The lead, top-of-fold story running on Page 1 of today’s New York Times Sports Section (“Sports Monday”), discusses “Lessons in Damage Control”. The gist of the story and of the “experts” quoted is essentially that yes, Penn State, like other universities that have had significant crises to deal with, will get through this crisis quicker and with less damage than people now think.
WHAT! Sorry for shouting but what planet are these “experts” living on? Penn State’s troubles are nowhere close to other school crises cited – Virginia Tech’s mad gunman or the Duke men’s lacrosse team. This is nothing less than the worst disaster ever to hit any university in the modern age. Worse than what happened at VT, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame and Kent State. Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, said he thought it was “a matter of time before Penn State again deserved its nickname, Happy Valley”. To which I say again….WHAT!
This is the worst crisis to ever befall a U.S. academic institution. And it won’t end anytime soon. This will live in the courts, to say nothing of the press, for years. This is about criminal misconduct of the worst kind. This is about being “too big to fail,” where a football coach had more power than anyone in the state and no one dared call him on it. It was institutionalized mayhem. Penn State will be paying for this for years.
What to do about it? If I were to advise Penn State I would say this….
- Be as honest and transparent as possible.
- Admit the failings and make real tangible changes that will make sure this cannot happen again.
- Be sensitive. Give all 8 kids (or whatever the number turns out to be) full scholarships.
- Voluntarily take a 4-year death penalty for the football team—don’t play another game for four years. All players currently committed to the school should be released immediately and allowed to go elsewhere.
- Make sure the dirt bags are behind bars.
- Dedicate the school to being #1 in advocating justice for child sex offenders and pedophiles, prevention and in helping to reduce its impact as much as possible. Sponsor academic “Chairs.” Conduct breakthrough research. Hold conferences. Testify before Congress.
In short, do something real. Be genuine. Only then, and with time, may Penn State overcome this blow to its reputation and credibility. To think less, is to be a communications incompetent.