The Freeh Report: The Cost of an Accountability-Free Climate Comes Home to Roost
Louis Freeh documents the atrocities of Penn State’s culture of non-accountability [pdf, pp. 14-15]:
The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. . . .
Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University — President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley, and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno — failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. . . .
These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events . . .
By not promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him, Spanier failed in his duties as President. The Board also failed in its duties to oversee the President and senior University officials in 1998 and 2001 by not inquiring about important University matters and by not creating an environment where senior University officials felt accountable.
Sounds a lot like what I wrote last November has been borne out by Freeh’s investigators:
All the media attention has been on Joe Paterno, but I was struck more by the fact that the Trustees canned PSU President Graham Spanier. I don’t know what role he may or may not have had in keeping Sandusky’s actions out of view of the police, but I am virtually certain he kept it out of the view of the Board. I suspect that he didn’t keep them in the loop about the state’s investigation of Sandusky, which Penn State administrators clearly knew about well before last Saturday’s arrests. . . .
If Spanier didn’t tell his board what was going on, they would have been beyond pissed when it all hit the fan. Add in that Spanier’s initial reaction was taken straight from the RC bishop’s handbook in protecting those who covered things up (shorter Spanier: “We stand behind our AD and VP/Finance unconditionally”), and Spanier was toast in the Board’s eyes.
This is all-too-predictable by anyone who has dealt with child abuse at an institutional level.
Abusers and potential abusers delight in climates where accountability is absent. They notice that wrongdoers of any stripe are able to avoid accountability by cultivating the right friends in the right places. They are keenly aware of who is looking and who is not. Most of all, they see what it takes to get a pass for some transgression. Abusers need access to children, they need an opportunity to take advantage, and most of all they need a climate without accountability and oversight so that there will be no consequences if they get caught.
At Penn State, Jerry Sandusky hit the jackpot with Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno.
The Chronicle of Higher Education is the most widely-read paper in the offices of academic administrators across the country, and they have been following this unfolding mess closely. (Here’s their Freeh Report coverage page.) They close their latest piece with this:
“The Freeh report is a scathing indictment of Graham Spanier and others who fostered a culture at Penn State that valued football over possible child sexual assault victims,” said John M. Burkoff, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and expert on criminal law in Pennsylvania. “It certainly appears to me that an actual indictment of Spanier would appear now to be all but inevitable.”
I agree. And long overdue, just as the indictment and conviction of Msgr. William Lynn was long overdue.
In the days ahead, hands will be wrung and chests will be beaten. But if you’re looking for signs of a culture that lacks accountability, watch and listen for the widespread and abundant use of the passive voice. “Mistakes were made. . . . Policies were not followed . . . ” Yes, mistakes were made — and they were made by real people. Yes, policies were not followed — they were not followed by real people. Unless and until the climate of non-accountability disappears, abusers will continue their abusive ways.
Child abusers will do it, and the price will be paid by children, their families, and their communities.
Unscrupulous mine owners will do it, and the price will be paid by their workers, their families, and their communities.
Mortgage and financial industry abusers will do it, and the price will be paid by homeowners, their families, their communities, as well as investors and the broader economy as a whole.
The energy industry will do it, as will the health insurance industry, the military, and anyone else who puts protecting their own power ahead of doing what’s right. The MOTUs of all stripes will continue in their ways, unless and until accountability comes raining in on their parades.
Bill Black regularly bemoans “regulatory capture,” by which he means that the ostensible overseers have become the partners and servants of those they are supposed to be watching over. Penn State is learning the hard way about what happens when accountability returns home after a long absence. Good.
Now if only the SEC, the Fed, the DOJ, the bishops and cardinals of Roman Catholic church, and others in authority would learn that same lesson, because there’s an urgent need for climate change when it comes to accountability that stretches well beyond University Park, Pennsylvania.
photo h/t: Audreyjm529. The inscription to the right of the statue reads “They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place not just that I was a good football coach.” After reading this report, all I can add is “Good luck with that, Joe.”