One year ago today, the Sandusky scandal began. One year later, here we are.

I offer my thoughts on the Paterno legacy, such as it is. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to recite the monumental (literally) good that Joe Paterno and the Paterno family have done. Rather, I’m going to speak about his legacy, meaning that which survives after he is gone. Because, while a person’s life determines his or her legacy might be, ultimately it’s the way the living think of the dead after they are gone that constitutes what his or her legacy really is.

A summary: In the heat and passion of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury presentment against Jerry Sandusky in November 2011, the news media “understood that the story was Paterno.” Although it was Jerry Sandusky and two other University officers who were indicted, it was Joe Paterno who was most visibly and most consistently vilified in the national media — to the extent that months later, a plurality of Americans identified Joe Paterno as the child predator rather than Jerry Sandusky.

During this time Louis Freeh conducted an investigation that interviewed none of those four men and came to a conclusion greeted almost universally with some level of suspicion. But it achieved its purpose, which was to vindicate the Board’s decisions. Through it all, not only Joe Paterno but the entire Paterno family had their defenders—from students outraged at the Trustees for firing him, to alumni, friends, and bystanders who tasted the bitterness of the only man (and the football coach, at that) to express any wish for having done more. Nevertheless, it was Joe Paterno, the most decent man in the story, who was destroyed, by a mass culture that constantly implied that he was somehow the most guilty.

The Paradox of the Sandusky Scandal and our Response

The paradox of it all is this: as the piling on became worse and worse, and more people became outraged and dismayed with the treatment of Joe Paterno, his family, and the University by extension, we were told that we were out of place because we were acting like we were the victims — as if the University, or Joe Paterno, or his family were the victims of the tragedy, rather than Jerry Sandusky’s child-victims.

As we became outraged by the degradation of Joe Paterno and the University well below even Jerry Sandusky on the scale of public hatred, we spoke out. Hey, let’s hold on a minute here. Who was the real villain, again? And it was those of us who ventured caution or spoke proudly of the University or Paterno who were sidelined and told it was our values that were out of line, that it was our sense of perspective that was off!

The paradox, again: (1) The Sandusky scandal was so great in horror that it wasn’t about Penn State or the Paternos (2) which is why no sanction of punishment of Penn State or the Paternos is harsh enough (3) and to speak well of the University or the Paternos is out of line!

Do you see how strange this year has been? We can almost universally agree with Statement 1, but we cannot simultaneously agree to both Statements 2 and 3. If the NCAA sanctions, or the manner of firing of Paterno, or the treatment of the name of the family is out of line, then decency compels us to speak up for them. After all, it is the students, faculty, alumni, and employees of the University who had nothing to do with this who will bear the brunt of the punishments. This seems utterly lacking in perspective, not to mention any sense of fairness.

The Sandusky scandal was certainly not about Joe Paterno or Penn State, and we were certainly not the victims on Nov. 5, 2011, but the crushing weight of hatred and condemnation for the University, the Paternos, and our values from everyone who decided somewhere along the way that they “understood that the story was Paterno” have made us — the entire University and people of the Nittany Valley — victims, also. No, certainly not on anything like the same scale; but victims nonetheless.

What we also cannot forget is that the moral certitude of social condemnation does nothing for the victims — their justice was found in the courtroom, and in the legal settlements they will receive. We have legal justice precisely so that innocent people don’t lose their heads in the public square.

The Paterno Legacy as it Lives and Breathes

Joe Paterno is dead, and we carry on speaking about him, and what we can ultimately only speculate over about his motivations, his actions and inactions, and his legacy. What is the Paterno legacy? It’s his life and the life of his family, of course. It’s also a reflection of who are, because we create the Paterno legacy by our treatment of the dead man and his family. But people who from the start were so quick to judge, so quick to let the mob lead, so unwilling to speak for him, are not a particularly admirable people. This is the thing that few have admitted with particular candor.

I don’t claim to be a better man because I’ve spoken warmly of the Paterno family, but I do know I would be a lesser man for presuming from the start the worst about him. I know I would be a lesser man for presuming to know his soul, and his sincerity, and his culpability — all things we have as a community simultaneously admitted is beyond our ability to know and yet refused to let escape our mighty judgment.

The Paternos have built, and built, and built. They continue to do so. And we’ve torn down — his name certainly, and also his statue, and places of honor from athletic trophies to academic chairs and endowments and on. We tell ourselves we’re doing this because the name is tainted, except that each time we tear down we are the ones tainting our own name. This is not Christian, which is what most of us in this Nittany Valley profess to be, because it’s not dishonoring or tainting the dead man who is now beyond our grasp but in actuality tainting his family who live and breathe among us.

