Penn State

Holding Penn State Responsible

Back in November, I posted this article about the lost ideas of personal and corporate responsibility at Penn State University. This morning, the NCAA held a press conference announcing the sanctions against the university (and particularly the football program). In light of what I wrote 8 months ago, I want to evaluate the actions of the NCAA to see if they will actually serve the purpose of reinstating the ideas of personal and corporate responsibility.

Here are the sanctions imposed by the governing board of college athletics:

  • $60 million fine, roughly equivalent to one year’s gross football revenue, to be placed in an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university.”
  • 4 year ban on postseason appearances
  • Reduction of scholarships from 25 to 15 per year for 4 years
  • Vacating all wins from 1998-2011 (111 total wins)

The NCAA also put in place measures to change the culture of the university. The university must create a compliance committee and have quarterly reports from an independent monitor to make sure that athletics do not overwhelm the priority of academics at the university.

Let me recount the major faults that I saw in November. First, the university (and the individuals involved) lacked a respect for the dignity of the victims. There seemed to have been a concern for the personal interests of the perpetrator and those with knowledge of the crime, but there was no concern for the dignity of the boys. As each person up the chain of command refused to take personal responsibility for alerting the authorities, they diminished the opportunity for the university to take corporate responsibility.

The fine and intended use of the funds goes a long way to help address this problem. The NCAA acknowledges that the endowment cannot correct what has happened in the past, but they are at least attempting to recognize the dignity of the victims and their families.

Second, the problem at Penn State is that the university saw its own “family” interests as more important than protecting the institution of the family. These boys have been assaulted, abused, and scarred for life. Their family structure has been permanently altered because they have been subjected to a version of sexuality that is distorted far outside God’s design. There was absolutely no respect for the institution of the family on the perpetrator’s part, and there was indifference to the institution of the family on the part of the university.

On some levels, the punitive actions taken by the NCAA address this problem. With the reduction of scholarships, postseason ban, and vacated wins, the NCAA put Penn State and other universities on notice that their “family” cultures were not more important than society’s family culture. While it is not a clear admonition for supporting the family, the underlying problem is being addressed.

Finally, a fair and effective system of law and government is crucial to a healthy society. In this case, that system was in place to handle the problem, but no one alerted the proper authorities.

I believe this is the issue addressed in vacating wins, particularly as it has a huge impact on the record books. 111 wins will be removed from the record books. Perhaps more significantly, 111 of 409 wins will be removed from Joe Paterno’s record of the most wins in college football history. Coach Paterno will no longer hold that record. His failure to act in properly reporting the accusations against one of his assistant coaches to the police have tarnished his legacy on many levels. Now future generations will not even see his name near the top of the list of coaches with the most wins. The system of law and government has spoken in the case of Jerry Sandusky, who will now spend the rest of his life in prison. The NCAA has spoken regarding the failure to use that system on the part of the university.

The actions of those involved in the scandal at Penn State University are reprehensible. When given the opportunity to stop the perpetrator, the university failed to act and failed to take responsibility. Only after the egregious behavior was allowed to continue for 13 years has the university been held responsible. I applaud the NCAA for their actions, but I only wish they had not been necessary. I wish the university has stepped up in 1998 to stop the problem. Responsibility is best taken on one’s own initiative rather than forced by the governing authorities.

_________________________

Evan Lenow, “Penn State and the Lost Idea of Personal Responsibility,” November 10, 2011.

“Penn State sanctions: $60M, bowl ban,” ESPN, July 23, 2012.

Penn State and the Lost Idea of Personal Responsibility

Yesterday, I gave a lecture on Personal and Corporate Responsibility for the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement (I’ll link to the audio when it becomes available). The thrust of my lecture dealt with the idea of corporate responsibility in the business world and an attempt to redefine something that has become a mantra for environmental concerns. My attempt at redefining corporate responsibility brought the focus back to society as a whole and not just a niche. At the end, I attempted to tie corporate responsibility to personal responsibility by showing that all aspects of corporate responsibility are an extension of personal responsibility. In that lecture, I noted the tragic circumstances at Penn State University as an example corporate responsibility failing because no one was willing to take personal responsibility along the way. In light of what has continued to transpire at that university, I want to offer a slightly re-worked version of my lecture from yesterday applied to this particular situation.

Relying heavily on an article by Robert P. George, we can see three pillars of a healthy society: 1) respect for individual human beings and their dignity, 2) the institution of the family, and 3) a fair and effective system of law and government. Aside from the alleged crime, I want to look at the response by the university as a study in corporate vs. personal responsibility in light of these three pillars.

The university (and the individuals involved) lacked a respect for the dignity of the victims. There seemed to have been a concern for the personal interests of the perpetrator and those with knowledge of the crime, but there was no concern for the dignity of the boys. As each person up the chain of command refused to take personal responsibility for alerting the authorities, they diminished the opportunity for the university to take corporate responsibility. As we see now, the university is attempting to correct this stance, but only now that they have been caught in a cover-up. The reputation of the institution is being discredited, and the individuals involved are losing their jobs. The message the university sent to the public is that they had more concern for the university’s reputation than the dignity of the victims.

The institution of the family is essential to a healthy society. George calls it “the original and best department of health, education, and welfare.” Jennifer Roback Morse states, “There is no substitute for the family in helping self-centered infants develop into cooperative adults.” The problem at Penn State is that the university saw its own “family” interests as more important than protecting the institution of the family. These boys have been assaulted, abused, and scarred for life. Their family structure has been permanently altered because they have been subjected to a version of sexuality that is distorted far outside God’s design. There was absolutely no respect for the institution of the family on the perpetrator’s part, and there was indifference to the institution of the family on the part of the university.

Finally, a fair and effective system of law and government is crucial to a healthy society. In this case, that system was in place to handle the problem, but no one alerted the proper authorities. Now that the police and judicial system are aware of the crimes, they are working swiftly to bring about justice. However, such justice could have been enacted years ago had those with knowledge of the crime taken personal responsibility to report what they had seen and heard.

What is next for Penn State? Obviously, the leadership is in a state of flux considering that four top officials have been fired including the president and the legendary football coach who has been the face of the institution for decades. One can only guess that the NCAA will step in and place sanctions on the football program—perhaps even the dreaded “death penalty” (suspending all football for at least two years).

With the tragedy at Penn State, we see that all three pillars of a healthy society were ignored or dismissed. Penn State University may very well look back at this week as the moment the university changed. I hope and pray it will be a change that involves acknowledging that football is just a sport, all people are worthy of respect and dignity (not just those who win football games), and that the government in its purest function is here for protection from evil and to establish order in society. Unfortunately, little will change unless we recognize that personal responsibility comes first.

_________________________

Robert P. George, “Making Business Moral,” First Things 186 (October 2008): 17–19.

Jennifer Roback Morse, Love & Economics (San Marcos: Ruth Institute Books, 2008).

For more information about the scandal at Penn State University, see Mark Viera, “Paterno Is Finished at Penn State, and President Is Out,” The New York Times, November 9, 2011.