Sanctimonious Hypocrites Can’t Diminish the Warmth for Joe Paterno

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) praised Joe Paterno and ordered flags on all state buildings to fly at half-staff for four days.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had said he was “personally disappointed” in Joe Paterno for not doing more to alert authorities in the Jerry Sandusky case, while acknowledging that Paterno did nothing illegal and followed university rules for conduct.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who, as attorney general, assigned only one investigator to the case in 2009, while devoting almost innumerable personnel and financial resources to prosecute high-profile cases that could help lead him to the governor’s office.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had the authority to order the arrest of Jerry Sandusky as soon as the claims were made, but who allowed the investigation to drag two years.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who stepped up the investigation only in the third year, after he was elected governor.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who accepted about $200,000 in campaign donations from trustees of Sandusky’s Second Mile foundation and then danced around questions of why, as governor, he authorized a $3 million grant to the Second Mile.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who as an ex-officio member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, with the power to increase or decrease state appropriations to the university, big-footed his presence to demand that the Trustees do something to Joe Paterno.

Now, let’s look at the Board of Trustees. On Jan. 22, the day that Joe Paterno died from lung cancer, the Board issued a honey-dripped PR-laden written commemoration.

That, of course, would be the same Board that, influenced by the harpies of the media and a horde of the public who knew everything about everything, except people and football, had wanted to terminate Joe Paterno’s contract after his teams had losing seasons in 2003 and 2004. He was too old, they said. He was getting senile, they claimed. His coaching strategy was too conservative, they cried with the shrill cry of a wounded hyena. But, an 11-1 season in 2005 quieted their panic. And so they stewed, knowing that a football coach, educator, philanthropist, and humanitarian had a greater reputation than all of them combined.

That would be the same Board that violated every expectation of due process, listened to the other sanctimonious hypocrites who were quick to condemn someone without knowing the facts, and by a cowardly and impersonal phone call violated four levels of the chain of command and fired Joe Paterno hours after he had announced his retirement. It was their pathetic way to make people believe they, not the most recognizable person in Penn State history, were in control. The reality, of course, is they botched the firing in a feeble attempt to protect themselves, not Penn State and, certainly, not the rights of a tenured full professor, who had given 61 years of service to the university.

That, of course, would be the same Board that should have known for at least six months, and probably longer, of a grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky’s conduct, but apparently had no crisis management plan to deal with what would become the greatest scandal in its 156-year history.

That, of course, would be the same Board that had operated in a culture of secrecy that regularly violated the state’s Sunshine law and enjoyed its status as receiving state tax moneys while not having to be under the glare of the public right-to-know law.

That, of course, would be the same board that includes the CEOs of U.S. Steel, Merck, and a major division of the Bank of New York Mellon; and an assortment of senior executives from insurance, investment, and education. Even a retired assistant managing editor of The New York Times is on the Board. And, yet, this Gang of 32, which should have known better, bumbled, stumbled, and proved that malfeasance and incompetence is what it should be best known for. For the most part, they acted like undergraduates struggling to earn a grade of “C” in a course in human relations, having already decided they didn’t need the course in business communications.

Now, let’s turn to the new president. The Board forced the resignation of a respected 17-year president for not doing enough to investigate the Sandusky allegations. By most accounts, the new president, formerly the provost and executive vice-president, is a decent person with a good academic reputation. But, is it credible that if the No. 1 person should have known more and done more, how could the No. 2 person be ignorant of the allegations. Nevertheless, the Board sent the newly-minted president out on nothing less than a belated PR field trip to calm the rising storm against the Board for its incompetence and insensitivity in firing Joe Paterno. At three meetings with hundreds of alumni, the new president, facing alumni wrath, did little to alleviate their anger. But, he promised the university would do something—he didn’t know what—he didn’t know how or when—to honor Joe Paterno.

Of course, since the Board was so inept, secret, and hypocritical in its own actions, it had no idea what it was going to do. The Board statement the day of Joe Paterno’s death merely stated the university “plans to honor him,” and is considering “appropriate ways.”

The greatest honor will not come from the Board, the administration, or even the Legislature, many of whom sought the media spotlight to pander to certain voters by condemning the coach. At the statue by Beaver Stadium, thousands of students, staff, faculty, and community residents are coming to pay their respects. Hundreds had met him, for he was one of the more accessible persons in the community, often walking home alone from practices and games; his phone number was in the book; his home was in a quiet residential area not a mansion on a hill reserved for the wealthy. Most of the mourners had never met him, but they all knew him.