What is it that we have set ourselves to building?

We have understood the NCAA sanctions to be unjust because they’re a moral statement that harms the innocent and living rather than the dead, the fired, or imprisoned, or the institution. The University will live on even if it means losing four years of bowl games. Real students are bearing the weight of punishment so that small men and women can make a morality play. This false morality is present every time someone strikes against the Paterno name, because to strike against it is only to strike against the living.

When someone dies, they’re no longer useful to us. Who we are is reflected in how we treat those who are not immediately useful to us — useful to whatever ambitions and goals we hold in our hearts. The Paterno legacy is the story of us, and a legacy of intolerance, lack of patience, disregard for due process, and indifference to the truth for the sake of an easy narrative. As many have pointed out, it is the definition of scapegoating. The Paterno legacy ends on a particularly dark note because we are ending it that way.

“We have difficulty as a nation — this is American, and it relates to our particular time — we have difficulty admiring people,” writes Bill James. “We take such pride in our skepticism. But the natural antithesis of skepticism, the celebration of virtue and accomplishment, is wandering lost somewhere. It is the age of the anti-hero.”

A great hero has died, and so-o-o many people just want to deface his grave. It is not a pretty sight.

A friend forwarded this to me in an e-mail earlier today. It’s circulating apparently, but as far as I know the author is unknown.

The witchhunt is over
The mob got their wish
To land a defenseless
Carcass on their dish

Because no one would stop them
No one would say
There are still unheard players
In this tragic play

So they asked for an arm
And a leg and a head
And were given a statue
While all our hearts bled

The hypocrites blathered
With hate and disdain
They wanted us dead
But they’ll still show our games?

But I know they can’t kill us
They can’t keep us weak
We will not be cowered
Because our leaders were meek

Penn state is just football?
Not on your life
It’s because we are more
That we will beat this strife

The professors will research
Will find the next cure
The students will party
Of that I am sure

Rose’s girls will keep spiking
Cael’s boys keep on pinning
And despite what “they” say
It won’t just be ‘bout winning

They’ll do it the right way
As has always been done
They can vacate the wins
But we know what we won

Tell it to MRob
Tell it to Poz
To Sean Lee and Connor
Then protect your jaws

Penn State’s about people
Penn State’s about pride
NCAA can’t govern
What we feel inside

They can’t kill our memories
Can’t take back our friends
And they can’t force our story
To a premature end

The haters can hate us
Our leaders can cave
But our student body
Can’t be made to behave

They’ll still dance for cancer
Their studies won’t cease
They will change the world
If not solve world peace

How to move forward?
JoePa knows that play
Written worlds only hurt
If you believe what they say

We all know the truth
Where the failings occurred
And won’t let our entire
Culture get slurred

Coach OB is staying
A man with some courage
Who faces a challenge
And won’t be discouraged

The fans back with a vengeance
Led by a great leader
Though they MIGHT be fewer
The wins will be sweeter

When each season is over
And the games are all played
The players can proudly say
I’m one who stayed

They’ll mean more in our hearts
Than any past team
Because they all hung tough
When Prez Rod made us scream

Kick us while we’re down?
Do at your own risk
Because we will be back
Like a tornadoes’ twist

You learn more about people
When you’re at your worst low
Who is behind me
As I get up and go?

Go harness your anger
Let it drive you each day
To keep Penn State great
And make our enemies pay

We will get our revenge
When we just won’t die
When we don’t limp away
To our bedroom and cry

The last chapter’s not written
We still own our fate
It’s up to us to decide

A short note for sharing especially within the Penn State family: Anyone who speaks about the Nittany Valley or Joe Paterno will risk being destroyed by the mob and the fever in these heady days immediately post-Freeh. Anyone who thinks even slightly differently than the consensus of enmity will be branded a cultist, deemed a Sandusky-sympathizer, any implicitly told “tear down your thinking or we’ll tear you down.”

Nonetheless, here is an aspect of the post-Freeh narrative that I’ve observed taking place in the mention anywhere of Penn State University, Joe Paterno, or the Nittany Valley. I posted a version of this as a comment to Onward State’s “Joe Paterno’s Legacy and Moving Forward” piece.

