The Penn State University Disaster

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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43 Responses

  1. Miss Mary says:

    I’m sorry, I’m distracted because you seem to be using the general term “sex offender” when referring to pedifiles. Not all sex offenders commited a crime involving one or more children or are sexually attracted to minors. But I assume you know that since you worked with (convicted?) sex offenders. It’s a common mistake so I just like to point out the difference when I can.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Miss Mary says:

      Hmmm. This is an interesting point. In my line of work, we referred to sex offenders. I’ve been out of the business for a few years though, so perhaps are things are getting more detailed. Is it really that inaccurate to use the term sex offender in Sandusky’s case?Report

      • Miss Mary in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        No, Sandusky is a convicted sex offender now. He is just an extra special kind of sex offender; a pedophile and a rapist, it sounds like. There are some registered sex offenders who would not be a rapist or a pedophile. Say someone who commits sexual assualt or runs around flashing people.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Miss Mary says:

          Praising by faint damnation, one might call it.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Miss Mary says:

          In my work, and you might disagree, people who did either of those two things (assault and/or flashing) were considered offenders, by virtue of the fact that they had forced themselves for sexual pleasure onto unwilling third parties.Report

          • Miss Mary in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            Yes, they are sex offenders. But they are not pedophiles. That is what I’m saying. Sex offender is an umbrella term. Sandusky is a sex offender, there is no doubt about that. But not every sex offender is a pedophile, like Sandusky is. Am I really being that unclear? I’m not saying one is better or worse than the other, I’m just pointing out the difference.

            It’s like saying you have cancer. Okay, but what kind of cancer?Report

            • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Miss Mary says:

              No, no, it’s a fair point. Do you think it would be better to use the term pedophile so as to avoid the confusion?Report

              • Miss Mary in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Yes, or covicted child rapist, as Mr. Berg suggests. Sex offender is just too broad. Definately throw in the “convicted” language, IMO. It makes a huge difference if one was never convicted.

                Totally off topic, but do you have to register as a sex offender as soon as you are convicted or just starting after your release?

                P.S. Thank you for your understanding and consideration. You seem pleasant enough 🙂Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Miss Mary says:

                That’s probably a state by state issue. The kids I worked with didn’t have to register assuming successful completion of a therapeutic program (which tended to require two or more years of hospitalization and therapy). Others probably only have to register when they’re not incarcerated; is anything accomplished by creating a registry of locked up offenders?Report

              • Miss Mary in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Just the assurance that you will be publically humiliated the rest of your life. Good luck getting a job!Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Miss Mary says:

                Oh, incidentally, I will endeavor in future posts to use convicted sex offender and/or child rapist. However, it is an issue I hope to not write regularly about. It is more fun to think about music and cast-iron.Report

              • Murali in reply to Miss Mary says:

                Also related to the broadening of what counts as a sex offenders. Nowadays, teenagers sexting eachother, taking nude pictures of themselves and sending it to their also teenage boy/girlfriends are also being charged as sex offenders.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Murali says:

                Well – those aren’t sex offenders. They ARE (in the eyes of the state) but they’re not (in the eyes of people that aren’t idiots). There is consent in most of the cases. I’m not sure who is supposed to lead the usage. I’m certainly not referencing consensual acts between idiot teenagers, if that’s any consolation.Report

              • Miss Mary in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                But when you are convicted as a sex offender you have to register (every year on your birthday and any time you move) for the rest of your life and the registry is public record. Anyone can find out who you are and where you live. The registry does not tell your neighbors that you were just sexing your girlfriend in high school. The public does not stop to ask you either.Report

              • Miss Mary in reply to Murali says:

                I heard of a case a few years ago (in Texas?) of a 13 year old boy being charged because he slapped a girl on the bottom in the hallway at school. I think they were wanting to try him as an adult? Anyway, he was threatened with being labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life. I doubt that when his neighbors found out he was a sex offender 20 years down the road they would say to themselves, “Oh, he was just being a stupid kid.” Odds are they fear he will rape their children. Sad, but true.Report

              • Bob Wallace in reply to Miss Mary says:

                It seems to be time to fine tune our terminology and laws.

