. I think there’s a misunderstanding about what a “citizen’s arrest” actually is, when it is appropriate, and how it should be handled. Depending upon the jurisdiction, no, not just anyone can stop a crime in progress. Nor is there a legal obligation to do so. (Moral, perhaps, but not legal.)

    I’m also surprised that no one has yet pointed out that Sandusky’s actions were, in fact, reported to the police. By multiple people and on multiple occasions. There was an investigation by the University and municipal police. Nothing came of the initial investigation and the graduate assistant was never questioned. At that point, what more is someone expected to do?


  2. @ Grad Student: quixote pointed out yesterday, above, that “the police listened in” on a conversation that included a “confession,” which implied that somebody reported it at some point. (No citation given therein, however). I think the presumptive magic bullet power of “somebody going to the police” is being somewhat overestimated in the national discussion. That’s not to say that a whole series of people shouldn’t have picked up the phone and made the call. As I suggested above, the only **sure-fire** or definitive way Paterno could have used the “power of being Paterno” to blow the case irrevocably wide open would have been to have blurted out to a sideline television reporter in response to the formulaic halftime question “Coach, what does your team need to do in the second half to stop the run…” something like “I’ve got a serious allegation of sexual impropriety in my program, so I can’t think about things like that right now…” And even that would have depended largely on how the media ran with it or didn’t. There are just some things that pretty much the whole culture doesn’t want to contemplate, acknowledge, or deal with. When it does blow, everyone (with some perverse justice) points the figure at everyone else. I think this episode, factually, has a lot more miles to go.


  3. Grad Student,

    You’re wrong on your facts.

    Sandusky was reported to the PSU Campus police and subsequently the State child welfare agency in 1998. The D.A. did not prosecute. If you think PSU wasn’t informed of this and wasn’t deeply involved in any subsequent investigation, including Paterno, I think you’re nuts.

    Sandusky retired in 1999 unquestionably at Paterno’s push. Sandusky, the guy who sparked the nickname “Linebacker U” and is most responsible for 2 national titles at PSU, never works in college coaching again, anywhere. PSU’s process of offshoring its pedophile problem begins.

    Somewhere in here, Sandusky is caught, by a PSU coach, “wrestling” with a pre-teen boy in the weight room, in a face-to-face position that looks nothing like wrestling. Not reported as far as I can tell.

    In 2000, a PSU janitor caught Sandusky performing oral sex on a pre-teen boy in the PSU shower room. He reported to his boss who told him, basically, to shut up if he wanted to keep his job. Not reported beyond the janitor’s supervisor and co-workers.

    In 2002, McQueary catches Sandusky raping a boy in the PSU showers. McQueary tells Paterno. Paterno tells Curley and the other guy. McQueary tells Curley and the other guy. Undoubtedly Spanier is informed as well. Nobody calls the police, nobody calls the campus police, Sandusky is not barred from campus. Sandusky is simply is told that he can no longer bring boys from The Second Mile onto campus. That is, PSU finishes offshoring its pedophile problem.

    In 2008, a high school boy, where Sandusky *coaches*, tell his mother that Sandusky touched him inappropriately. She tells the school, the *school calls the state cops*. Hey! Whaddya know? Offshoring works!! People who don’t have vested interest in protecting Sandusky get involved. People who don’t have a vested interest in protecting Sandusky are running the investigation. PSU, since it’s offshored its pedophile problem, isn’t involved.

    As a result, Sandusky is indicted. This indictment — it didn’t spring from thin f’ing air and it wasn’t spurred by anything that took place at PSU.

    So, let’s recap: 1 report to PSU campus police in 1998. Nothing comes of *that* report, except PSU starts its move to offshore its pedophile problem as Sandusky “retires”.

    One report to state cops in 2008, from which springs a 40 count indictment for 15 years of child sexual abuse, most of which took place on PSU’s campus.

    See the f’ing difference? Paterno’s, Spanier’s, PSU’s sticky little fingerprints are all over a coverup meant to protect a pedophile. Just look at the facts. What more could Paterno have done? He could have done any. single. f’ing. thing. that was meant to help those children and stop that man. Instead, everything he did, everything everybody at PSU did was designed to protect a pedophile and offshore the problem. Only when PSU was completely out of the picture was any serious action taken against a serial pedophile rapist.