On Tuesday, about 27,000 people from all over the United States stood in line up to three hours to walk past the body of Joe Paterno, guarded by past and present scholar-athletes. NFL super-stars and football fans, academics and those who never went to college, all were there to honor the man who was an outstanding quarterback and cornerback who earned an English literature degree from Brown University, one of the more prestigious in the country; a man who later created the “Great Experiment” to develop and promote a winning football program that would make education and citizenship more important than sports, and would make “success with honor” more than words.

Within ten minutes, mourners grabbed the first 10,000 tickets for a Thursday memorial at the Bryce Jordan Center. The center capacity for the memorial is 12,000.

Sue Paterno need not have worried when she quietly asked some mourners to keep her husband warm. When journalism turns into history, it will be written that Joe Paterno had done more than was expected, in every part of his life. The people, not the governor or the trustees who will quickly be forgotten in the cold, will keep Joe Paterno warm.  

[Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, former tenured full professor, and author of 17 books. His current one is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution.

Sanctimonious Hypocrites Can’t Diminish the Warmth for Joe Paterno

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) praised Joe Paterno and ordered flags on all state buildings to fly at half-staff for four days.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had said he was “personally disappointed” in Joe Paterno for not doing more to alert authorities in the Jerry Sandusky case, while acknowledging that Paterno did nothing illegal and followed university rules for conduct.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who, as attorney general, assigned only one investigator to the case in 2009, while devoting almost innumerable personnel and financial resources to prosecute high-profile cases that could help lead him to the governor’s office.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had the authority to order the arrest of Jerry Sandusky as soon as the claims were made, but who allowed the investigation to drag two years.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who stepped up the investigation only in the third year, after he was elected governor.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who accepted about $200,000 in campaign donations from trustees of Sandusky’s Second Mile foundation and then danced around questions of why, as governor, he authorized a $3 million grant to the Second Mile.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who as an ex-officio member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, with the power to increase or decrease state appropriations to the university, big-footed his presence to demand that the Trustees do something to Joe Paterno.

Now, let’s look at the Board of Trustees. On Jan. 22, the day that Joe Paterno died from lung cancer, the Board issued a honey-dripped PR-laden written commemoration.

That, of course, would be the same Board that, influenced by the harpies of the media and a horde of the public who knew everything about everything, except people and football, had wanted to terminate Joe Paterno’s contract after his teams had losing seasons in 2003 and 2004. He was too old, they said. He was getting senile, they claimed. His coaching strategy was too conservative, they cried with the shrill cry of a wounded hyena. But, an 11-1 season in 2005 quieted their panic. And so they stewed, knowing that a football coach, educator, philanthropist, and humanitarian had a greater reputation than all of them combined.

That would be the same Board that violated every expectation of due process, listened to the other sanctimonious hypocrites who were quick to condemn someone without knowing the facts, and by a cowardly and impersonal phone call violated four levels of the chain of command and fired Joe Paterno hours after he had announced his retirement. It was their pathetic way to make people believe they, not the most recognizable person in Penn State history, were in control. The reality, of course, is they botched the firing in a feeble attempt to protect themselves, not Penn State and, certainly, not the rights of a tenured full professor, who had given 61 years of service to the university.

That, of course, would be the same Board that should have known for at least six months, and probably longer, of a grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky’s conduct, but apparently had no crisis management plan to deal with what would become the greatest scandal in its 156-year history.

That, of course, would be the same Board that had operated in a culture of secrecy that regularly violated the state’s Sunshine law and enjoyed its status as receiving state tax moneys while not having to be under the glare of the public right-to-know law.

That, of course, would be the same board that includes the CEOs of U.S. Steel, Merck, and a major division of the Bank of New York Mellon; and an assortment of senior executives from insurance, investment, and education. Even a retired assistant managing editor of The New York Times is on the Board. And, yet, this Gang of 32, which should have known better, bumbled, stumbled, and proved that malfeasance and incompetence is what it should be best known for. For the most part, they acted like undergraduates struggling to earn a grade of “C” in a course in human relations, having already decided they didn’t need the course in business communications.

