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'Total Disregard' at Penn State

July 12, 2012

The independent report about the Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University has found "total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. [Graham] Spanier, [Gary] Schultz, [Joe] Paterno and [Tim} Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest." (Note to readers: The link to the full report is correct but the report's site is overloaded so the link may not work immediately.)

The quote is from a statement released by Louis Freeh, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and leader of the inquiry, moments before the release of the report. (The Messrs. referred to are, respectively, the former president, senior vice president, head football coach and athletic director at the university.)

The Freeh statement confirms reports that e-mail records indicate that these senior officials considered -- and then rejected -- the idea of reporting Jerry Sandusky to authorities after receiving a report of the assistant coach's inappropriate conduct with a boy.

"In critical written correspondence that we uncovered on March 20th of this year, we see evidence of their proposed plan of action in February 2001 that included reporting allegations about Sandusky to the authorities. After Mr. Curley consulted with Mr. Paterno, however, they changed the plan and decided not to make a report to the authorities. Their failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim, or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, about what McQueary [an assistant who reported the conduct ] saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001."

Freeh notes a number of reasons given by the Penn State officials for their actions, including their views that they didn't know exactly what was going on and wanted to be "humane" to Sandusky.

But Freeh -- with strong language -- makes clear he doesn't believe the senior leadership team and questions their motives. "Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the
authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims."

The report released by Freeh also criticized the Penn State board. Referring to the failings of the senior leaders, the report says that they were "unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties." The collective actions (and inactions) of senior leaders and board members "empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access" to facilities and to use his connection to Penn State. "Indeed, the continued access provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims. Some coaches, administrators and football program staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky's behaviors and no one warned the public about him," the report says.

Spanier, the president who was ousted shortly after the scandal became public last year, "failed in his duties as president," the report says, by not informing the board of about 1998 and 2001 allegations of child sexual abuse by Sandusky.

Further, the report says that once the board was informed of the grand jury investigation into Sandusky, it still didn't take appropriate action. The board "failed to inquire reasonably and to demand detailed information from Spanier," the report says. The Freeh report says that the board's "overconfidence in Spanier's abilities to deal with the crisis, and and its complacent attitude" left the board "unprepared" when the scandal became public in November.

Highlights of Past Coverage

UPDATE: This afternoon the university released a statement calling the Freeh report "sad and sobering," and said that the university would seek to carry out the recommendations of the report. The statement made no attempt to dispute the findings of the report, including those about people who held senior positions at Penn State. "Judge Freeh's report concludes that certain people at the university who were in a position to protect children or confront the predator failed to do so. There can be no ambiguity about that. The defenseless victims and their families are at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers. We are deeply sorry for the failure to protect these vulnerable young boys from the pain and anguish they suffered," said the statement. The university's statement also said that the Penn State board "acknowledges that it failed to create an environment of accountability and transparency and did not have optimal reporting procedures or committee structures."

While the Freeh report is particular damning of the way senior Penn State officials responded to reports about Sandusky by worrying about bad publicity, the analysis also points to a number of other key factors that contributed to Sandusky's ability to sexually abuse children for years. Among them:

  • "A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders" at Penn State.
  • A board without "regular reporting procedures or committee structures" in place to be sure that senior administrators were telling trustees about "major risks to the university."
  • "A president who discouraged discussion and dissent."
  • A football program that "did not fully participate in, or opted out of" some university programs, including compliance with the Cleary Act, which regulates reporting of crimes on campus.
  • "A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community."

The report includes 120 recommendations for reforms at Penn State, dealing with duties of board members and administrators, regulations to protect children, the athletics program, campus culture and more.

Also in the report are a number of the e-mail messages (some of which have been leaked in part in the previous week) among senior officials. The e-mail message talking about how not reporting Sandusky is the "humane" approach to the issue is Exhibit 2F. The 2001 e-mail is from Gary C. Schultz, then the senior vice president, to Spanier and to Tim Curley, the athletic director. And the e-mail chain indicates that they agreed with the course of action.

Many of the recommendations in the report are about assuring compliance with laws to protect children (an area on which Penn State has already adopted new policies), better communication among senior administrators and board members, new levels of accountability and oversight and so forth.

But the report also questions Penn State culture. The report says that some aspects of the culture are "laudable," such as "its collegiality, high standards of educational excellence and research, and respect for the environment." But the report questions "an over-emphasis on the 'Penn State Way' as an approach to decision-making, a resistance to seeking outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the university's reputation as a progressive institution."

Sandusky was convicted last month of dozens of charges related to his sexual abuse of boys. Curley, the former athletics director, and Schultz, the former senior vice president for finance and business have been charged by state authorities with perjury (for allegedly lying about what they know about Sandusky) and for failing to report to authorities an incident that was reported to them. All three have repeatedly denied wrongdoing. No charges have been filed against Spanier, although the grand jury reportedly is continuing to explore additional charges in the case. He too has denied wrongdoing, and has complained that he was denied access to e-mail records that might have helped him provide a complete accounting of his activities.

UPDATE: Spanier's lawyers released a statement this afternoon disputing Freeh's statements about his role in the Sandusky scandal. "Not only did Dr. Spanier never conceal anything from law enforcement authorities, but prior to 2011 he was never contacted by law enforcement officials, or any other officials, about any criminal activities now attributed to Sandusky," Spanier's lawyers said. " And as he told Judge Freeh himself last Friday and has steadfastly maintained, at no time in his 16 years as president of Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of any incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct, or criminality of any nature."

In advance of the report's release, the family of Joe Paterno issued a statement criticizing the way leaks from the investigation have appeared to point the finger at the late coach. Also on Wednesday, the blog Fight On State published a column written by Paterno shortly before he died in which he defended the overall reputation of Penn State and its football program. "Let me say that again so I am not misunderstood: regardless of anyone's opinion of my actions or the actions of the handful of administration officials in this matter, the fact is nothing alleged is an indictment of football or evidence that the spectacular collections of accomplishments by dedicated student athletes should be in anyway tarnished," Paterno wrote.

 

 

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