                I recently read of a not-much-older male who had a sexual relationship with a 17 year old female. In the state of residence the 17 year old was old enough to consent. But because the male took some photos he is being charged with kiddie-porn. Apparently that threshold is age 18.

                Or consider a couple of teenagers who hypothetical start a sexual relationship when they are 16, 17, whatever is below the local age threshold. Then one of them ages over the threshold. What they had been doing, and would not have been prosecuted for now puts one in the sexual offender category.

                Or a non-hypothetical event that we have just experienced here. A few weeks ago someone reported a male taking pictures of children at play.

                That person’s name was in the local paper as a suspected sexual offender. There was no information that the person had a record of offense or that the pictures were of an ‘unusual’ nature. Just pictures & sexual offender. A couple days ago the paper announced that the police were not charging the individual. That person, even if 100% innocent, will wear the label.

                Dumping all these people into a bucket with Sandusky and abusive, predator priests is just plain wrong in my book. We’re smart enough to be more discriminating. It’s our own rights we would be protecting.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Miss Mary says:

      On the other hand, not all pedophiles are sex offenders of any kind, nor are all child rapists pedophiles. Pedophilia is a sexual proclivity that does not necessarily lead to the commission of sexual acts with children, nor is it a strictly necessary precondition for such acts. Strictly speaking, Sandusky is a child rapist.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    There’s an obvious parallel here to another organization that just wanted to make this kind of thing go away rather than have a public scandal. It didn’t work for them either. Very oddly, in all the news and comment I’ve read about the Freeh report, no one made this comparison.Report

    • Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      It was a common comparison last year when news of Sandusky’s crimes came out.

      Though I have to admit, as one who’s followed both the Catholic (in the U.S. and in Ireland) and the Penn State scandals pretty closely, I find the unique aspects of the Penn State scandal fascinating. True, it was covered up by the powers that be in order to, among other things, protect the institution, but there’s another organization involved in this case: the charity. Sandusky created his own victim-generating institution, loosely connected to the Penn State football program, and no one else at that insitution noticed? No one there said anything to anyone? And his wife? The whole thing is, quite frankly, one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever heard of.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Chris says:

        That is an underreported aspect of this case, to be sure, especially when you look at the 1998 timeline in the Freeh Report. It looks pretty clear that Second Mile’s independent relationship with the local child welfare department created a huge conflict of interest that seems likely to have had at least a subconscious influence on the second caseworker who was brought on to investigate those allegations, and that caseworker’s report was what prevented charges from being brought at that time. The report is pretty explicit that the university did not interfere with or obstruct that investigation (though it certainly made a point of making sure that the investigation went unnoticed by the public and the Board of Trustees), and even the psychologist who reported the incident to law enforcement seems to have thought that it was handled with an appropriate amount of sobriety.

        I suspect that the manner in which the 1998 investigation concluded, ie, with no charges and a finding that Sandusky had not committed any crimes, provided Paterno et al with a way of rationalizing their behavior in 2001 – I can easily see them telling themselves:

        “Jerry’s acting inappropriately, but this is the same type of stuff that came up three years ago, and there was no crime then, so there’s probably no crime now; McQueary probably didn’t see what he thought he saw, just something similar to what happened in 1998. Which was inappropriate, but not illegal. And we don’t want the program, Joe, and the University to go through that kind of a public relations nightmare just because of inappropriate conduct, especially not when we just had a losing season and the Board of Trustees is starting to think about forcing Joe -and thus the rest of us – out.”

        None of which in any way justifies what they did and did not do here, of course. There is not a single conclusion in the Freeh report that I dispute – without the aura around the football program and around Paterno in general, the 2001 incident is where this story ends; in fact, it probably ends no later than 2000, when janitors witnessed what Sandusky did but said nothing out of fear of losing their jobs.

