What We Can Learn From The Penn State Tragedy

I read most of the investigative report published this week. The investigation was conducted by former FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) Director, Mr. Louis Freeh.

For those non-Americans reading this post, I will brief you on the event. A retired North American Football Coach, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted of sexually abusing children at Pennsylvania State University. Penn State, as it is called, is a large (0ver 80,000 students) public university located in central Pennsylvania. The school is famous for its North American Football program and it legendary head coach, Joe Paterno. Coach Paterno led the football team for 46 years, before getting fired this season and dying of cancer shortly after.

I have an interest in this case because I wanted to see what mistakes were made from a school administrative viewpoint. I have been involved in dealing with employee misconduct in the past and will most likely come upon this in the future. The report gives the public a rare detailed look at how the university’s administrators handled the incidents. It was a sad tragedy for the boys hurt by Sandusky and I am disgusted at what happened.

The following are my learning points from the report:

  • I can’t believe how poorly Penn State Administrators handled the reports of Sandusky being seen showering with young boys. What adult educators shower with students???? This behavior alone, should have been grounds enough for immediate firing and banning from the campus, even without evidence of sexual abuse. This is not normal behavior and it is a big red flag that something bad is occurring. By “reports,” I specifically mean a mother, her son, and a coach complaining to university officials that Sandusky was in the shower with the boys.
  • When something important happens, start action immediately, regardless of it being a weekend or not. The report cited that Paterno waited to contact colleagues because he didn’t want to ruin their weekend. When it is this serious, forget about that.
  • The janitors saw an explicit act of sexual abuse but were afraid to report it. They are key personnel in cases like these because they are around the premises after hours and many times, community members forget that they are there. Janitors and other maintenance personnel can be more effective than security cameras at times. It is important to pay attention to them and make sure they are valued members of the school.
  • The administration was afraid of confrontation! They should have directly called Sandusky in and discussed the incidents with several members of the administration all present. I know it is distasteful, but no one mentioned the specific acts during interviews. It is very important for administrators to go straight to the heart of the matter and not avoid difficult conversations.
  • The university president did not report the investigation in 1998 and 2001 to the Board of Trustees. School Administrators need to keep the Board informed on incidents like this.
  • I learned the Clery Act is a law that obligates universities to document crimes and to give safety information to the school community so they can be informed regarding personal security. Penn State failed in complying to this law.

A jury recently found Sandusky guilty on 45 counts of sexual child abuse and he will spend the rest of his life in prison. In the report, the janitor recalls seeing Sandusky driving slowly by the locker rooms at 2:00 AM, after the janitor saw him with a boy in the showers. This tells me that Sandusky knew that he was doing wrong and was afraid of being caught.

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