The Ethical Firing That Never Happened: Penn State’s Blindness Continues

...and you still don't get it.

Penn State didn’t think that allowing a probable sexual predator to continue to abuse kids was a firing offense, and still doesn’t.

Incredibly, Joe Paterno is still receiving his full salary. He was not fired, as all newsmedia reported, and the University, having released a deceitful and carefully worded misleading announcement in November, allowed that falsehood to be circulated and believed, even as students were rioting on campus against Joe Pa’s “dismissal.”

“The Board of Trustees and Graham Spanier have decided that, effective immediately, Dr. Spanier is no longer president of the University,” the announcement had stated. “Additionally, the board determined that it is in the best interest of the University for Joe Paterno to no longer serve as head football coach, effective immediately.

But it never said that Paterno was fired. Now, finally, the University’s sick subterfuge is coming to light. “Coach Paterno remains employed by the University as a tenured faculty member,” the school said in a statement released Thursday. “The details of his retirement are being worked out and will be made public when they are finalized.  Generally speaking, the University intends to honor the terms of his employment contract and is treating him financially as if he had retired at the end of the 2011 football season.”

Paterno was given involuntary leave with full pay and benefits, and will retire at the end of the season as he intended.

Firing, as opposed to retirement or resignation, means something crucial to an organization’s integrity.  A firing sends an vital organizational message, and the message is:

“This employee’s conduct–-incompetence, failure to perform, insubordination, dishonesty, unprofessional conduct, cruelty, lack of professionalism, conflict of interest, breach of loyalty, criminal conduct or wanton disregard for innocent children being preyed upon routinely by a former coach with access to university facilities and trusting disadvantaged kids—is unacceptiable to this organization, which rejects it, condemns it, and hereby ends all relationships with the employee involved.”

That was the message that had to be sent in the wake of the revelation of Joe Paterno’s participation in the Jerry Sandusky cover-up,  and that was the message that the public was led to believe was intended. Instead, we now learn it was all a deception. The real message was,

“Let’s get Joe out of the hot seat until this all blows over.”

Penn State is morally and ethically lost. The Board is no better than the administrators it fired, or pretended to. It is still embracing the atrocious, corrupt values of Joe Paterno and his football program, in which touchdowns, championships and alumni gifts mean more than stopping the rape of children.

Penn State’s entire leadership and governance needs to be fired.

28 thoughts on “The Ethical Firing That Never Happened: Penn State’s Blindness Continues

  1. No, you are the one who does not get it ….. this scandal is about one man, Jerry Sandusky, who MAY be a sickie. The alleged actions of this one man has nothing to do with Penn State or Joe Paterno. The university and Joe Paterno are not the alleged sickies. By the way, wouldn’t it be better for you to think that nothing actually happened? …. that way nobody got hurt … except of course the people who had nothing to do with the alleged actions of Jerry Sandusky because of people like you who always look at the dark side of things.

    • Sunbeam, I am ever an advocate for civility in all discourse, and certainly respect for all opinions, even misguided ones, even those that show serious ethical reasoning deficiencies, or a pathological detachment from reality. Especially as an ethicist and teacher, it is important that I maintain decorum and tolerance in all my commentary, however provocative a visitor’s statements may be. For truly, I am grateful that anyone stops by here.

      But you are a complete idiot, and life’s too short to argue with people like you. Go watch the Cartoon Network.

  2. Mike McQueary claimed that ,a HREF=”http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/15/sports/la-sp-penn-state-20111116″> he told police of alleged rape . If this claim is true, then this ends the matter as far as McQueary, and his then-superior Joe Paterno, are concerned, for the alleged crime had been reported to the police. He did his obligation, and it was up to the police to investigate further, and absent any evidence that either of them worked to block the investigation, there is no reason to fire either of them.

    Of course, if he lied, then the big question is why was not McQueary fired for “incompetence, failure to perform, insubordination, dishonesty, unprofessional conduct, cruelty, lack of professionalism, conflict of interest, breach of loyalty, criminal conduct or wanton disregard for innocent children being preyed upon routinely by a former coach with access to university facilities and trusting disadvantaged kids”?

    • Michael, that’s ridiculous. They knew a pederast was loose on campus and using his non-profit to prey on children. Reporting it to police is one duty, protecting the children is another. If I see my neighbor raping girls and burying them in the back yard, report it to the police and they do nothing, you’re saying I can then just shrug my shoulders and let him keep hiring babysitters. What are you thinking??? Paterno had an independent obligation to the school and to the kids, no matter who McQueary told or what.

