A Press Release From America’s Venerated Institutions

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. Kim says:

    At least we read about this one. Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but there’s half a dozen programs just like Penn State, or even worse. And that’s just the ones people know about. Darkness casts a long shadow, and in the shadow, children bleed.Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    I’m getting some theories on Twitter that actually make PSU look even worse than is presently being supposed. Paterno’s legacy is being thrown to the media in service of an even bigger cover-up.Report

  3. Oscar Gordon says:

    One of the primary motivations of any given organization/institution is self preservation. Pretending otherwise is folly. Trusting that any given organization will actively seek out and expel powerful/valuable members who are exhibiting bad behavior is terribly naive. This is why investigations should always be conducted by outside organizations with no personal stake in the outcome.

    Ergo, why did nobody take the complaints of sexual assault to the NCAA? Or did they, and the NCAA just couldn’t be bothered?Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      “Ergo, why did nobody take the complaints of sexual assault to the NCAA? Or did they, and the NCAA just couldn’t be bothered?”

      Indeed, or if not the NCAA, then the states attorney or FBI etc. I am watching this slomo at the university that the wife works at. As sexual harassment claims come out of the woodwork and projects aren’t given funding (seemingly disparate ideas) it is clear that no one wants to take responsibility as there is no internal reward structure, but will jump in when institutional rewards become clear. Those rewards need to be increased in cases like these if we want to make progress on issues like this.Report

      • Or the police. Literally just call the police. “I saw a man sexually assaulting a child…” would be really, really, really easy. And none of these people ever did this.Report

        • Kim in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          How the hell do you know?
          This is the sort of thing that gets swept under the rug.

          Did you hear about the assistant DA who vanished under questionable circumstances up in Penn State?Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


          Although, as Kim kinda alludes to, local PD may have a pretty strong incentive to not look too hard at the allegations. That’s why I suggested the NCAA.

          Although, as such organizations get larger, I’m starting to think that victims of the members of those orgs, if they want justice in a timely manner, have to be very strategic. Talk to a lawyer, get the allegations out there in some manner, so an org can’t just sweep it under the rug.

          Which is, itself, a whole different level of injustice that victims & their families shouldn’t have to deal with.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            I wonder how much the legend of Joe and We are Penn State was established by 1976.

            The answer seems to be not far enough that people wouldn’t say things but far enough that it was swept under a rug.

            I think the institutional survival thing is right. Look at what happened when law school applications fell. Did schools close down? No, they radically lowered their admissions standards.Report

          • Mo in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            The problem is most of these were kids from broken or struggling households. The kind of people that don’t know how to play the game. This is also how priests got away with the same thing (or the raping police officer in OK). Target vulnerable people that can’t fight back or don’t know how to,Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Mo says:

              Right. The victims were not exactly from family’s that would threaten to sue and now how to find a lawyer to take the caseReport

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          I think you vastly underestimate the extent to which many people try and get through life by sticking their head down and not noticing things.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          This is going to be a really dark argument but how much are you looking at things with a 2016 lens.

          Historically, a lot of people did not speak about sex abuse and it was just kept under wraps for the sake of decency. The 1970s also had some really weird ideas on sexual liberation which we know look at with “how the fuck did they believe those things?”Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            The Sexual Revolution got rid of a lot of the bad things about the previous sex culture but it also through away a lot of the restraints that at least mitigated some of the more questionable aspects of human sexuality. Although even in more sexual prudish times, people tended to treat these things as elephants in the room and blame the victims more than the perpetrators.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          I don’t have the details at hand, but my recollection is that some people in the Sandusky case tried this. State College is pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of Penn State, and Penn State is a football program with a university attached to it. At the time in question, the football program was Joe Paterno’s fiefdom. I’m pretty sure the cops knew who they worked for.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

            We tend to frown upon company towns for some very solid reasons. Not sure why anyone thought that college towns would necessarily be better.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              College towns seem harder to prevent. We can make laws that say you can’t force your employees to live in company housing and pay them in scrip. We can’t make laws that prevent colleges from becoming the dominating employer and/or property owner in a certain area. Harvard and MIT own a lot of Cambridge but there is enough in Boston area to prevent them from being too dominant.

