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The Tone Deafness of Penn State President Eric Barron Is Deafening

New Penn State President Eric Barron (Nabil K. Mark, AP)/Morning Call
Penn State president Eric Barron certainly made an impression yesterday.

A few months ago, Barron said he would review the Freeh report, the one requested by Penn State's board of Trustees in the wake of the revelations against Gerald Sandusky and was used by the NCAA as a justification for unprecedented sanctions against the university.

Evidently, his report is in.

Today, he said that the Freeh report "very clearly paints a picture about every student, every faculty member, every staff member and every alum. And it's absurd. It's unwarranted. So from my viewpoint, the Freeh Report is not useful to make decisions."

His tone deaf comments continued.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of shoes that have to drop. You could argue that public opinion has found us guilty before the criminal trials," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind what was completely and totally wrong was the notion that this entire alumni base, our students, our faculty, our staff, got the blame for what occurred."

With the full text of Barron's letter now available, it seems to point to a rift within the Penn State community on the now-infamous Gerald Sandusky scandal.
Penn State University is an extraordinarily successful academic institution, highly ranked, with robust finances and applications for admission breaking all-time records, and with a dedicated faculty who are competitive with the best in the world.... 
Yet these extraordinary accomplishments are rarely the focus of either national or local media, and even many of our alumni do not have a full sense of what we are accomplishing and the level of promise that exists for our future. Instead, recognition of our accomplishments is overshadowed by the actions and reactions that have followed the arrest and ultimate conviction of Jerry Sandusky and by the fact that so many issues of national discussion today are more focused on creating polarity and controversy than they are on providing clarity or finding solutions.
As you read the letter, you see a strange line that Barron is trying to walk: staying unwavering on combating child sexual abuse and recognizing the horror of those crimes, while still trying to attack the Freeh report and even veering into "Penn State isn't guilty yet in a court of law" territory.

Ultimately it's a tightrope that cannot be walked, and the letter seems like yet another ham-fisted Penn State response to the serious issues raised in the Freeh report.
We also have faced, and continue to face, a trial of the institution in various media reacting to the Freeh report and based on the indictment of three former University administrators. This “pre-trial” appears to have found our institution guilty. Further, the burden of this guilt has somehow been on the shoulders of tens of thousands of employees, students and alumni. The latter is absurd and undeserved. The guilt of the former administrators has not yet been determined in a court of law. Outside of Penn State we repeatedly see cases tried in the media. People are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented. Unfortunately, we have to wait impatiently for our judicial process to run its course. Regardless of the wide range of individual opinion or desires, as an institution, it is very difficult to either defend or assail until a judgment based on a full set of facts is rendered.
The highlighted portions of the letter bear further review.

"Further, the burden of this guilt has somehow been on the shoulders of tens of thousands of employees, students and alumni. The latter is absurd and undeserved."

Sorry, Eric, but the blame for that doesn't belong to the media.

It has been more than three years since the Freeh report was released.  Only one person has faced trial on criminal charges - Sandusky himself.

The rest of the accused are free men at this moment.

Tim Curley, Penn State's former athletic director whose response to the report of child sodomy in Penn State's athletic facilities was to have Sandusky no longer bring children to Penn State facilities?  Gary Schultz, Penn State's former vice president who did not report to anyone that Sandusky was under investigation, thus allowing him to commit more crimes and to continue to travel throughout the state?  Graham Spanier, who allegedly knew of at least one Sandusky crime on campus but didn't alert authorities?

All free.
Spanier is free on $125,000 unsecured bail. Curley and Schultz were released on $50,000 unsecured. 
More than three years have passed for Curley and Schultz, two for Spanier, and no trial date is set.
Until these three people formally go to trial for grand jury perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and child endangerment, Barron's complaint of being guilty in the eyes of the media seems a lot less like the fault of the media that the fault of the legal process of the state.

What Barron appears to fail to grasp is, until that trial of those three Penn State administrators takes place, what are the media, or everyone else for that matter, supposed to do?

"The guilt of the former administrators has not yet been determined in a court of law. Outside of Penn State we repeatedly see cases tried in the media. People are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented." 

Okay, then.  So, what do we, "the media", have, exactly?

We have a a the grand jury report, who found Schultz and Curley's testimony in particular "not credible".

We have a verdict of "guilty" with Sandusky himself, which at a bare minimum proves that child sex crimes were committed on Penn State's campus.

But we also have a yawning gap of silence regarding Spanier's, Curley's and Schultz's actions that fateful week in 2002.

Is there any reasonable justification for expecting a legitimate defense three years after the allegations were made public and thirteen years after the week in question?

Sandusky's guilt is not in question.

At a bare minimum Curley, Schultz, and Spanier were aware of some sort of impropriety between Sandusky and a boy on Penn State's campus and elected not to alert any authorities.  That's not really something that can be debated.