Now, let’s turn to the new president. The Board forced the resignation of a respected 17-year president for not doing enough to investigate the Sandusky allegations. By most accounts, the new president, formerly the provost and executive vice-president, is a decent person with a good academic reputation. But, is it credible that if the No. 1 person should have known more and done more, how could the No. 2 person be ignorant of the allegations. Nevertheless, the Board sent the newly-minted president out on nothing less than a belated PR field trip to calm the rising storm against the Board for its incompetence and insensitivity in firing Joe Paterno. At three meetings with hundreds of alumni, the new president, facing alumni wrath, did little to alleviate their anger. But, he promised the university would do something—he didn’t know what—he didn’t know how or when—to honor Joe Paterno.

Of course, since the Board was so inept, secret, and hypocritical in its own actions, it had no idea what it was going to do. The Board statement the day of Joe Paterno’s death merely stated the university “plans to honor him,” and is considering “appropriate ways.”

The greatest honor will not come from the Board, the administration, or even the Legislature, many of whom sought the media spotlight to pander to certain voters by condemning the coach. At the statue by Beaver Stadium, thousands of students, staff, faculty, and community residents are coming to pay their respects. Hundreds had met him, for he was one of the more accessible persons in the community, often walking home alone from practices and games; his phone number was in the book; his home was in a quiet residential area not a mansion on a hill reserved for the wealthy. Most of the mourners had never met him, but they all knew him.

On Tuesday, about 27,000 people from all over the United States stood in line up to three hours to walk past the body of Joe Paterno, guarded by past and present scholar-athletes. NFL super-stars and football fans, academics and those who never went to college, all were there to honor the man who was an outstanding quarterback and cornerback who earned an English literature degree from Brown University, one of the more prestigious in the country; a man who later created the “Great Experiment” to develop and promote a winning football program that would make education and citizenship more important than sports, and would make “success with honor” more than words.

Within ten minutes, mourners grabbed the first 10,000 tickets for a Thursday memorial at the Bryce Jordan Center. The center capacity for the memorial is 12,000.

Sue Paterno need not have worried when she quietly asked some mourners to keep her husband warm. When journalism turns into history, it will be written that Joe Paterno had done more than was expected, in every part of his life. The people, not the governor or the trustees who will quickly be forgotten in the cold, will keep Joe Paterno warm.  

[Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, former tenured full professor, and author of 17 books. His current one is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution.

Sanctimonious Hypocrites Can’t Diminish the Warmth for Joe Paterno

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) praised Joe Paterno and ordered flags on all state buildings to fly at half-staff for four days.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had said he was “personally disappointed” in Joe Paterno for not doing more to alert authorities in the Jerry Sandusky case, while acknowledging that Paterno did nothing illegal and followed university rules for conduct.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who, as attorney general, assigned only one investigator to the case in 2009, while devoting almost innumerable personnel and financial resources to prosecute high-profile cases that could help lead him to the governor’s office.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had the authority to order the arrest of Jerry Sandusky as soon as the claims were made, but who allowed the investigation to drag two years.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who stepped up the investigation only in the third year, after he was elected governor.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who accepted about $200,000 in campaign donations from trustees of Sandusky’s Second Mile foundation and then danced around questions of why, as governor, he authorized a $3 million grant to the Second Mile.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who as an ex-officio member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, with the power to increase or decrease state appropriations to the university, big-footed his presence to demand that the Trustees do something to Joe Paterno.

Now, let’s look at the Board of Trustees. On Jan. 22, the day that Joe Paterno died from lung cancer, the Board issued a honey-dripped PR-laden written commemoration.

That, of course, would be the same Board that, influenced by the harpies of the media and a horde of the public who knew everything about everything, except people and football, had wanted to terminate Joe Paterno’s contract after his teams had losing seasons in 2003 and 2004. He was too old, they said. He was getting senile, they claimed. His coaching strategy was too conservative, they cried with the shrill cry of a wounded hyena. But, an 11-1 season in 2005 quieted their panic. And so they stewed, knowing that a football coach, educator, philanthropist, and humanitarian had a greater reputation than all of them combined.

That would be the same Board that violated every expectation of due process, listened to the other sanctimonious hypocrites who were quick to condemn someone without knowing the facts, and by a cowardly and impersonal phone call violated four levels of the chain of command and fired Joe Paterno hours after he had announced his retirement. It was their pathetic way to make people believe they, not the most recognizable person in Penn State history, were in control. The reality, of course, is they botched the firing in a feeble attempt to protect themselves, not Penn State and, certainly, not the rights of a tenured full professor, who had given 61 years of service to the university.

