Tuesday, August 12

Primer #2 for Wednesday's BOT Meeting: An Opportunity for President Barron

After years of the PSU BOT stonewalling the public from learning the truth, President Barron has an opportunity to make his mark on PSU.  Finding the truth and ensuring the protection of children should guide his decisions.

Ray Blehar

Congressman Charlie Dent's column (Penalties at Penn State are not justice)  not only took on the NCAA for its overreach in sanctioning PSU, but the editorial writers who have piled on PSU without due process.  As I've noted in several blogs, newspapers and the media in general too often take the allegations made by law enforcement officials at face value and assume guilt immediately.   As we saw in the Duke Lacrosse and Richard Jewell cases, the media got it wrong -- badly.

They got it wrong about PSU too.  However, the stakes regarding the media's rush to judgment in the PSU case are much higher than at Duke or in the case of Richard Jewell because the well-being of Pennsylvania's children hangs in the balance.

Media and Victim's Advocates Miss the Mark

While there appears to be little argument among the media that keeping the $60 million in Pennsylvania to assist with child welfare programs is worthwhile -- that is only because the media has refused to actually report on the failures of the Commonwealth's child welfare system.  These failures were abundantly clear in the Sandusky case, but government officials from the DPW were given a pass based on a blatant falsehood reported by the Patriot News.

PCAR: Wrong focus in aftermath of Sandusky case
In addition, it is particularly troubling that many of the so-called victim's advocate groups have also given the child protection system a pass and instead chose to lay blame for Sandusky's abuse on PSU.  Some of these groups, like the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), already have received grant money from PSU to provide training and other programs in response to the Sandusky scandal.   PCAR's programs will do little to solve the problem because the key issue in Pennsylvania is not the failure to recognize or report abuse by the citizens, but by the trained professionals who staff the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW).

It was the DPW staff who determined Sandusky was not abusing the two children he naked bear hugged in 1998.  And 15 years later, in December 2013, DPW officials didn't see any signs of abuse in the Tutko home.  Jarrod Tutko, Jr. paid the ultimate price just eight months later.

Does anyone seriously believe that a call to DPW about Sandusky in 2001 would have stopped his abuse?  When the call was made in 2008, it didn't stop then.  At least two more children were abused, according to Attorney General Kathleen Kane.  As I noted yesterday, the DPW fails to protect children  when called in to investigate abuse cases around 40% of the time.

Task Force Duped by the Media

A review of DPW investigative
practices is sorely needed.
Despite the evidence of continuous failures by DPW, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection also fell into the trap (likely based on its perceptions of the Sandusky scandal as reported by the media) of aiming most of the solutions to the child abuse issue on improved reporting and stiffening the laws.  Again, the law of unintended consequences will rule here, as an already overburdened system will receive an increased number of reports and stress the resources dedicated to investigating abuse cases.  It is clear that additional resources are needed on the front lines, not manning phone lines - and that a full review of DPW's investigative practices is required.   

If PSU pays the fine money, the first dollar should be used to conduct this sorely needed review.  

The 11/9/11 BOT Actions

As Pennsylvania's flagship University, it must demand that the Commonwealth fix its child protection system.  The promises made by President Erickson and the PSU BOT that PSU would become a leader in child abuse prevention were hollow at best, given that the Board (and its hired gun, Louis Freeh) would not speak out about the failures of DPW related to the Sandusky case.  As I noted yesterday, BOT member Kenneth Frazier gave DPW a complete pass when pressed about its 1998 failure by Al Clemons, but in the next breath stated that PSU officials should have recognized the abuse.

The irony in that statement was simply overwhelming as was his earlier statement "that all responsible and caring adults have a fundamental responsibility to safeguard the children in their communities."  As if calling for improvements to the Commonwealth's and local child protective services would not be the most fundamental step we could take to make children safer?

The Freeh Report simply took what was in the grand jury presentment, the evidence collected by law enforcement, and repackaged it into a report that would have received a failing grade if turned in as a college term paper.  The PSU BOT, led by Ken Frazier and Karen Peetz, then embarrassed the University by accepting Freeh's dubious report without providing a single comment or requesting any corrections to the record.  The failure to provide oversight and to take seriously its duty of fiduciary responsibility was clearly lost on the BOT and those deficiencies remain among the 11/9/11 holdouts.

It is also quite amusing that the NCAA President, Mark Emmert stated he read the report three times and he too did not find anything deficient (e.g., Appendices 1, 4, 7, 8, and 9 were missing from the report).  While Emmert proved his mettle for academics as President of LSU and Washington, how does one care to explain that the report was accepted by the  NCAA Executive Board?  A group of 20 college presidents and chancellors and three athletic directors apparently didn't read past the Executive Summary.

