Freeh Report Calls for Overhaul of 'the Penn State Way'

July 12, 2012

The Freeh report lays out more than 100 bulleted recommendations, some in painstaking detail, on reforming Pennsylvania State University's operations, citing weaknesses in its "culture, governance, administration, compliance policies, and procedures for protecting children."

The recommendations, issued as part of a wide-ranging assessment of how Penn State officials responded to a football coach's sexual abuse of children, span the university. On the macro level, the report calls for some administrative restructuring, such as separating the Office of Human Resources from the university's finance and business organization. On a smaller scale, it says Penn State should make a list of the people responsible for Clery Act reporting—referring to the 1990 federal statute that requires colleges to keep records of campus crimes and disclose information about them to the public.

With their suggestions, investigators led by Louis J. Freeh, a former FBI director, aimed primarily at correcting the culture on the Penn State campus, which the report suggests is at the root of the university's problems. In particular, investigators found troubling "an overemphasis on 'The Penn State Way' as an approach to decision making, a resistance to seeking outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics."

While investigators emphasized the need for transparency in university operations, their recommendations also highlight the idiosyncratic workings of the flagship campus that may have contributed to the scandal. For instance, one recommendation is to "include athletic-department employees in management-training programs provided to other university managers," and another calls for Penn State to "review the organizational placement of the university police department in the university's finance and business area."

Beyond organizational and cultural shifts, the recommendations focused on:

  • Administrative reviews and restructuring, including the development of an office for general legal counsel.
  • Improving communication between the Board of Trustees, the administration, and the campus community.
  • Standardizing risk management, including establishing a policy to comply with the Clery Act.
  • Integrating the athletic department into campus procedures and responsibilities.
  • Restructuring the university's police department.
  • Managing the university's programs for children.

The recommendations, the report says, would help create an environment for "ethics-based decision making," where everyone would feel empowered to report abuses.

Though the report mentions and occasionally lauds changes the university has instituted since the scandal erupted last year, it also cautions against considering one-time changes to be sufficient.

"Restoring confidence in the university's leadership and the board," the report says, "will require greater effort over a prolonged period of time." The report concludes with recommendations to create a panel charged with overseeing improvements and holding annual reviews for the next two years.

Correction (3:41 p.m., 7/12/2012): This article originally stated incorrectly which year the Clery Act became law. The statute was enacted in 1990, not 1986, and took effect in 1991. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.