      Think.

      • Exactly, Jack. Juist because you see a crime and report it doesn’t mean your responsibility ends there. With all due respect to Michael, this is an attitude I’m seeing far too much of in present days, which worries me considerably. This is a question of decency and citizenship. The inclusion of children into the equation elevates it to the highest priority.

        That Paterno reported it was correct. That he then didn’t proceed to remove Sandusky (a subordinate under his authority) from contact with this children (who were, by extension, not only under Penn State’s protection, but his) rebounds to his own infamy. By inaction, he abbetted the worst form of criminality a man is capable of. He rationalized away his responsibility because it was inconvenient. Thus, he ended a brilliant career in a manner that will reflect badly on his character and the college’s reputation for many years to come.

        • That Paterno reported it was correct. That he then didn’t proceed to remove Sandusky (a subordinate under his authority) from contact with this children (who were, by extension, not only under Penn State’s protection, but his) rebounds to his own infamy.

          Had the police arrested him, Paterno would have been well within his rights to do so, even if Sandusky got out on bail.

          But, assuming that McQueary had discussed the incident with the police, and the police declined to arrest, Sandusky, what additional reason was there to believe he was a danger to children? After all, the last time he was accused, Centre County D.A. Ray Gricar declined to prosecute. Who were Paterno and McQueary to second-guess the refusal of law enforcement authorities to arrest and prosecute Sandusky?

          • What??? McQueary says what he saw Sandusky doing was unequivocal…but even if it was just a middle agred man naked in a shower with a child, that’s plenty. “Who is he to second guess?” What??? Being able to arrest someone is one standard, knowing kids are in danger is another. Paterno had earlier information, and chose to be stupid or blind, then he ducked his duty again. He has no excuse, especially as a self-made ethical and moral exemplar at Penn State. Really—there is no defense. Stop manufacturing one.

      • Michael, that’s ridiculous. They knew a pederast was loose on campus and using his non-profit to prey on children. Reporting it to police is one duty, protecting the children is another. If I see my neighbor raping girls and burying them in the back yard, report it to the police and they do nothing, you’re saying I can then just shrug my shoulders and let him keep hiring babysitters. What are you thinking??? Paterno had an independent obligation to the school and to the kids, no matter who McQueary told or what.

        What sort of independent obligations did McQueary and Paterno have, apart from making the incident known to the police (assuming they did not witness anything afterward)? Surely not to conduct the investigation themselves . They are not cops.

        Paterno, at least, was aware of an earlier investigation that resulted in neither criminal prosecution nor civil lawsuit . That would have belied the idea of Sandusky being a rapist.

        • Michael: The law is only as good as the willingness of legal authorities to enforce it. I’ve seen too many cases where, for personal or political reasons, prosecutors and attorneys general have failed to do their duty. Some of those cases have involved children and celebrities; sports and entertainment both. Then, as here, the prevalent excuse was that the incident was a null factor because it wasn’t prosecuted. I submit that this is a false and rationalizing argument in a free society. Policemen and public attorneys may fail in their duty, but the citizen must not. Nor must those, official or private citizen, who so fail be held blameless. The officials in particular, as they are our hirelings. But, in a free society, they are hired to do a professional job on our behalf. That does NOT absolve the private citizen from taking steps on his own. When we absolve ourselves of this duty, we absolve ourselves of the duties of the free citizen and, thus, the rights that go with it. This is how free societies fail… when this attitude becomes prevalent.

  3. I believed JoePa ran a strict disciplined, virtuous program. I was a fan because of this and the plain uniforms. He was an esteemed coach and leader. The reason I am disappointed with him isn’t because he didn’t report it, but he didn’t use his clout to make sure it was brought to justice. People looked to him as a leader. Mr. Paterno became incompetent in my opinion. I am convinced that this isn’t the only situation he looked past. He could have been a hero, but he is just a “has-been” good coach.

    The University of Minnesota fired a coach in the middle 90s because he condoned student athletes in having their school work done by tutors. The NCAA investigated this and applied sanctions. This never really hurt anyone but students, but it was still wrong. The Penn State fiasco makes this look petty. I often wonder how many other situations are overlooked because of the big money and reputations in college sports. The pros are bad enough.