One of the things I’ve noticed about how many of us are speaking about Joe Paterno is that we’re faced with dealing with an enormous chasm of cognitive dissonance. It’s evidenced here somewhat in Kevin’s piece, and it can be summarized in this way:

“Joe Paterno sought to lead a profoundly decent life, and over the course of his career positively impacted too many to count, so much so that he literally has transformed our community with his vision. “We are” because “he was,” and he and his wife are in the best tradition of our values. This Joe Paterno also profoundly and tragically seems to have mishandled Jerry Sandusky, and so no defense of him or his legacy could befit the conduct of an honorable human being.”

Neither half can be true without the other, and neither should work to suggest Joe Paterno is a man not worth redeeming if we want to do anything other than go insane by trying to replace one illusion with another.

Previous: ‘They Wiped Our Epitome Off the Slate’

As I sit down to write here in the early morning hours of July 12, 2012 my spirit is weary. I’m a Penn Stater, you see, and later this morning Louis Freeh will be releasing his report on his investigation into the roots of the Jerry Sandusky scandal — or as his website promises, “the facts and circumstances of the actions of The Pennsylvania State University” surrounding the scandal. As a Catholic, I’ve seen this story before. No one wins. All stand to lose. And I am weary of it.

Since even before this crisis hit our consciousness in early November 2012 I’ve been writing about Penn State, about the Nittany Valley, and about Joe Paterno. I’ve spent years of my life thinking, approaching, and exploring the roots of the magic of our special Happy Valley. And there is magic here. This is one of the things I’ve noticed since the scandal, an undercurrent of sentiment suggesting a collective foolishness; that our way has always been without purpose; that our worship of an ideal of conduct has been folly given how far we’ve fallen from its attainment.

During this time when every outsider ascends his highest ground and in our collective and rightly-felt rage at this entire saga there is also a deeply corrosive undercurrent of sentiment that’s screaming…

To Hell With You. You Are Not Special. You Are Base. You Are Vile. You Are Nothing.

We of the Nittany Valley know the rage of the outside world is, in a sense, inconsequential, but also that this outpouring of enmity is perhaps not without warrant, but also not typically within the bounds of reason.

We know that as members of a family — the Penn State Family — we have somehow fallen short of our ideals. We are in, in a sense, an emotional wilderness. Yet we remain conscious of a lingering thing — that our ideals have caused great and concrete good in real lives for longer than the life of any man, and ideals, being things by definition beyond attainment, are otherworldy things. They’re magical, in other words. And they remain a part of us, and whether even we like it or not, of our most heroic and public molders and representatives, Joe and Sue Paterno.

Even amidst the enmity from within and without, many of us retain a sense that no family can survive that destroys its own. The inestimable poet Rudyard Kipling once wrote about this sense; to him, Penn Staters were The Thousandth Man.

In 2006 I founded Safeguard Old State not as A Thousandth Man, but really as A Simple Boy — as a student with an experience and intuition of the University’s administration and governing class that felt more interested in power than authentic trusteeship. Over the course of two years I wrote more than 135,000 words through more than 250 posts exploring Graham Spanier, Vicky Triponey, and his administration’s imperial mentality toward students and student life. I wrote and explored and criticized out of love — love for what I had come to Penn State thinking my experience would be, and love for what I knew from its history it once had been, and could be once more. I came to ask questions like, “Is Penn State a Real University?” This quest of knowledge lingers, probably for the rest of my life.

Since leaving the University and now observing the Nittany Valley from the City of Brotherly Love, I’ve continued to share my observations, perspective, and thinking on the University as an idea, on Joe and Sue Paterno, and on the meaning to be found from this crisis of character and purpose. I’ve written 10,000+ words here alone since autumn.

I offer this background to preface what I’m about to share, which is my scattered thinking in the moments before the University and our Penn State Family is rocked once more.

Creation and Destruction

It is so extraordinarily difficult to create, and so simple — almost villainously so — to destroy. Whatever the contents of the Freeh Report, it is diligent to bear in mind that blame for the convicted or, God forbid, the dead, is neither truly brave nor simply honest. It is in the most accurate sense the action of the unaccountable judge, because no response can be mustered to answer either verdict.

Whatever the future of the Nittany Valley and of the University, our challenge is creating a culture guided by the best aspects of our legacy. Not tearing down some parts of a culture already discredited, leaving other parts conveniently intact. Certain figures in this story of ours undeniably sought to create goodness, to add to the magic of our community. An honest accounting can not condemn them authoritatively or authentically.

The Freeh Report as Signal

At its core, and setting aside the inevitable disputes over its objectivity, the Freeh Report will serve as a signal. A signal in the sense that it will convey perhaps both implicitly and explicitly what portions of our legacy we’re allowed to carry forward into the future.