    If you look at all this, it sure looks like Paterno was much more active than inactive re: Sandusky’s abuse. It looks less like Paterno failed to do something, and more like he was part of a cadre of PSU men who reached out and protected a pedophile from being caught and prosecuted.


  4. Emma, yes, those are the facts. None of which contradict what I actually said re: it was reported, investigated, and dropped.

    There was an incident in 1998. It was reported to two police forces and one state agency. It was investigated. It was dropped. Sandusky was forced into retirement. Yes, they should have prevented him from using PSU’s facilities for The Second Mile, but beyond that, what more was the University or Paterno or anyone else supposed to do? I genuinely want to know what else a private citizen could have done. If you or I is in that position, what do we do?


  5. So let us turn it back to you, Grad Student. If these are the facts, Paterno is informed in 2002, by an eyewitness who works for him, that someone who used to work for him is seen raping a child in his own facilities. This is not the first time this has happened, either, and Paterno certainly had reason to know it. And his response is to mumble to a few higher ups for CYA purposes, and tell the rapist not to come back but to do his raping elsewhere. And that’s enough action? No informing the police about a witnessed crime? No finding out who the kid is and telling his parents, or telling the program? No mandatory reporting? Nothing? There’s really nothing more that he, or anyone, could have done? Would you stand back and let a kid be raped on your watch?

    Honestly, if nothing more could have been done in this situation, then really there’s nothing that anyone could ever do in any situation. There’s no law, there’s no morality, there’s no humanity. It’s all pretense.

    This kind of thing is so typical, too. An agency I used to work for did the exact same thing. A male supervisor sexually harassed a female employee, who eventually filed a grievance when the daily abuse got to be too much for her. After she went public, seven other women in the agency stepped forward to report harassment by the same man. None had been as badly treated as the complainant, because she had to work directly with him and they only encountered him at agency-wide meetings. Until they came forward, however, the all-male leadership of the agency didn’t take the complaint seriously. The harasser was allowed to resign and was given a good recommendation, because it would have been “unfair” to spoil his chances for new employment. The complainant tried to continue her work with the agency, but eventually departed after the hostility of upper management wore her down. I encountered harasser a few years later, working for a new agency in a fine, responsible management position.


  6. Lots to think about here, but in r.e the issue of female university presidents being more likely to take action on sexual violence involving Big Athletics, the Iowa case from 2008 (??) suggests that is not necessarily so. In that case, it seems that the president was actually less empowered to take action, because she had to prove to all the Big Boosters and other football fans that a woman wasn’t going to go all feminist-y on them. In short, to prove her bona fides to the Big Sports lobby on campus and off, she had to play along and participate in the cover-up.


  7. (Two things at the outset. First, let me say that I am posting anonymously because I will briefly mention my job situation at the end where, surprise, surprise, what I will say about sexual harassment in my workplace isn’t something my employer wants to hear. Second: I’ve broken this up into two, but the first post, working through Linden’s post, is long.)

    Linden–let me turn this back on you. If you read carefully, you will notice that Grad Student does not actually mention the 2002 case in hir post that you cite. In 1998, multiple agencies–the University, municipal police, state child welfare, the county DA’s office–were involved in investigating the case. The DA’s office chose not to go further. The University “retired” Sandusky. So how would you answer Grad Student’s question: beyond banning Second Mile from the premises, what more could the university or a private citizen have done in 1998?

    Moreover, since you suggested in your first paragraph that banning Second Mile from campus was tantamount to “tell[ing] the rapist not to come back but to do his raping elsewhere,” what more could the University or any private citizen have done when the relevant governmental agencies have decided to do nothing in 1998?

    Actually answering Grad Student’s question, and not dodging it, is important, because 2002 was not the next incident–2000 was. In this instance, the janitor reported that he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a child, he feared reporting it higher up the chain than his supervisor because he might lose his job.

    If he knew anything about the resolution of the 1998 case–we seem to all be operating under the assumption that “everyone knew” what was going on–or if his supervisor told him the outcome of that investigation, the janitor might well have believed that reporting what he saw to the police would cost him his job without leading to any prosecution or perhaps even consequences for Sandusky. (The grand jury indictment doesn’t say that either the janitor or his supervisor were aware of the 1998 incident, however.) So there is a “what more could have been done here?” question as well. I think that we can say that say that the janitor did not fulfill his moral duty to report to the police while understanding his inaction.