        I’m just trying to get at the thought process that allowed Paterno, Curley, et al to justify their decision to themselves. That there were no attempts to shut down the investigation in 1998 (though still a failure to allow that investigation to go public), but the same decisionmakers went out of their way to shut the investigation down just three years later suggests to me that the outcome of the 1998 investigation provided the pretext needed to block any investigation in 2001.Report

      • Bob Wallace in reply to Chris says:

        There is much wink-wink, nod-nod stuff that goes on with university sports. I’m not terribly surprised, except for the number of years that it continued without someone who was not so loyal to the U to step forward.

        When I took my first faculty position I was visited in my office by an assistant coach whose job it was to ascertain my willingness to “support the teams”. Questions danced around whether I would be willing to grade easier on student athletes ‘since they had such hard training schedules and not enough time to study’.

        I’m not sure I ever had a varsity student in one of my classes. Others certainly played along.

        I think what we are seeing here is the corruption of university sports at the long end of the curve.Report

    • “There’s an obvious parallel here to another organization that just wanted to make this kind of thing go away rather than have a public scandal. It didn’t work for them either. Very oddly, in all the news and comment I’ve read about the Freeh report, no one made this comparison.”


  3. Anna Rachel says:

    Just wanted to chime in as a current Penn Stater. In regards to the incident in your last paragraph, I wasn’t at the student union when the report came out so I don’t know how true that is, but I can tell you that I don’t think the university is still trying to sweep this under the rug. As you mentioned, in the age of digital media it would be impossible anyway. However, in addition the national media attention that springs up whenever there is a new lead, the local papers here including the student paper and the city paper have covered this story virtually daily since November. I would guess it’s on the front page at least three times a week. In addition, the university, the university president, and the board of trustees send out mass emails to all faculty, staff, and students at least once a month but often more frequently detailing updates in the investigations, legal process, and university policy.

    So basically, if the TVs were turned to a different channel at that precise moment, it doesn’t really fit with the rest of what is going on here. Of course, it’s all too little, too late. I’m certainly not trying to defend Penn State, but I also wanted to clarify that everyone here has access to the information on a daily basis from multiple sources. AND it’s summer. How many students were in the student union at 9 am on a Thursday anyway?!Report

  4. E.C. Gach says:

    The students at that institution have an opportunity to separate their image from the university’s if they hold vigils for the victims like they did for “Jo Pa” and demand the immediate removal of his statue, and anyone involved in the cover up from the admin.Report

  5. M.Z. says:

    PSU got what they paid for. Heaven forbid one of these reports ever just say people did what they thought was best with the information they had. Instead we have to pretend that PSU could have prevented child abuse, a rather absurd idea in practice as opposed to the mere ideal of wanting to prevent it. These reports are necessary though, because they signal we have overcome our past sins, a baptism if you will. Perhaps PSU can even put signs signaling they are a pedophilia free zone so as to really emphasis how far they have come. It is all nonsense, but that is social panic for you.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to M.Z. says:


      just… wow.Report

    • sam wilkinson in reply to M.Z. says:

      how much more evidence of malfeasance could you possibly require?Report

      • M.Z. in reply to sam wilkinson says:

        I’m not seeing a whole lot of evidence of any malfeasance except for some misjudgment by the law enforcement official, and I would attribute that more to misjudgment than malfeasance. I’m not shocked that people charged with concern for an institution would show concern for an institution. I’m not all that persuaded that police would have taken up what amounted to a 3rd hand account by all PSU officials except McQuery. Finally, I have too much experience with people to accept people’s self proclaimed belief to be able to know an evil person when they see him. Become familiar with the Dahmer case and try to put yourself in the shoes of people caught in that web and then try to empathize with those people without falling back on your moral superiority and greater intelligence. It is very difficult.

        I don’t say this to just irritate people. I say this because all of this doesn’t prevent abuse. It typically just results in low level people with little authority fired for having the misfortune of encountering victims. A fair analysis would suggest they had little to gain from taking a confrontational approach and a nontrivial amount to lose, and more importantly it would show the prescribed action would have not been likely improve the situation. People hang on the ‘but’ of an isolated chance of early discovery, treating it disproportionately to the other isolated chances and ignoring that most isolated instances are isolated and not part of a grander scheme. PSU is a little different in that higher up people are being disciplined, but that is more a consequence of Sandusky’s former position at PSU.Report

      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to sam wilkinson says:

        BTW, Penn State’s internal investigation gave alleged eco-fraud Michael Mann a clean bill of health. Just sayin’. ;-P

        So it turns out that Penn State has covered up wrongdoing by one of its employees to avoid bad publicity.

