Spencer Niles: The Reality is that Fear Damages; Truth Heals
By Spencer Niles
The Penn State Board of Trustees continues its struggle with reality. The reality is that the lawsuit against the NCAA reflects the sentiment of thousands of Penn Staters. The reality is that many Penn Staters – and even disconnected observers — think the NCAA acted inappropriately in applying its unprecedented sanctions against Penn State. The reality is that no one- not a single BoT member, not Louis Freeh, not a current member of the administration, not a single member of the press, and certainly not any member of the NCAA Executive Committee yet knows the truth as to what occurred here. The reality is also that the BoT in place in 2011 failed miserably in its leadership, and when it now has opportunities to step up, commit to discovering the truth, and then acting accordingly, it continues to fail the entire University community.
Most mental health professionals know all too well that when their patients rely upon coping strategies of repression and suppression, their problems become exacerbated. Now, many members of the BoT are on a mission to suppress those board members who won’t buy into the ‘move forward without knowing the truth’ strategy. Some members of the BoT are even threatening board members with removal if they persist to voice a different perspective. The BoT’s contention that Peter Khoury couldn’t serve on the presidential search committee and participate in the lawsuit at the same time is ridiculous!
At its most basic level, the lawsuit contends the NCAA did not follow its own procedures and that it should have done so. That statement is hardly controversial. If certain members of the BoT are concerned about presidential candidates asking questions about the suit, why not just resort to the truth? And that truth is this: that there are those on the BoT who think that the NCAA acted inappropriately in its actions against Penn State; that those individuals are simply requesting that the NCAA follow its own procedures, let the trials occur, and conduct a true investigation of what happened; and that those members of the BoT think that the truth is worth discovering before taking action. Accommodations for discussing these issues with presidential candidates could have easily been made with Mr. Khoury still on the lawsuit. The BoT offered him a false choice in order to push its own agenda of repression and suppression. To pretend (i.e., to repress and suppress) that these differing perspectives don’t exist, whether BoT members are participating in the lawsuit or not, is beyond a ‘head in the sand’ strategy and it will continue to only make our problems worse.
So, the BoT remains afraid of the truth and continues to lead using fear-based strategies. Unfortunately, fear had a way of metastasizing rapidly throughout an organization when it originates at the board level. It leads to lower morale and greater dysfunction as it spreads throughout the community, and others become afraid to speak the truth out of fear of retaliation. As a member of the Penn State community, I would desperately like to believe that this cancer within our family is not terminal. Unfortunately, many on the BoT are behaving like patients who have been diagnosed with lung cancer but keep on smoking. The result of such persistent fear-based behaviors is a rather dire prognosis. The good news is that a cure is available but, like many illnesses, it requires treatment that is painful before it finally succeeds. The key ingredient of this treatment strategy is the truth. At first, the taste of this medicine may not be so appealing, but there is no way to heal without taking it. Overcoming fear in pursuit of the truth is a healing strategy that leads to a cure. I, like many Penn Staters, hope that the BoT will opt for a treatment strategy that is curative rather than one that encourages the cancer to persist. So far, it is hard to see any indications that they are choosing the former.
Spencer Niles is a participant in the NCAA Lawsuit. He is a member of the PS4RS Board and is a Penn State alumnus earning his doctoral degree from the College of Education in 1986. He served as Distinguished Professor and Department Head for Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education in the College of Education at Penn State from 2000-2013.