    These two incidents, then, may have conditioned what happened in 2002. McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the showers. He “blows the whistle” at work, reporting it to his supervisor (Paterno) and his father. He further reports to AD Curley. A week later he meets with AD Curley and Vice Provost Schultz, who say that they will start an investigation. Curley and Schultz lie, and never report it to police.

    What more could he have done? We don’t know why McQueary didn’t report this to the police directly, but I think we have to assume that he feared his career would be over if he did. (If PSU were going to cover it up, that would probably part of how they would do it.) He did get assurances that it will be reported to the police, however. So while we can argue about whether McQueary failed a moral obligation to go to the police in 2002, I think that it is possible to understand–if not excuse–his actions when we think about the fact that he feared the demise of his career and received assurances from his boss that they would handle it. And if, in fact, McQueary knew about 1998 and 2000 (which we don’t know, but I’ll accept that stipulation), he might well have weighed the knowledge that nothing was done in these earlier cases as he worried about negative repercussions to himself.

    I’ve gone into this at some length because they actually address some of Grad Student’s points in some detail. But let’s walk through Linden’s questions about what Paterno might possible have done:

    1) Reporting the incident to the police: This is his moral, but not legal, obligation. Moreover, Linden, there’s a hitch here. He would be, as you said, reporting a “witnessed crime”–but not witnessed by him. The police might or might not choose to investigate a crime based on a second hand report like that. It’s also true that Paterno’s report, as hearsay evidence, would almost certainly not be admissible in a trial.

    2) Finding out who the kid is and telling the parents: this is slightly problematic on two counts. First: since Paterno did not witness the event, his ability to find out the identity of the child is somewhat compromised, to say the least. (How would *you* find out the child’s identity in that case? I don’t know if I would know how to.) Second: Paterno “going rogue” and investigating the case himself would have almost certainly have frakked up any investigation by the police and any attempt by the county DA’s office to prosecute Sandusky.

    3) No mandatory reporting: Paterno’s not a mandatory reporter in Pennsylvania or under federal law. This brings us back to Question One.

    4) “There’s really nothing more that he, or anyone, could have done?” Linden, here’s where you actually answer Grad Student’s question with…the exact same question. What do *you* think that someone should do? Going to the police (your Question One), is an option, but a problematic one (for reasons I suggested above). If you have a better answer, please offer it, rather than just “turning it back” on Grad Student.

    5) If I am sounding peeved, it’s because of the final Question: “Would you stand back and let a kid be raped on your watch?” This is an absolutely reprehensible thing to say. As I read this, you seem to imply that Grad Student, by asking “what more could a private citizen do?”, would be willing to stand back and let a child be raped on hir watch. Maybe you didn’t intend this. But that’s how it reads. And if so: it is an absolutely reprehensible accusation to levy. This is part of why this post is so long–watching someone make that accusation against someone else truly infuriates me.


  8. Second post responding to Linden:
    I agree that sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue. It is, however, not *in any way* the same as the sexual assault of a minor. Nor is your example of a female employee being sexually harassed by her male supervisor entirely comparable to the PSU case. In the case of the female complainant you cite, as far as I can tell, she lodged a complaint that ultimately led to the harasser being allowed to resign (my sense from your anecdote is that there was some subtle pressure once management began to take the accounts of harassment seriously). This is not perfect justice, especially in that the harasser was not owed a good recommendation when he resigned.

    Perfect justice would have involved the harasser’s termination, but this might have involved a lawsuit that the employer might not have been willing to risk. Perfect justice might also have involved the harassed women receiving a well-deserved civil settlement from the harasser, but ultimately it was their choice not to initiate a civil suit against the harasser. It is, however, rough justice–she complained, and the harasser no longer worked at the firm in the wake of her complaint.

    Mind you, I don’t say the last bit to blame the women involved for not suing. Given my understanding of the outcome of these kinds of suits, it’s not entirely likely that they would have won money and there’s a non-trivial chance that such a suit would have been costly in terms of current and future employment. In other words, a rational calculation of the situation, given the difficulties involved, might have given the harassed women pause. I would find it eminently reasonable if that informed their thinking, especially in the case of the woman who suffered the most egregious harassment; I suspect I would have done the same thing in her situation.