              Other areas like State College, PA (aka middle of nowhere) are going to be dominated by a local university if there is one. What other economy rests in State College, PA.

              So I don’t think the Company Town comparison is apt. This is a problem of mono-economy. Not that Penn State owns the houses that the police live in.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                The mono-economy was one of the big problems with company towns.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Colorado has two big college towns. Fort Collins (CSU) and Boulder (CU).

                If CSU flew away tonight, Fort Collins would be mostly okay tomorrow. A few blocks would have a number of storefronts close down (the bead stores) but the further you got away from campus, the fewer these storefronts would be. There are a lot of corporations in Fort Collins (HP, Kaiser Permanente, Anheuser Busch, there are a bunch) and these corporations don’t really have a symbiotic relationship with the college but they’re all just hanging out in the same ecosystem. Losing the college would be losing a big employer in the town… but it’d be losing one big employer among many other big employers who wouldn’t really feel much of a hit.

                If CU flew away tonight, Boulder would be losing *THE* big employer. Boulder would, overnight, turn into Rifle.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:


                Taking this along with @michael-cain ‘s point, the likelihood of CU flying away is very slim, but there is still the problem of CU being THE golden goose, as it were, for Boulder. Anything that could cause CU to suffer a financial hardship (be it a settlement, or significant hit to it’s reputation) or threaten the position of the key players is something a significant number of other players will work to prevent, so as to keep the goose healthy.

                When your options are limited in one key dimension, you can often find them very limited in many other dimensions as well, which means it all plays out like a classic tragedy.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’ll argue the other side of this. Boulder has the NIST/NCAR/NOAA government labs complex, Ball Aerospace, IBM’s relatively large presence, and some more. If CSU goes, it is unlikely that the HP/Intel/a bunch of other IC companies stay in the long term. My bet is that both cities survive, because Front Range but not Denver. One of the oddball things is that Boulder would become the place for tech employees who work in Broomfield or Longmont to live, much as SF is suddenly becoming a place that people who work in SV live.

                Plus Boulder’s trustafarian population…Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Yeah, I agree. I think Boulder could absorb the hit better than Fort Collins could (slight dip in home price/rent and the loss of some college-oriented businesses, but not nothing too noteworthy and quickly recovered from). I don’t have much to go on beyond what you mentioned except to add this: remember how not that long ago the Boulder traffic jams were based on folks commuting OUT of Boulder for work, and how now that’s radically reversed?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I might be stuck in the mid-90’s.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Boulder is crazy, dude. It’s not the sleepy stoned college town you’re prolly remembering.

                It doesn’t even allow drum circles on the mall anymore.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                I don’t live there, so just call my argument hypothetical.Report

            • One of the big historical risks with company towns, at least for manufacturing, is that the company can pick up and move. That’s harder for a university. Almost impossible for a state school.Report

          • Kim in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

            We still have that missing assistant DA to account for, folks.
            Never did find a body.Report

  4. RTod says:

    I’m am certainly not going to have time to do it, but it occurs to me that there will likely be an interesting post comparing people’s upcoming responses to this post and their responses my post on why I left the Democratic Party.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to RTod says:

      One key difference: plenty more places to go to school, play football, invest in research, etc.

      Say I, like you, abhor child abuse and those who enable it and feel similarly about the Dems upon learning of those horrors. At the same time, I care about gay rights or income inequality or healthcare reform and generaly believe the Dems’ positions are the best on those areas. I don’t have to join or donate to the Dems (two things I’ve never done), but can I vote for their candidates (provided they were innocent of wrongdoing in the noted crimes)?Report

      • RTod in reply to Kazzy says:

        “One key difference: plenty more places to go to school, play football, invest in research, etc.”

