Ex-Penn State president Graham Spanier was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment last week, for his failure to act upon information from graduate assistant Mike McQueary that he’d witnessed Jerry Sandusky engaging in sexual activity with a boy in a campus shower. The conviction followed former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former senior VP Gary Schultz pleading guilty to similar charges.
With Joe Paterno dead, Sandusky in prison for the rest of his life, and three high-level former Penn State officials found to have committed crimes, now is probably a good time for Penn State the institution to do what it should’ve done years ago: Shut up, accept responsibility for having prioritized successful football over the welfare of children, and pledge to do better in the future.
Alas, doing so would go against everything we know about scandal-plagued athletics departments and academic institutions.
“Running out of sympathy for 35 yr old, so-called victims with 7 digit net worth,” Penn State trustee Albert Lord wrote in an email to the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Do not understand why they were so prominent in trial. As you learned, Graham Spanier never knew Sandusky abused anyone.”
Lord doesn’t specify who these “so-called” victims are, but in this instance it’s likely that he’s referring to McQueary, who is 42, and won $12.27 million in damages from Penn State for wrongful termination, defamation, and improperly handling a whistleblower. After witnessing Sandusky abusing a child, McQueary first told his father, then Joe Paterno, Curley, and Schultz, who reported it to Spanier. McQueary testified at Spanier’s trial, and is an object of derision for Penn State truthers.
“I am tired of victims’ getting in the way of clearer thinking and a reasoned approach to who knew what and who did what,” Lord told the Chronicle in a follow-up interview. “The notion that there can be only one point of view with respect to all this stuff, and trustees at Penn State should toe a line that reflects the politically correct point of view, is symptomatic of what ails us.”
Curley and Schultz knew that Sandusky had been investigated by University police in 1998 over similar allegations, and Spanier received emails about it, though he denied having any knowledge of the case at his trial. Prosecutors revealed emails that showed the three discussed telling police that McQueary claimed to have witnessed Sandusky abusing a boy in the a shower—Curley even consulted with then-Penn State counsel Wendell Courtney, who said he should report it—but ultimately chose not to, instead barring Sandusky from bringing children onto campus and informing his charity, Second Mile.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon,” Spanier wrote in an email at the time. “We then become vulnerable for not having reported it.”
Lord is one of Penn State’s 38 trustees, and was elected directly by the school’s over 650,000 alumni. He’s the former CEO of loan giant Sallie Mae who “engaged in corporate rough and tumble” during his career, and was sought out to advise Spanier because “Graham knew that I’d had a bumpy but successful career.”
Given a chance to respond to Lord’s comments, the chair of Penn State’s board refused to condemn them them at all, only distancing the Board from them. “Al Lord’s comments are personal and do not represent the opinions of the board or the university,” Ira M. Lubert said. “The sentiments of board and university leadership were expressed in the very first line of the statement released by Penn State: First and foremost, our thoughts remain with the victims of Jerry Sandusky.”
Correction: This post originally said that McQueary is 33. He’s 42.