    Now, in some ways, Linden, this sexual harassment anecdote does explain some of the institutional inertia at PSU, but maybe leads to some different conclusions. Because based on what you’ve written, it’s not just management that knew about sexual harassment and did nothing–it’s fellow co-workers. The supervisor harassed seven other women at agency wide meetings? And no other co-workers observed this? And no other co-workers blew the whistle? Did you observe this? Did they wonder if they “saw what they thought they saw,” or did they weigh the risk reward of saying something (especially if the seven harassed women themselves weren’t willing to come forward)? Did you choose to blow the whistle? Why or why not?

    I don’t ask the last questions in an accusing fashion–I really don’t. Because I have been in this very situation myself. I work in an academic department one of whose senior most members is a serial sexual harasser. And people know about it, and do nothing. Oh, I mean, the department chair encourages undergrad advisees to switch to another professor if the advisee becomes uncomfortable at hir advances, but it goes no further. Another Eminent Professor warns hir graduate students not to be alone in the office with the door closed with said Senior Professor but said nothing when Senior Professor drove one of EP’s students out academia after the student rejected SP’s advances. When SP’s harassment of another grad student is so bad that the town police are contacted? A Tenured Professor helps said student avoid the harassment but discourages contacting university higher ups.

    What did I do? Well, nothing. When you’re an untenured professor and you see this happen three times, thinking each time that “another tenured person, with job security, is taking care of this,” and there are no repercussions, you get a little gun-shy. I have no doubt that had I said something about these three instances above I would not have tenure now; Senior Professor would have made me “go away.” I also suspect that I would not have a job elsewhere (turns out, Senior Professor is very well-connected in the field!).

    And I think I have grounds for my suspicions. When a tenured colleague had an affair with my now ex-spouse and then lodged a spurious claim of sexual harassment against her to ensure her silence–he was worried his wife would find out about the affair–everyone looked the other way. When I told other colleagues about this and wondered if I could do anything to protect her or myself–I didn’t want to become a problem he could make “go away”–I was told that “it must be more complicated,” or “we don’t really know what happened, so don’t make trouble,” or that the threats my colleague made against my ex-spouse and her employment to ensure her silence weren’t things I could report to our university whistle-blower hotline.

    Turns out, lots of good people–or, at least, people you were sure were really decent people–look the other way and don’t make waves when it suits them. Tenured people don’t make waves when it suits them. In my case, everyone I talked to looked the other way. So what did I learn? I d–n well wasn’t going to be the one who made waves when I would have gotten my butt canned.

    When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, I think that lots of people talk big. Lots of us can say, “If I saw that happening, I would have said something,” or “I would have reported it.” I know I was pretty certain before I got this job that I would have. But you know what? I didn’t, because I like being a professor, I like this career, and I didn’t want to get fired. What were your colleagues thinking, when those seven other women were harassed at agency-wide meetings? Did they witness things, or look the other way? Did you? Again, I don’t say this with malice towards you. After all, I’ve witnessed things and said nothing because I feared for my job. I’d like to talk big and say if I worked at your agency I would have kept an eye out and said something. But I think I know better than to just assume I know what I would have done.


  9. Because I have been in this very situation myself.

    So have I, anonymous, and i mean it very seriously when I say I’m sorry your colleagues are such a lot of self-absorbed a$$holes. You are quite right that tenure gives them privilege. They should be using it to protect students.

    What I did when when I finally realized that a colleague was a serial harasser was feel disgusted with myself for having reasoned the signs away for so long. After that I put my ear to the ground and learned everything I could. I reported and when that went nowhere I moved up the ranks. I was accused of being a trouble maker, I was cornered in an office by a person very much my senior, I was threatened with firing, but you know, whatever. I work at a university–that means part of my job is to take care of students. I don’t want to loose my job but I also want to be able to respect myself.


  10. Thanks to Historiann and all who have commented here. In an ideal academic world, each of you who is on a faculty or part of a college administration would print out this post plus entire exchange and offer it to colleagues for discussion among you. Imagine.


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  12. Pingback: My Ambivalent Relationship to College Sports « The Academy's Bench Warmer

  13. Anonymous, my understanding is that in 2002 Sandusky was not banned from the University; he was simply banned from bringing young boys onto University grounds. I kind of hope my understanding is wrong, as that act really turns my stomach. It pretty clearly implies that the administrators acknowledged he was harming young boys, but they would leave him to it as long as he kept the University out of it. Ick, ick, ick. And shame, shame, shame.

