PENN STATE COACH Joe Paterno is gone. So too is the university’s longtime president, Graham Spanier. The Nittany Lions are gearing up for a game this week against Ohio State, having lost Saturday’s home game against Nebraska. Students are refocusing attention on their studies. Things seem to be quieting down after a week in which the State College, Pa., campus was rocked by allegations of child sexual abuse and the institution’s seeming indifference. However, there can be no return to normalcy until every detail of this painful episode is uncovered and disclosed.
The university’s Board of Trustees — which made the necessary decision to dismiss Mr. Paterno and Mr. Spanier last week — correctly launched its own investigation into the scandal centering around the school’s former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Trustee Kenneth Frazier, named to chair a special committee that will also include the state’s secretary of education, promised a “rigorous” and “impartial” examination of the cases involving Mr. Sandusky, who has been charged with sexual abuse and assault involving eight young boys over a span of 15 years. He has denied wrongdoing and is scheduled for a court hearing Dec. 7.
It’s possible that more charges will be brought and other people will be charged in the still-unfolding criminal investigation. Clearly, further examination is needed of Second Mile, the charity Mr. Sandusky allegedly used to target his victims and which had some warning about his behavior.
But any criminal review leaves unanswered fundamental questions about Penn State’s failure to properly confront — and ultimately halt — the victimization of young boys. A case in point is the 28-year-old graduate assistant who told the grand jury that he witnessed Mr. Sandusky raping a young boy in a shower in the school’s football facilities. The assistant, identified in news reports as Mike McQueary, has come under some withering public criticism (including reprehensible threats of violence) for his actions: He followed his father’s advice and reported the incident to Mr. Paterno, who, in turn, passed it on to school administrators. Mr. McQueary, since placed on administrative leave by the school, broke no law and he — in contrast to two Penn State officials who are alleged to have lied to the grand jury — fully cooperated with authorities.
The question is why Mr. McQueary did nothing more: immediately call 911, insist that Mr. Paterno or other school officials notify police, or take additional action when it became clear the only action being taken was barring Mr. Sandusky from bringing youths on campus. Did Mr. McQueary and the other officials lose sight of an obligation to that child because of their sense of obligation to the university and its all-important football program? In short, what do their actions say about the university?
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) framed the issue this way Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “Is this just a culture of people not questioning what is going on, not passing information along as they should? . . . The question should be, ‘What is the openness at Penn State?’ ”
How vigorously the Board of Trustees undertakes its review will go a long way in providing the answers to those questions.