  4. What about Mike McQueary

    The underlying problem is of course that McQueary did not call the police to report an (alleged until proven) violent felony in progress. Had he done so, the police might have arrived in time to catch Sandusky in the act, or at least in time to catch him when he tried to leave with the boy. Then they would have had a victim, witnesses including not only McQueary but also the responding officer(s), physical evidence, and an open and shut case.

    It is therefore impossible for us to envision any circumstances in which the Trustees can be right about firing Paterno while not firing McQueary. Had the Trustees fired everybody involved including McQueary, we would not agree with the action’s haste or its fairness to Paterno, but nobody could say that the Trustees had not been consistent. They could also have fired nobody while waiting for both the law and their own investigative panel to do their work. They instead chose the worst possible course of action; one whose inconsistency makes it impossible for us to accept their boilerplate statement that it was for the best interests of the University. We perceive only a hasty consensus to satiate a media lynch mob by firing and humiliating a man known not only for his football victories but also for making star players go to class rather than win games for him if that choice had to be made. Others also perceive it this way, and that is not in the best interests of the University.

    Of course, since Paterno was not really fired, the University was consistent.

    • There is no reason to fire McQueary for not immediately contacting the police. He knew about Sandusky for one day and reported it up the proper university channels. Paterno knew for years, helped with a de facto cover-up, and he’s the head coach, a faculty member, and the face of the university. He is subject to higher and different standards; the “consistency” you are imagining does not and should not exist.

      There is no defending Paterno’s actions, and I can’t fathom while you are trying.

  5. There is no reason to fire McQueary for not immediately contacting the police. He knew about Sandusky for one day and reported it up the proper university channels.

    But not to the police, if we are to believe Paterno’s critics. And the entire reason for Paterno being in the hot seat in the first place was the idea that a graduate assistant in his football program had failed to report the incident to the police in a timely manner.

    Paterno knew for years, helped with a de facto cover-up, and he’s the head coach, a faculty member, and the face of the university.

    There is no evidence that he helped with the cover up. Had he actively discouraged McQueary from going to the police, or advised, counseled, or encouraged his superiors to cover up, the idea might have some merit, but I have not seen any evidence that he did such a thing.

    In addition, Paterno reported the incident to the proper university channels, as McQueary did.

    There is no defending Paterno’s actions, and I can’t fathom while you are trying.

    I read your arguments, as well as those of Bill Levinson.

    He is subject to higher and different standards; the “consistency” you are imagining does not and should not exist.

    The higher and different standard stems flows from his being in charge of Penn State’s football program, and thus being responsible for those who acted as part of the program, which included McQueary back then, as he was a graduate assistant. Thus, the whole thing boils down to whether it was wrongful for McQueary to have failed to go to the police in a timely manner, and, if so, whether Paterno tolerated that wrongful conduct. But if he is to be fired for tolerating that wrongful conduct, then the person who engaged in that wrongful conduct should be fired as well.

    • Michael, you’re just repeating the same thing. McQueary had a duty TO THE UNIVERSITY to report TO THE UNIVERSITY. He did. I’ve worked for universities.Paterno had an extra obligation to the university and to the children to take affirmative action. He either did not relay McQueary’s information accurately to the administration, or he actively helped them cover it up. Paterno did NOT meet his obligation to the university. OR the children in peril. McQueary should have done more, followed up, pressed the issue, but that’s hindsight—when you report to the administration, you do not have a formal obligation to check and see if it does its job. Paterno was supposedly Mr. Ethics…McQueary had every reason to assume that he would do the right thing, AND to presume that whatever he did was right. The university can’t fire McQueary for following policy (he reports to the school, the school reports to the police) or for not making sure the university follows policy, or for trusting his boss who the whole nation regarded as a moral exemplar. It can and MUST fire an administrator, McQueary’s boss, who does not take appropriate action to avoid criminal activity that the university has the power to prevent. Since Paterno is a symbol of the school and has been corrupted and embarrassed, firing him is even more crucial.

      There is no consistency issue here at all, and that’s the last time I’m saying it. You’re being obstinate and illogical. Paterno has no defense, and Penn state has no defense, and you may be one of three non-Paterno family members off the campus to argue otherwise.

  6. Paterno had an extra obligation to the university and to the children to take affirmative action.

    And what affirmative action was that? It is established that he did refer the matter to his superiors.

    Paterno was supposedly Mr. Ethics…McQueary had every reason to assume that he would do the right thing, AND to presume that whatever he did was right.