Our honor is at stake in the investigation. Also, many of us perceive a risk of this report which is that an investigation can be simultaneously unbiased and misdirected in its focus. This is hopefully a minor risk. Another thing, not often politely brought up: Louis Freeh’s professional career has been described by TIME as a “fairly vulgar picture.”

So. What I’m suggesting with the Freeh Report as a signal is basically that it is our nature to be caught up in the mob, and the danger of the report is that it will justify such a feeling. Yet our enmity is not the best of us, and so no single report can really represent the final word on who we choose to be.

On the Motives of the Trustees

One of the most obvious criticisms of the Board of Trustees since the breaking of the scandal has been the extent of their supposed ignorance about it all. How could responsible men and woman have truly heard no whispers — most especially if there was an active cover up? At the least how could they have not seen or questioned Sara Ganim’s March 2011 Patriot News story on the Grand Jury investigation?

Amidst all this then, it’s prudent to consider that of the established power groups at the University, only the Trustees as a unified body remain intact post-scandal. Graham Spanier is fired. Joe Paterno is dead. The trustees — all 48 of them (including emeritus trustees and excepting the four newly elected in May) remain. The ultimate stewards who so profoundly failed in their sole charge remain.

What am I suggesting? Quite simply this: If there is one institutional, highly organized, connected, and powerful group within the University emblematic of its worst culture of secrecy, it is the Board of Trustees and the remaining Trustees alone. They remain standing, and they’ve funded an investigation into that culture — whose root and cause of internal inaction lies in their own standing orders.

Caution would suggest a healthy suspicion, or at least caution against a foolhardy notion, of supreme non-bias on the part of these institutional trustees.

A Trustee Vignette

In January I sat down for a beer with one of the trustees. During our conversation I heard for the first time from this person’s mouth what I came to hear as an echo in the months since then and to now: The Freeh Report will be big, and it will make Joe Paterno, and everyone, look poorly.

It was startling to hear this when the Freeh Report was just getting started. How could a trustee — or anyone — know what the conclusion or even general theme of the report would be without also having a knowledge of who was guiding the questions being asked? Ever since this conversation, I’ve wondered to myself how fundamentally the conclusion of this report — whatever it turns out to be in a few hours — should be questioned as being a foregone.

Joe Paterno and Academic Sincerity

Was the “Grand Experiment” just so many words — a clever cover for a football factory? This is one of the questions in the minds of many about Joe Paterno today. A bit of history can furnish a response.

It was Coach Paterno himself in 1984, in the weeks following his first national championship win when all Penn State was congratulating itself, who addressed the Board of Trustees and called on them to raise Penn State to a national academic leader — to embark on the Campaign for Penn State, our first public fundraising campaign, and to prioritize academics and scholarship with a new library for learning. This is a critical moment in our institutional-family history that we cannot afford to forget if we choose to take the moral or ethical measure of Joe Paterno’s sincerity, or wonder whether a man who turned down better opportunities for 61 years devoted himself to coaching as a vocation rather than a career.

In other words, it was Joe Paterno’s own challenge that led the Board of Trustees to imagine the University we are witness to today. This historical account speaks both about the nature of the Trustees and the approach of Paterno.

Vicky Triponey’s Legacy

The culture of centralized authority, or what we call more simply power, predated Vicky Triponey, the one-time Vice President for Student Affairs, but to students during her time here she came to embody it most directly.

She famously re-appeared in the Wall Street Journal in November, and if whispers are any indication appears to play some role in the Freeh Report as well. This is ironic, as students from her tenure at the University will remember her quest for power and centralized authority when it came to her stripping student radio of funding after it refused to let her regulate its content, or when it came to her dissolution of student government, or her stripping students of the ability to charter student groups.

These are reasons she was disliked and feared as Vice President for Student Affairs — she was the most visible agent of Graham Spanier’s imperial presidency. So her tale to this point rings hollow for those with memory of her efforts to actively shrink the scope student leadership with a culture where she alone decided the flow of power.

Vicky Triponey was no crusader against a “culture of secrecy;” far from it. She was, likely, hired to enforce and strengthen it, and when Graham Spanier was afforded the opportunity to cleanly cut her loose for her failure to do so (while laying any consequence in the lap of his rival Joe Paterno), he happily took it.

