Can Penn State Repair Its Image?

In the wake of the release this week of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s damning report on the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, all eyes are focused on what could and should happen next. Legal experts say in addition to the current charges of perjury against now-retired university vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley, both men along with ex-president Graham Spanier could well be charged with child endangerment. Joe Paterno could be facing similar charges were he still alive.

In a national article released yesterday by the Associated Press, reporter Bree Fowler examined how the university might work to repair its image, including talking to Tanner Friedman. You can view the entire article here in an online pickup from ABC News. The first step had to be an examination of what exactly happened and what went wrong – thus the Freeh report, paid for by the university. This report had to be thorough, honest and ‘no holds barred’ in order to be credible. And, with its its shocking findings, it was all that and more.

Moving forward, those responsible must be tried fairly in a court of law, and if the system finds against them, punished. At the same time, the university must reassure current and future students, faculty, alumni and the world that this will never happen again? How? By very publicly putting into place new standards and processes for reporting and dealing with reports and allegations of criminal behavior. There has to be total transparency and a system of checks and balances where no office or officials of the university ever have the power or the ability to circumvent the system. And, that system has to be followed consistently every time, without fail, no matter whom is involved.

Yesterday, a mural depicting the history of Penn State leadership, which adorns the university bookstore, was altered by the artist for the second time since the scandal broke last year. In November, Sandusky was removed. On Saturday, a halo, placed above Paterno’s death upon his death last January, was painted over. A blue ribbon, signifying sexual abuse awareness, was added to his jacket. As for the Joe Paterno statue, despite calls for its removal, has reported in the past hour that the Penn State Board of Trustees  has voted to leave the statue on place, at least for now. One would hope that, at some point, the Board strongly considers what the community – including those attending the university, alumni and the state of Pennsylvania at large – has to say. From there, Penn State should make this and all future decisions based on openness, transparency and what is right, not with isolationism, elitism and closed doors.