Blaming the media for rushing to judgement yet offering no explanation for the actions of Penn State "administrators" - Barron is very careful to call the athletic director, vice president, and president administrators, as if they were the equivalent of clerks - rings very hollow, to say the least.

These were not just "administrators" - they were people running the university.  If you believe Joe Paterno is blameless, you believe that Curley was Paterno's "boss", someone with more power and authority than Paterno himself.

And it's not like people at Penn State were really committed to allowing the truth to be known.  Instead, Penn State spent years denying people access to Freeh's database to either resume the investigation or dig any deeper into the allegations, including one by a former victim of Sandusky's.  It was only a few weeks ago that t judge had to order Penn State to comply, giving them until May to come up with an acceptable redacted version of the documents.

By spending so much time and energy trying to prevent the contents of the Freeh report to become public, it certainly can be interpreted that some at Penn State are not interested in people learning the truth about what happened.

Instead, to many Penn State people, it seems that the extent of "finding the truth of what happened" is simply discrediting the Freeh report.

Penn State's president saying that the Freeh report is not useful to making decisions is like saying it's a good thing to ignore facts because we don't like what they have to say.  That may play well in State College, but not so well in Philadelphia, who are not as skeptical of the facts regarding the crimes for which Sandusky was convicted.

The Freeh report made public some of Schultz' handwritten notes that allegedly occurred after an criminal incident involving Sandusky in 1998.  ("Behavior -- at best inappropriate @ worst sexual improprieties" and "At min Poor Judgment.  Is this opening of Pandora's box?  Other children?")

This is not useful to know?

Even if some at Penn State are successful at explaining away some of the very real incontrovertible evidence in there, they fail to realize that any technical, legal victory in this area is completely hollow outside Centre County.  That goes for the restoration of Joe Paterno's win total.

The rest of America does not need Penn State to be clean the way Penn Stater's apparent need to believe that not only are they clean, they've always been clean.

And that is what reeks about this whole business.

What could be the saddest part of the of the letter was what wasn't even mentioned.

The letter could have highlighted, and introduced to a wider audience, a lot of good that has come to Penn State in making their campus a better, safer place.

By all accounts, Penn State has done a lot to educate and support groups that educate and combat child sexual abuse.

In the wake of the revelations, Penn State joined up with a group called PCAR (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape), supporting that organization with money and symposiums on keeping children safer.

On the ground, Penn State has made a great effort, backed up with money but not solely consisting of money, and done some genuinely great things.
Penn State's affiliation with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), as well as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), has resulted in a number of initiatives that are reaching communities across the commonwealth with new programs, support groups, and renewed investments in the prevention of child sexual abuse and maltreatment. 
Now in its third year of a partnership with the University, PCAR has used a portion of the $1.5 million provided by Penn State to fund several initiatives. The funds came from Penn State's 2011 share of the Big Ten bowl revenues. The partnership and pledge by Penn State to fight the crime of child abuse came about in December 2011, following the allegations of child sexual abuse against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. 
“We are so pleased to work with Penn State to address the issue of sexual abuse,” said Delilah Rumburg, CEO of PCAR and NSVRC. “Sexual abuse is traumatic for victims, those close to them and even entire communities. Through our 40 years of working on this issue in Pennsylvania, we know these devastating events can also inspire people to grow, learn and become active agents of change to support survivors and promote prevention. We’ve seen this first hand with our many Penn State affiliated partners.”
Initiatives like this, along with the active student-run One Heart PSU campaign, are two great things.  They deserve great press.  They ought to be talked about a lot more.

But I can see why many in "the media" feel like it's still not the right time.


The distraction of the NCAA sanctions, restoring Paterno's win total, and, most crucially, the unnecessary delay of bringing the Penn State "administrators" to trial who allegedly broke the law, prevents any sort of national closure on the issue.

Barron's letter to the University mostly talks about media misbehavior, discrediting the Freeh report and the war between factions of alumni, and taking special note of the criticism of the "football culture" by people outside Penn State, not to mention creating a false argument that "the media" have created a burden of guilt on the students, as if Curley and Schultz had nothing to do with it.

In the process he appears to blow off Penn State's own many contributions to combating child sexual abuse to one paragraph - and spends the next fifteen paragraphs taking aim at the Freeh report the NCAA and defending the compromise.

In trying to defend the football culture at Penn State, Barron inadvertently showed how much football culture still dominates his own viewpoint.

When it comes to his own words, defending the football culture is worth a lot.  Talking about the school's efforts to combat child abuse appears to be a distant second.

And that's what's still wrong at Penn State.

"The media" may have condemned Penn State as taking football more seriously than child abuse.  Now thanks to Barron's statement, we can measure exactly how much.  15 to 1.


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