That, of course, would be the same Board that should have known for at least six months, and probably longer, of a grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky’s conduct, but apparently had no crisis management plan to deal with what would become the greatest scandal in its 156-year history.

That, of course, would be the same Board that had operated in a culture of secrecy that regularly violated the state’s Sunshine law and enjoyed its status as receiving state tax moneys while not having to be under the glare of the public right-to-know law.

That, of course, would be the same board that includes the CEOs of U.S. Steel, Merck, and a major division of the Bank of New York Mellon; and an assortment of senior executives from insurance, investment, and education. Even a retired assistant managing editor of The New York Times is on the Board. And, yet, this Gang of 32, which should have known better, bumbled, stumbled, and proved that malfeasance and incompetence is what it should be best known for. For the most part, they acted like undergraduates struggling to earn a grade of “C” in a course in human relations, having already decided they didn’t need the course in business communications.

Now, let’s turn to the new president. The Board forced the resignation of a respected 17-year president for not doing enough to investigate the Sandusky allegations. By most accounts, the new president, formerly the provost and executive vice-president, is a decent person with a good academic reputation. But, is it credible that if the No. 1 person should have known more and done more, how could the No. 2 person be ignorant of the allegations. Nevertheless, the Board sent the newly-minted president out on nothing less than a belated PR field trip to calm the rising storm against the Board for its incompetence and insensitivity in firing Joe Paterno. At three meetings with hundreds of alumni, the new president, facing alumni wrath, did little to alleviate their anger. But, he promised the university would do something—he didn’t know what—he didn’t know how or when—to honor Joe Paterno.

Of course, since the Board was so inept, secret, and hypocritical in its own actions, it had no idea what it was going to do. The Board statement the day of Joe Paterno’s death merely stated the university “plans to honor him,” and is considering “appropriate ways.”

The greatest honor will not come from the Board, the administration, or even the Legislature, many of whom sought the media spotlight to pander to certain voters by condemning the coach. At the statue by Beaver Stadium, thousands of students, staff, faculty, and community residents are coming to pay their respects. Hundreds had met him, for he was one of the more accessible persons in the community, often walking home alone from practices and games; his phone number was in the book; his home was in a quiet residential area not a mansion on a hill reserved for the wealthy. Most of the mourners had never met him, but they all knew him.

On Tuesday, about 27,000 people from all over the United States stood in line up to three hours to walk past the body of Joe Paterno, guarded by past and present scholar-athletes. NFL super-stars and football fans, academics and those who never went to college, all were there to honor the man who was an outstanding quarterback and cornerback who earned an English literature degree from Brown University, one of the more prestigious in the country; a man who later created the “Great Experiment” to develop and promote a winning football program that would make education and citizenship more important than sports, and would make “success with honor” more than words.

Within ten minutes, mourners grabbed the first 10,000 tickets for a Thursday memorial at the Bryce Jordan Center. The center capacity for the memorial is 12,000.

Sue Paterno need not have worried when she quietly asked some mourners to keep her husband warm. When journalism turns into history, it will be written that Joe Paterno had done more than was expected, in every part of his life. The people, not the governor or the trustees who will quickly be forgotten in the cold, will keep Joe Paterno warm.  

[Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, former tenured full professor, and author of 17 books. His current one is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution.

Penn State Trustees Also Violated State Law

by WALTER BRASCH

 

The Penn State Board of Trustees may have several times violated state law for its failure to publicly announce meetings and how it handled the firing of Coach Joe Paterno. However, these violations may be the least of the Board’s worries, as it scrambles to reduce fall-out from the scandal that began with revelations that an assistant football coach may be a serial child molester, and that the university may have been negligent.

The state’s Sunshine Act [65 Pa.C.S.A §701–710] requires all public bodies to publish notices at least 24 hours before their meetings. The purpose is to eliminate secret meetings. Penn State, a private university, which received $279 million from the Commonwealth for its 2011–2012 budget, is bound by the Sunshine Act.