So much for the state of higher education in the United States.

The bottom line about the Freeh investigation was that is was clearly a case of it being far from independent and too much aligned with the Attorney General's prosecution (and perhaps too much influenced by Governor Tom Corbett).

The Board also quickly lined up behind the Attorney General's prosecution, rather than support President Graham Spanier, who rightly defended Curley and Schultz against unsupported allegations of failure to report child abuse and perjury.  The significance of that decision cannot be understated given Frazier's role at Merck in fighing the Vioxx lawsuits.  PSU pushing back against the baseless charges of the AG should have been a "no brainer."

Surma had no valid explanations for the Board's decisions
To be clear, this was not a panicked response by the inner circle of the Board - but more likely a purposeful one.  The news broke on Friday night and continued into Saturday morning.  Several meetings were held between Saturday and Wednesday, November 11, 2011.  There was ample time for a thorough review of the laws, to weigh the information contained in the grand jury presentment, and to interview witnesses in the case. The board, according to then co-chair John Surma, did none of those things and Surma had no valid explanations for its decisions of 11/9/11.   Its decisions - driven by a media deadline - brought immense harm to the University and sealed the
perception of PSU's guilt in the minds of the public.

The inner circle repeated its ill-fated decision making again on July 12, 2012 when Frazier and Peetz accepted the Freeh Report and then again on July 23, 2012 when it permitted Erickson to sign the NCAA Consent Decree.

It seems highly unlikely that a group of accomplished corporate executives could make that many bad decisions without some other driving motivation, such as their own self-interest (or preservation).

Ongoing Investigations and Litigation May Fill in the Blanks

Frazier'sand Peetz's remarks were irresponsible.
While we don't yet know the full truth of what happened, we know that the 11/9/11 Board has not been upfront and forthright about anything related to this case.  Its hiring of Louis Freeh was nothing more than theater and the investigation conducted by his team was anything but full, fair, and independent.  The public acceptance of the report by Kenneth Frazier and Karen Peetz should have been grounds for their immediate removal from the Board.  The kudos given to Freeh by Frazier, without a full review of the report, was the height of irresponsibility as were Peetz's comments of PSU assuming full responsibility (again, without review of the report).

Al Lord's motion at the last meeting was right on the mark.

The Freeh investigation needs to be completed and the the sunlight needs to shine brightly inside Old Main.  However, Lord's motion for the completion of the investigation is not really up to the Board (and the Old Guard will likely shoot down his motion anyway).  I also don't think Al intended for Louis Freeh to return to PSU to finish what he started.

The fact of the matter is that we will eventually learn what was behind the decisions of the 11/9/11 trustees and part of that will be learned from the Paterno vs. NCAA lawsuit.  In addition, the defamation lawsuit filed by Spanier against Louis Freeh will also provide an opportunity to finally hold the former FBI-director accountable for his reckless behavior in this case.  Between the two cases, the Board, the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference, and the Attorney General's roles will be revealed.

The pending Federal investigation may also shed light on what was behind the decisions of the Board as it pertains to the financial and other relationships with The Second Mile charity.  The Patriot News already reported (with little fanfare) that the charity chose to cover-up Sandusky's 2008 abuse finding and keep the public, its board, and its donors in the dark.  In 2001, when PSU made a report of Sandusky's behavior to the charity in 2001, the charity did not act.  These are indisputable facts that will eventually result in criminal charges against Second Mile officials.

Finally, the pending trials of Curley, Schultz, and Spanier may provide the final piece of the puzzle, but it is more likely that the Federal investigation will obviate the need for their trial.  The cover-up was not the work of Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno, but there are many other people who had their hands in the Sandusky mess.

There is indeed a "conspiracy of silence" surrounding the Sandusky scandal, but it never involved Joe Paterno or the three PSU officials who are currently facing charges.

Wednesday's Meeting is a Chance for President Barron

President Barron could make his mark.
I expect the that the Nittany Nine will represent the alumni and Penn State well in demanding openness, transparency, and the truth from the other trustees.

While I am not optimistic that the Old Guard is willing to change, this public meeting is the first real opportunity for President Barron to show the PSU community what kind of leader he is going to be.

I will be tuned in tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM listening to every word.

1 comment:

  1. The more I read the more upset I get about the leadership of PSU. It just returns, for me, a way of firing JVP and try to undermind the success of the football program for the last 40+ years. All because of a vendetta by a few of the BoT. The meeting on Wed will be their way of trying to "move on" by not answering any of the questions that are so critical to the future of PSU and its leadership. I hope that newly elected members will carry the torch of the alumni who are tired of the poor leadership and fight to restore the mantra of how great Penn State is and will continue to be in the future.
    It would be an added plus if a few of the NON-leaders would resign and join the freeh group.