A letter to the BOT
Deborah C. Beidel
When a problematic business situation occurs, particularly when there is bad publicity, companies quickly turn to lawyers. They pay a fine or settlement and use words such as “This settlement should not be construed as an admission of guilt or acknowledgement of wrongdoing” in an attempt to wipe the slate clean. The action is “merely representing payment of disputed claims to avoid the cost and time involved with litigation." Shareholders are satisfied and the public moves on to the next news story.
Clearly, this was the BOT’s initial strategy with respect to Penn State’s alleged involvement with Mr. Sandusky’s criminal behavior. Lawyers were engaged, fines were paid, and the Freeh report (settlement) allowed guilt to be deflected away from the University/BOT. However, alumni are not shareholders and despite initial criticism of the report, the BOT circled the wagons, refused to consider alternative opinions and squelched dissent, even among its own members. The BOT’s structure reveals its incestuous nature – individuals have served for many years, some are elected based on friendships and business relationships and some are political appointments. This structure has resulted in GroupThink, defined as flawed group dynamics that can let bad ideas go unchallenged and yield disastrous outcomes (Janis, 1971). So enamored of their Trustee status, members squelch any misgivings to remain an insider. GroupThink can lead to grave and disastrous consequences such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.
And now Penn State faces its own Bay of Pigs disaster. The carefully orchestrated Freeh report has been discredited by James Clemente’s “Education Guide to the Identification and Prevention of Child Sexual Victimization.” While eviscerating Freeh’s conclusions, Clemente’s greatest service is educating all of us about sexual predators. Yet to date, the BOT leadership has remained silent about the Clemente report, clinging to a deeply flawed alternative, and hoping that the previous narrative will remain sufficient.
After the Bay of Pigs disaster, JFK said “an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.”
This is the choice that the BOT now faces. Will they drop their “we know what’s best for Penn State attitude”, re-examine the Freeh report and make informed corrections? Rather than GroupThink and ribbons on helmets, will they admit the possibility of an error, change course and honestly lead on the issue that has ripped apart our community? Some members of the BOT have stepped forward to suggested re-examination, courageously suggesting that errors need not become mistakes. Let’s hope that their actions will inspire the leadership and other trustees to do likewise - for the children, for our university, for us all.