The Purpose of Leaks

Leaks have flowed from the Freeh investigation, and based on the nature of the investigation the information revealed would have had to come from one of two sources: either the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General or the Penn State Board of Trustees. Further, Gov. Corbett as a member of the Board of Trustees admits to having been briefed on the e-mails the Freeh investigation — supposedly secret and beyond the reach of the eyes of the Board of Trustees — uncovered.

What are leaks? What are they intended to do? Leaks are specific pieces of information, taken from a larger context, released at a precise time and intended to shape the public narrative of a story. Leaks — and their leakers — seek to frame a narrative and decide a debate.

This is how journalism and investigations are influenced. Leaks prime the pump for a specific, desired story to emerge from a larger release of information like the 100-150 page Freeh Report we’ll all read later today. Leaks prime the pump for specific people to win, and specific people to lose. They’re not impartial parcels of facts. They’re not value neutral. They carry intent.

The Freeh investigation’s indifference to these leaks, combined with the Trustees apparently knowledge of at least some of the investigation’s content, suggest troubling possibilities. A parting observation here: the speed of the response of the Board of Trustees to the Freeh Report should indicate how much they knew in advance.

Experiencing a Genuine Masterpiece

I spoke earlier about the magic of the Nittany Valley, and of the place the University calls home. It is enculturated in all those who linger long enough in Central Pennsylvania to come to know it. All of this will frustrate the purely pragmatic reader, because it is truly and really something unquantifiable.

In Joe Paterno’s autobiography, he writes about Virgil as essential to understanding what “makes him tick.” Specifically, he shares that his view of learning is to provide young people with an experience of a “genuine masterpiece.” To understand what I’m saying you’ll need to listen to the thing in its full context, but what strikes me is that worthwhile people don’t tend to speak this way.

Our instincts have been to stick by Joe and Sue Paterno — to be The Thousandth Man, generally. And Joe Paterno’s own life on the whole doesn’t really work to suggest we shouldn’t have this instinct.

Seeking Truth

According to his family, Joe Paterno’s final instruction to his family was to “pursue the truth.” This directive does not sound like the instruction of a man with a trembling conscience. For the dying, it seems difficult to imagine a glib attitude.

In the wake of today’s Freeh Report, we’ll all hopefully work to seek truth and to reconcile the contradictions in this story. Ultimately, I do not expect this Report to be the final word on the character or nature of our University, or of many of the people who’ve come to exemplify its best aspects.

We the living will carry on the legacy we choose to claim.

Penn State Trustees knew about the sex-abuse allegations and grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky at least as early as May of last year, seven months prior to the release of the explosive grand jury report’s release, according to Penn State President Rodney Erickson:

Penn State University trustees were briefed by then-President Graham Spanier about a grand jury investigation of child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky months before his arrest, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said. …

Despite anger from alumni and others directed at the board of trustees, including calls for their ouster, Mr. Erickson said he believes the board is still in a position to provide meaningful leadership to the university.

But he acknowledged criticism that the board and university administration had been too cozy.

“There needs to be a healthy separation,” he said.

And as if that weren’t enough, Jerry Sandusky was given a ticket to Beaver Stadium and access to then-President Graham Spanier’s box to watch Joe Paterno’s record-breaking 409th win. This was just a week prior to his arrest on multiple counts of child sex abuse.

Could there be any clearer indication that Joe Paterno’s firing was a means to scapegoat a legend — someone who could be offered up as the most visible and delicious figure to blame — by a cowardly and basically ineffectual Board of Trustees?

Whatever blame one wants to place on Coach Paterno for not “doing more” to stop Jerry Sandusky must be amplified by one thousand with respect to President Spanier and the Board of Trustees, the head and ultimate stewards — who where aware of the investigation and allegations — any yet did nothing to distance themselves or the institution from a man under criminal investigation for child sex abuse.

Penn State’s new president Rodney Erickson, in suggesting the present trustees can still “provide meaningful leadership” is saying what any employee must, I suppose, but his defense of his bosses shouldn’t be taken seriously. This is a board that was apprised of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged depredations at least seven months prior to the crisis breaking, and their reaction was – at best – blind faith in President Spanier and his administration.

If their collective inaction on this central, single, critical issue is not enough to assign them blame for dereliction of duty, what is?

Over the past eight weeks, in the fallout from the public Jerry Sandusky scandal, I’ve written at length about the body I believe is most responsible for the coverup and disaster that the depredations of one man have needlessly caused to Penn Staters as an entire family.

That body is Penn State’s Board of Trustees. They’ve encouraged information-starvation, they’ve engaged in a bumbling, embarrassing response, and they’ve explicitly made a culture of secrecy the order of the day through their standing orders, making transparent, frank public disclosure impossible. I cannot stress this last point enough.