    Paterno likewise had every reason to assume that his superiors would do the right thing. And the fact that his superiors actually met with McQueary about this very matter further provided additional reason.

    The university can’t fire McQueary for following policy (he reports to the school, the school reports to the police) or for not making sure the university follows policy, or for trusting his boss who the whole nation regarded as a moral exemplar.

    If it was policy that the only duty in regards to witnessing a sex crime is to report it to the superior, then Paterno followed this policy as well.

    Paterno has no defense, and Penn state has no defense, and you may be one of three non-Paterno family members off the campus to argue otherwise.

    And of all the Paterno critics out there outside the Board of Trustees, you are the only one who defends McQueary in this matter. Except for you, every Paterno critic argues that Mike McQueary did wrong, and should have been fired and should be fired.

    If McQueary had in fact, failed to report the incident to the police in a timely manner, then he did indeed do wrong, and if Paterno had known about that failure, or failed to ask him about whether he reported the incident to the police, then Paterno too did wrong. That written, there are some accounts indicating that McQueary had involved the police. If so, that ends the matter for both men, as neither of them are cops, and they would have no further reason to get involved absent coming across some new information related to the case.

    • Michael, you are wrong. As a high ranking official, Paterno DOES have a duty to make sure that the administration acts. And you keep glossing over the issue of his special status and the matter of integrity, since he violated his own words, legacy, and principles, and corrupted the culture of the school as a result. McQueary’s failures don’t even come close. Bottom line: Penn State is facing millions or dollars in law suits, young boys have been raped, the reputation of the school and the value of its diploma are wrecked, and Paterno, after Sandusky, is the man most culpable for that. Of course he had to be fired.

      • As a high ranking official, Paterno DOES have a duty to make sure that the administration acts.

        You overstate Paterno’s position. As head football coach, he was responsible for the football program. He certainly could have told McQueary to tell the truth to the police, and to fully cooperate with any resulting investigation. He could not have marched into Graham Spanier’s or Tim Curley’s or Gary Schultz’s office and demand that they cooperate with the police. (While it would have been wrong for him to have advised, counseled, or encouraged them to cover up the incident, it would have been wrong regardless of his position as head coach.)

        And you keep glossing over the issue of his special status and the matter of integrity, since he violated his own words, legacy, and principles, and corrupted the culture of the school as a result.

        Paterno’s status was that of a middle manager with no authority over law enforcement. The ethical duties he had in this case, due to his position as head coach , relate to McQueary’s ethical duties in this case. Thus, by virtue of his status, he would have had the duty to ensure McQueary reported the incident to the police, and to make sure McQueary reports additional information to the police if he knew that McQueary came across additional information related to the case- just as any middle manager who hears from a subordinate of a crime against a person.

        In order for me to agree with the position that McQueary should not be fired for this, but Paterno should , I would have to learn that one of the following is true.
        – Paterno lied to the police, or advised, counseled, or encouraged others to do likewise.
        – Paterno had discouraged, or attempted to discourage, McQueary or any other witness from going forward with the truth (even if the witness (es)ultimately came forward despite the discouragement).
        – Paterno had later come across information about the case, and failed to report it to the police.
        – Paterno counseled, encouraged, or advised Spanier, Curley, or Schultz to cover up the crime.

        So far, I have seen no evidence that any of the above is true. In fact, McQuary himself met with Schultz and Curley about this matter, and he would have mentioned that Paterno attempted to dissuade him from reporting the incident if Paterno had indeed did just that. Furthermore, the above actions would have been wrong regardless of Paterno’s status as head coach.

        Unless any of the above is demonstrated true, I will continue to demand consistency.

        • As anyone in academia, sports of Pennsylvania will tell you, Paterno was not “just a head coach.” This is not about organizational charts, it is about leadership, influence, power, visibility and image. Efforts to equate his status and duties with those of McQueary are weak rationalizations, and nothing more. The obligation to inform the police, for either McQueary or Paterno, was ethical, not legal. Paterno had to be fired for any substantial ethical violation, because he was a faculty member and a leader (McQueary was neither), and because his authority was based on integrity, which he had violated. I would personally like to see McQueary fired, but not because of consistency. They are obviously different. An icon gone sour stinks up the whole campus. This is what you seem incapable of comprehending or accepting.

          You’re just wrong, and you’re not paying attention. I don’t have time for this. See me on another topic.

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