Sunday, February 17

Lessons in Courage and the Bay of Pigs (or A University is not a Multi-National Corporation)

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.


  1. I do not think the bot will enter into a reflection on the mistakes that they have made. I feel that there are a few trustees with personal agendas that will stalmate any possiblity that they will revisit the Freeh report or their actions. Having read both reports there are way too many non-facts to make the conclusions that lead to the sanctions imposed by the NCAA.

  2. Robert-As I recall you are a letterman. I have appreciated your comments on this site and it is clear that you are supportive of Joe. I am at a loss to understand why 46 years plus worth of letterman, as a group, have not vociferously and publicly stood up for Joe. To me, it has been very disappointing.Maybe I am missing something. Your thoughts would be appreciated- Thanks HK(1973)

  3. There are two separate groups to support JoePa. "The Joe We Know" film has had many showings with past players mostly in Pa. Franco Harris and John Ziegler have also held meetings dealing with the Framing of Joe Paterno. (also a good web site) I hope this helps.

  4. Outstanding and totally accurate analysis. I would suggest that the trustees, as a governing body, never examined the Freeh misreport and the next time they do that will be the first time.

  5. What people need to realize is the Freeh report is not a "rush to judgement" and the Board of Trustees did not "make mistakes". That would imply these were honest attempts at discovering the truth and doing the right thing, but were mishandled due to incompetence. It was not incompetence, it was blatant dishonesty.

    The narrative of Freeh report was a premeditative attempt by certain members of the board to publicly blame and humiliate Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier and show that the Board was right to fire both of them, which was something Tom Corbett and John Surma wanted prior to the Sandusky indictments. The Sandusky case just provided them the opportunity and they took full advantage of it. Tom Corbett recommended Louis Freeh and Mr. Freeh was told exactly what was to be in the report.

    The Board wanted more control of the University and Spanier and Paterno were the primary people standing in their way, so they needed to be removed. It's clear the Boards actions since November 2011 have just been attempts to justify their pre-determined decisions and then cover their tracks. The Freeh report is just a marketing document constructed by the Board.

  6. The Board was using the services of Lanny Davis, I don't know if they still are. His famous mantra is "Tell it early, tell it all, tell it yourself". This can pertain to truth, but it can also pertain to any narrative you want to perpetuate. I think Davis' approach had some influence.