ABC News now reports with Penn State Memos Show Funding Fears, Secrecy Effort:

In the first memo, issued nine days after the charges were filed, new school President Rodney Erickson told the 47-member Board of Trustees that the public-relations teams of the university and the athletic department had met to “align our messages” …

Also Nov. 15, the two top-ranking members of the Board of Trustees wrote to other board members to say that debate among the full board, including emeritus members, had become too cumbersome in the eyes of many trustees.

“We need to streamline the communications among and with members of the board,” Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John Surma wrote, days after media reports surfaced of eroding support for Paterno and Spanier. “First and foremost, there have been serious breaches in confidentiality of our discussions and we will take the necessary steps to address these. Second, a smaller group will be more effective to provide feedback to President Erickson.”

The executive committee was designated to serve that function, Garban and Surma wrote, adding that no major policy steps would be taken without appropriate participation by the full board.

Now, understand what Trustee Vice Chairman John Surma means when he frets about “serious breaches in confidentiality of our discussion” as a reason to eliminate strategic, open deliberation and discourse among the voting trustees.

Centralization and Alignment before Deliberation

What all this really gets to is this: the entire purpose of the Trustees is to serve as the stewards of the University, as strategic deliberators for responsible governance. In times of crisis, the “alignment” President Rodney Erickson spoke of needs to be all the more deliberative.

The Jerry Sandusky crisis became the firestorm it was primarily due to the decision by a few who possessed centralized power and discretion to keep it a secret, basically. And when the crisis breaks, the Trustees’ response is to eliminate discourse and “align” on decisions within a circle of 5-6 people of 31 voting members?

Centralized executive power created the culture of secrecy that led to a cover up even being possible.

And Rodney Erickson and John Surma’s approach in the wake of crisis was to double down on that centralization and the elimination of “careful consideration or discussion” in its approach to everything, most prominently the firing Joe Paterno, itself ill-timed at 10:30pm and causing a campus riot.

I understand the inconvenience of the Board of Trustees functioning as a deliberative body. Fewer voices is always easier, especially when PR-driven “alignment,” rather than strategic stewardship, is your metric.

But the eschewing of deliberation and the functional disenfranchisement of elected trustees until the very last possible moment before voting to do things like fire Joe Paterno represent not simply a difference in approach to leadership, but the dereliction of the duty of trusteeship.

The Consequences of Centralization over Deliberation

And that approach to leadership, the consulting-driven centralized “alignment” approach, has real differences in consequence. Like a student riot, property destruction, alumni disgust, donor bullying, and an overall approach that taints the authenticity of the rest of the Penn State family’s response to this tragedy.

Joe Paterno, despite the administration canceling his press conference, spoke consistently to the media from his home, and to the students, demonstrating specific, transparent, and candid remorse and a tearful apology.

Contrast this with the devil-may-care attitude toward leadership within the Penn State Trustees and central administration. Graham Spanier, the president, essentially went into hiding as news broke, and hasn’t been heard from since he talked about only ever “conducting himself honorably.” Okay.

Because when an executive committee (5-6 people) makes the decisions, and when the entire board that (as required) falls in line and is shielded from public accountability, who really needs to give a damn?

The Penn State Trustees’ hand-off-responsibility, eliminate-deliberation, duck-and-cover approach to crisis leadership isn’t an aberration, but the natural consequence of a group that’s never really had to perform their duty of deliberation and strategic stewardship.

A Real Dereliction of Duty

That’s why, despite initial news of the grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky and Penn State breaking in the Harrisburg Patriot-News as early as March of 2011, none of the 31 voting trustees thought it worth their time to have a plan in case of the worst.

There are a few ways to interpret this:

  1. The Patriot-News broke the story of the sex abuse investigation in March 2011, and the entire board never knew. In which case they should resign.
  2. The Patriot-News broke the story and some of the trustees read it, and asked no questions of Graham Spanier. In which case they should resign.
  3. The Patriot-News broke the story and some/all of them read it, and asked the administration, and went along without real inquiry. In which case they should resign.

The dirty little-big secret of the Penn State Trustees is that “debate among the full board” has for years been “too cumbersome.” So that debate doesn’t happen, and critical questions fester unasked or wished away. The executive committee decides a course of action in conjunction with the administration, and the rest align on that course of action.

This is the secret of how a supposedly deliberative body of 31 voting trustees has systematically failed in their role as strategic stewards of Penn State.