Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Moral development education takes a downswing at Penn State University

Image: Penn State students pour into the streets of downtown State College, Pa., November 9, 2011 after the Penn State Board of Trustees announces the firing of University President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno. Both men were fired surrounding the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark CENTRE DAILY TIMES.

While walking to the Metro today, Suzanne and I were discussing how the Penn State University Board of Trustees showed a rare form of guts and accountability, in their firing of President Graham Spanier and Football Team Head Coach Joe Paterno over their failure to deal with the criminal acts against children by alleged pedophile former team coach Jerry Sandusky.

Students, who earlier in the week marched in favor of Coach Joe Paterno keeping his job, apparently don't have the same moral compass as the Board of Trustees.

See the AP story, Joe Paterno Fired: Penn State Students Riot in Protest" and "Thousands of students pour into Beaver Canyon" from the Centre Daily Times, the daily newspaper for the State College region.

Note that other coverage calls what happened a riot, and there are photos and reports of broken glass and overturned vehicles, the Centre Daily Times did not.

Usually it's the other way around, e.g., protests against university investment in South Africa, or against US military action abroad. At Penn State, instead the university's ultimate leaders make the right decision, and students protest it, protesting action taken against people who through their inaction, protected a pedophile.

Earlier in the week, Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote a good column, although the headline isn't so good, "Blame for the Penn State scandal does not lie with Joe Paterno," where she made the point that organizations need to hold themselves to higher standards, and to not focus on the personal, but go beyond the personal. She writes:

... If Sandusky is guilty of molesting, how do we parcel out the responsibility and decide what was preventable? Who should have recognized him, and how?

“Whether it’s the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, USA Swimming, or Little League, you look at these groups and say, why do they keep screwing this up?” Lanning asks.

According to the “acquaintance molester” profile, it’s probably a mistake to place all of the blame on Paterno personally. Paterno was perhaps in the worst position to see or judge the alleged behavior, because Sandusky was his valued assistant from 1966-1999. “It’s hard to identify those people close to you as a potential molester, because you know them so well,” Lanning says. No one wants to believe such a thing of a friend.

Which is exactly why someone at Penn State’s institutional level should have done better. It was the responsibility of Paterno’s more dispassionate superiors Spanier, Schultz and Curley to take a much colder-eyed, distanced organizational view of Sandusky’s alleged behavior. Instead, they failed all along the line.

“An organization is bound to a higher standard; it has an obligation to rise above” the personal, Lanning says.

Usually it's the other way around, organizations hide behind their institutional structure and people on the outside call for accountability, e.g., students protests against university investment in South Africa, US military action abroad, etc. Here it's about protecting people who protected, or at least didn't substantively act, against a pedophile.

Just as Virginia Tech University of Virginia (I had my tragedies mixed up) responded to the killing of Yeardley Love, a lacrosse player killed by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, also a lacrosse player, by doing campus-wide training about recognizing the signs of abuse, Penn State will need to up its game on moral development training for the entire campus, especially students.

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