        But I’m not talking about the appalling behavior uncovered this week by the Freeh report. No, I’m referring to another cover up and whitewash that occurred there two years ago, before we learned how rotten and corrupt the culture at the university was. But now that we know how bad it was, perhaps it’s time that we revisit the Michael Mann affair, particularly given how much we’ve also learned about his and others’ hockey-stick deceptions since. Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.

        To review, when the emails and computer models were leaked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia two and a half years ago, many of the luminaries of the “climate science” community were shown to have been behaving in a most unscientific manner. Among them were Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Penn State, whom the emails revealed had been engaging in data manipulation to keep the blade on his famous hockey-stick graph, which had become an icon for those determined to reduce human carbon emissions by any means necessary.Report

        • Bob Wallace in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Well, I suppose if all we had to demonstrate that Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Penn State, had been cleared of unprofessional behavior was a Penn State investigation then we might want to worry.

          But let’s do a little review of things, shall we, before we get on Tom’s character assassination train and ride it off into loony-land…

          “In November 2009, the servers at the University of East Anglia in Britain were illegally hacked and emails were stolen. When a selection of emails between climate scientists were published on the internet, a few suggestive quotes were seized upon by many claiming global warming was all just a conspiracy. A number of independent enquiries have investigated the conduct of the scientists involved in the emails. All have cleared the scientists of any wrong doing:

          In February 2010, the Pennsylvania State University released an Inquiry Report that investigated any ‘Climategate’ emails involving Dr Michael Mann, a Professor of Penn State’s Department of Meteorology. They found that “there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had or has ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data”. On “Mike’s Nature trick”, they concluded “The so-called “trick”1 was nothing more than a statistical method used to bring two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field.”

          In March 2010, the UK government’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report finding that the criticisms of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) were misplaced and that CRU’s “Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community”.

          In April 2010, the University of East Anglia set up an international Scientific Assessment Panel, in consultation with the Royal Society and chaired by Professor Ron Oxburgh. The Report of the International Panel assessed the integrity of the research published by the CRU and found “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit”.

          In June 2010, the Pennsylvania State University published their Final Investigation Report, determining “there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann”.

          In July 2010, the University of East Anglia published the Independent Climate Change Email Review report. They examined the emails to assess whether manipulation or suppression of data occurred and concluded that “The scientists’ rigor and honesty are not in doubt”.

          In July 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency investigated the emails and “found this was simply a candid discussion of scientists working through issues that arise in compiling and presenting large complex data sets.”

          In September 2010, the UK Government responded to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report, chaired by Sir Muir Russell. On the issue of releasing data, they found “In the instance of the CRU, the scientists were not legally allowed to give out the data”. On the issue of attempting to corrupt the peer-review process, they found “The evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticised for making informal comments on academic papers”.

          In February 2011, the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted an independent review of the emails and found “no evidence in the CRU emails that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data”.

          In August 2011, the National Science Foundation concluded “Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed”.”

          Thank goodness agencies other than Penn State dug into this email theft and distortion and got us straightened out.

          Tom, you might want to get in touch with whomever wrote that ignorant piece you copied. Let them know that they were wrong and they helped you embarrass yourself….Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Bob Wallace says:

            Bob, this was a) a laugh b) an ominous cloud c) something to occupy the opposition, like the Bain thing.

            Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick. The douchebaggery about deleting emails. The coverup.

            Al Gore.

            Even if they’re correct, the Warmists have behaved abominably. Check back with the rest of humanity in a few years after you straighten your own house out. Meanwhile, we have families to feed.Report

  6. Scott says:

    I’m also surprised that the Vicky Triponey episode hasn’t gotten more airplay considering the way Paterno and the admin shut her down.Report