        And sadly, only an irreplaceable and very small number of party leaders and candidates.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to RTod says:


          I suppose I misunderstood you then.

          Disavowing the entire Democrat party is what I was thinking you were referring to.

          Voting all the damn bums out and pushing for reform among the leadership is what you’re saying folks should have done if they are truly outraged about what the Dem leadership did… do I have that right?Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

            Democratic Party. Not the Democrat Party! A person is a Democrat. The party is called the Democratic Party.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

            To elaborate…

            I can look at the Penn State situation and say, “You will not get a dollar from me… no tuition, no game tickets, no concessions, nothing from the book store, no donations… until you oust every last person who knew of this sordid affair and take steps to make sure things like this never happen again.” And I can do that because I can go to Ohio State or Rutgers or any number of other universities.

            But can I look at the Democratic party and say, “You will not get a dollar or a vote from me until you oust every last person who knew of this sordid affair and take steps to make sure things like this never happen again”? I don’t think I can. I can push to make that happen. I can vote for the people who I think will make that happen. But I can’t guarantee it. At which point I certainly can — and would — withhold my dollars. But would I stop voting for other Democrats if I felt like their policies were most aligned with my own? No. I don’t think I’d do that. I sure as hell wouldn’t vote for anyone involved in the crimes themselves or their cover up, no matter how strongly I agreed with them.

            Would you consider those to be different and inconsistent responses?Report

            • RTod in reply to Kazzy says:

              Would you consider those to be different and inconsistent responses?

              It depends: Are you taking action to remove the people in power who allowed the abuse to continue because it was in their selfish best interests? Are you holding those leaders — still i power today — responsible in any way, shape, or form?

              If so, then yeah, I can probably see a bit of a difference.

              If no, then I’m not sure I see that one is different from the other in any way I find remotely meaningful. It’s all just, “They’re my team, so I’m going to look the other way” all the way down. It’s just that this one actually is your team, which makes it harder to do what needs to be done to hold them responsible than it does a team you weren’t really going to belong to anyway.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to RTod says:


                I guess my point is that — sadly — it might be easier to hold a football team/college accountable than it is to hold elected leaders accountable.

                You’re more experience, more knowledgable, and more involved than I am, so I ask this genuinely: What can I, personally, do to hold these people accountable? How can I affect change?

                Along those same lines, is it okay if I shake my fists with equal vitriol at both Democratic leadership and Penn State administrators and do little else because frankly there are just only so many hours in the day? Because, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve done a damn thing to hold anyone accountable at Penn State. I mean, I didn’t go to any games last year… but that is the same as the 31 years prior so…

                I’m not saying I disagree with you. I’m also pretty sure I didn’t criticize your post on leaving the Democratic party (though if I did, please do correct me!).

                I guess what I’m asking is if I can vote for a local Democratic politician who was totally uninvolved in the crimes? Or if I have to disavow all Democrats? I was never in the Dem party so I can’t leave it. I never donated so I can’t withhold donations. I never campaigned or otherwise did anything to support them other than sometimes voting for their candidates.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

                “Along those same lines, is it okay if I shake my fists with equal vitriol at both Democratic leadership and Penn State administrators and do little else because frankly there are just only so many hours in the day?”

                Of course. To be sure, that’s what most of us do.

                The point I was originally making above is that many of the people who tend to nod along to Sam’s sentiments in this post are the same people who explained to me when I wrote my earlier post that I, to paraphrase, “just wasn’t seeing the big picture” — or was anti-woman, or I wanted the Republicans to win, or whatever — by making similar sentiments in regards to near-identical circumstances with a team with whom they felt they had skin in the game.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

              Or a very common one: Yes, the settlements are evil, and Netanyahu has no principles of any kind, and what used to be the peace faction is so marginalized it might as well not exist. But it’s not like I can give up on Israel and support the other Jewish state.Report

    • Kim in reply to RTod says:

      Your reasons didn’t include Saudi Arabia, did they?
      The money laundering is kinda out of control.Report