    What could Paterno have done? To begin with, and perhaps most importantly, I think, might have been not to downplay the reports he received. (McQueary, paraphrased: “I saw Sandusky anally raping a boy in the shower.” Paterno, paraphrased: “What McQueary observed was some horsing around in the shower.” Message to McQueary: This is your reality now.) How about put Sandusky on administrative leave pending investigation, and then pushing for a thorough investigation?

    One thing I appreciate about this discussion thread is that people are trying to work through some of the larger systemic implications. Is it a male/female issue? A rape culture issue? Patriarchy? Pseudomilitarism? etc. etc. With Paterno and McQueary, I think we could argue until we were blue in the face regarding what they could have done, should have done, failed in doing, how their in/actions contributed to Sandusky’s crimes and his remaining free to escalate his sexual assaults (anybody else notice that the reports begin with “fondling” and touching genitals and eventually become anal rape? All of it was sexual assault, of course, but I can’t help but think that Sandusky was emboldened by occasionally being caught and not facing consequences). I sincerely hope that these men will face the consequences of their in/actions. At the same time, I want to tear down the system/s which made these actions seem like viable choices.

    How do so many humans end up complicit in crimes against humanity, time and time again (women as well as men)? What are the systematic forces which make such complicity the “correct” choices? In this instance, I don’t think it’s bureaucracy or hierarchy on its own, but the specific pseudomilitary, macho, semper fi indoctrination that is college football (so, yes, in this instance, it’s men). I think maybe the reason we end up using sexual harassment to discuss this case (and then finding it woefully inadequate) arises from falsely envisioning it to have occurred in a corporate bureaucracy. To really get at the particulars of this case, I think it’s much more helpful to imagine a military model (although there’s a bit of cultishness in there, too; I’m not sure what model helps with that, other than “sports team”).

    Wow. I’m supposed to be working on my thesis, but I guess I can’t get this case out of my system. I think I have more to say, perhaps in a second post.


  14. Hm, looking back at my post I’m not sure I really developed that point about corporate hierarchies vs. something else, but I’ll let it lie.

    I think the reason I’m stuck on the corporate hierarchy thing is that something gets lost from the narrative when people start seeing this situation in that light Paterno wasn’t a middle manager, nor was he a higher-up manager. He was god and general of a pseudo-military organization that absolutely relies on personal ties, obedience, and toeing the line. It was absolutely his organization, and Sandusky was there on his sufference. And as long as Paterno kept Sandusky around, Sandusky retained a certain amount of political power and protection.

    Likewise, Sandusky wasn’t some middle manager. For all intents and purposes, he was the heir apparent and it seems very likely he was being groomed to follow in Paterno’s footsteps. All of that changed in 1999, when Sandusky suddenly retired to “focus on his charity work.” Keep in mind that he was given emeritus status, kept an office, and had free run of the football facilities. Paterno didn’t publicly disown Sandusky, who’d publicly been seen as his protege, so while his resignation was a mystery, he remained closely affiliated with the Penn State football machine.

    I don’t think this is happening much in the current thread, but in many places I see McQueary described as “the grad student,” which seems to distance him from the football apparatus somewhat. I suppose I imagine a young man who’s been with the school a year or two, not really part of the larger apparatus. But McQueary had been recruited and coached by Paterno(back when McQueary was star quarterback as an undergrad), and came to Penn State as a grad student to continue his rise through that pseudo-military organization. Seeing someone as high up as Sandusky raping a young boy, and then being told by Paterno that what he actually saw was “horsing around”? I do not excuse McQueary of his moral duty to report the mo-fo and then do everything he could to get justice, and I condemn him for continuing to support the apparatus after it had failed so spectacularly at human decency, but we can’t stop with pointing the finger at him. Or, hell, Paterno (although I will keep pointing my finger at him as well). Which brings me full circle, so see my rant in the post above.



    The Nittany Lion is the mascot of the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, USA and its athletic teams. It refers to the mountain lions that once roamed near the school, and to Mount Nittany,[1] a local landmark. There is also a fight song played during sporting events on campus entitled “The Nittany Lion.”


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