A public notice did appear in the Centre Daily Times, State College’s hometown newspaper, three days before a regularly-scheduled board meeting, Friday Nov. 11. But, the Trustees were caught flat-footed the week before by what eventually turned into the largest scandal in its history. These are events the Trustees should have been aware of for at least two years; certainly, the Board should have known there was a problem when the Harrisburg Patriot-News broke a story in March that the Grand Jury was investigating former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

But, based upon Board incompetence, there wasn’t even a crisis management plan in place when Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5, and Athletic Director Tim Curley; and Gary Schultz, senior vice-president of finance and administration, were charged with perjury and failure to report a crime to police. The Trustees allowed Curley to take an administrative leave, and Schultz to return to retirement. Schultz, who had worked for Penn State for 40 years, had retired in 2009, but had been brought back on an interim basis in July. Both Curley’s and Schultz’s decisions were probably influenced by the Board demands.

During the two weeks, beginning Nov. 5, the Board had conference calls, executive sessions, and emergency meetings, all without public notice.

Conference calls involving a quorum without public notice aren’t allowed. At least one conference call was conducted on Saturday, Nov. 5. A meeting by telephone is just as illegal as a meeting with all persons at a table if it isn’t publically announced.

Several emergency meetings were held the next few days. The Sunshine Act allows emergency meetings. The Trustees conducted meetings Sunday, Nov. 6, Monday, Nov. 7, and Wednesday, Nov. 9. By law, an emergency meeting can be called, without public notice, only for “the purpose of dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property.” [65 Pa.C.S.A §703] Even in the wildest stretch of that definition, there was no clear and present danger. That occurred years ago when the university didn’t contact police to report the actions of a man believed to be a child molester.

Executive sessions to discuss personnel issues and some other items are allowed—if they are announced at public meetings “immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session.” [65 Pa.C.S.S. §708(b)] But, they were not. About 10 p.m., Nov. 9, following an emergency meeting, Board vice-chair John P. Surma, flanked by 21 of the 31 trustees, publicly announced it had fired Paterno and PSU president Graham Spanier.  Surma told the media the decision was unanimous, thus indicating a vote was done in secret and not under public scrutiny as required.

The Trustees also violated both Paterno’s and Spanier’s rights under law. It’s doubtful the Board members, most of them in corporate business, even care. How they handled Paterno’s firing is indicative they have little regard for employee rights and due process. Paterno had previously said he would retire at the end of the season, since he believed, “the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.” The Trustees, undoubtedly, believed firing Paterno immediately would take heat off the university. Again, it was wrong.

Although executive sessions may be conducted in private, the Sunshine Act requires that “individual employees or appointees whose rights could be adversely affected may request, in writing, that the matter or matters be discussed at an open meeting.” [65 Pa.C.S.A. §708(a)(1)] The Board, according to a report in the Easton Express-Times, had ordered Spanier to resign or be fired. He chose to resign. Paterno was not contacted by the Board prior to termination, either to request to be heard or to request an open meeting. Paterno was informed of his termination by a hand-delivered letter that demanded he place a phone call to a board member. There was no indication in that letter of what the Board’s decision was.

Violating the law could result in invalidating decisions made at those meetings, and penalties of $1,000 for each violation; until September, the penalty had been a paltry $100. But here’s a nice twist. The Trustees probably don’t care.

A district attorney must approve prosecution for Sunshine Act violations. Although the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association (PNA) receives about 1,000 inquiries each year about what may be Sunshine Act and Right-to-Know law violations, “it’s rare for criminal prosecutions of the Sunshine Act,” according to Melissa Melewsky, media law council for the PNA. Civil actions by individuals are likewise difficult to pursue because of significant costs.

Here’s another surprise. Because of heavy lobbying to the legislature, whose members are feasted at one home game a year and can also receive comp football tickets to other home football games, Penn State is not bound by the state’s Right-to-Know law. This means that innumerable records, including minutes of all meetings— both public and those that are illegal under the Sunshine Act—can still be secret.

Here’s something not so surprising, however. Penn State’s Public Affairs office punted all questions to the Board. The Board arrogantly has refused to answer both verbal and written questions. However, possibly using public funds, it did hire a PR firm to handle crisis management issues. We won’t know the cost—that’s something it doesn’t have to tell the taxpayers.

[Assisting on this story was Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. Walter Brasch, as president of both the Keystone chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Press Club, was active in fighting for a stronger Right-to-Know law and enforcement of the Sunshine Act. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist and retired university professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a mystery/thriller set in Pennsylvania.]

 

 

 

 

 

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