HR Pros – Neutralized HR at the Center of the Penn State Incident

Former Penn State President, Graham Spanier, probably the last to be held accountable in the 2000 child abuse incident, is to begin a prison sentence on July 9th 2022 according to CNN 5/26/2021 – “Former Penn State President Graham Spanier will start prison sentence on July 9, judge rules.”

Child protection

What happened?

As you may remember, in 2000, an assistant coach witnessed a child rape in a campus locker room by Jerry Sandusky. From there, information was relayed to the prestigious football coach, Joe Paterno and President Spanier and a coverup began. It was eventually determined that Sandusky went on to abuse approximately 45 boys from 1999 to 2009.  Coach Paterno and Spanier were later found by an independent investigation, to have known about the allegations of Sandusky’s child abuse as early as 1998 but did not sanction him or report the allegations to the police. Then, janitors and a graduate student reported eye witness reports of abuse in the locker room around 2002 but not until a parent reported her son’s sexual abuse in 2009 did the matter rise to non-campus law enforcement. In 2011, grand jury testimoney began to parse the details of some of the origninal reports to Paterno and Spanier. Both were fired in November of 2011. A comprehensive timeline of these events were reported by NPR, “Penn State Abuse Scandal: A Guide And Timeline.”

How did this happen?

From a sociological and organization development viewpoint, there was a dual power structure at the college that led to a failure to hold Sandusky or Paterno accountable. On the one hand, the President was the highest responsible party for the college. On the other hand, the college footbal program annointed Paterno as a more powerful force of the college. One of the later news stories noted that when football players were accused of wrong doing, including sexual assault, Paterno intervened to prevent consequences to them, as well (Inside Higher Ed, “Historic fine for Penn State”). Sandusky, who was an assistant coach from 1969 to 1999 had formed a strong relationship with Paterno and the college that continued after he retired. After a long period of inaction, the allegations came to light based upon a 2009 mother’s report to noncampus authorities. Due to the grand jury indictment and eventual trial, Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse in 2012.

Internal Policies

A comprehensive investigation and report cited a diminished role for Human Resources who might have otherwise developed conventional conduct and safety policies and perhaps could have advocated for consistent application of those policies. One of the recommendations of the report was for HR to report to the President and not the Finance group. A basic background review policy, might have supported safer standards at the college. According to reports, in 2010, a background review might have turned up concerning information.
“In May 2010, Juniata College refused to hire Sandusky for a volunteer position after he failed to pass a routine background check.” (Inside Higher Ed, “Historic fine for Penn State”)
A policy restricting campus access to those with an employment reason to be there might have been important. Sandusky enjoyed “unfettered” access to the campus having retired with emeritus status and full access to the campus and football facilities, including the locker rooms which he used with young boys in tow (Inside Higher Ed, “Historic fine for Penn State”).

The height of tone-deaf hypocracy – 2021

For the mothers and children who were not believed or were ignored, I give you arrogant attorney for Spanier, Sam Silver, who made the following statement as reported 5/25/2021 in CNN’s story on Spanier’s unsucessful jail sentence appeal:
“It is disturbing that during this global health crisis, the Pennsylvania Attorney General has insisted that a 72-year-old who has serious health conditions should enter a correctional facility for any term of confinement for a conviction on a single, non-violent misdemeanor,” Silver said in an email statement to CNN. “It is blind to reality and callous of the Commonwealth.”
Disappointing, doesn’t begin to assess this remark, juxtaposed to the numerous boys who suffered the abuse; the families who learned of it and got nowhere; and the apparently unsuspecting nonathletic students who attended Penn State during this time, trusting the college to be upright and moral. If only the right thing had been done in 1998.
(C) Copyright Benoit Consulting, LLC 2021 all rights reserved.
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