To the Editor:
Has Penn State’s Board of Trustees acted with moral courage? Mr. Ingram’s recent essay saluting the Penn State Board merits scrutiny (“A Salute to Penn State’s Trustees,” The Chronicle, April 10). In his essay, he claims that firing Coach Paterno and President Spanier “was a remarkable and selfless act of moral courage.”
Neither the essay, nor the Board’s eventual reasoning actually explain why the firings were an act of moral courage. One assumption which commonly bolsters the moral courage argument is that the Board learned of Sandusky’s actions the same day the the rest of the world read the illegally leaked Grand Jury presentment. The Board would certainly be entitled to question why Spanier sat on such a secret. However, the public record shows that Penn State’s General Counsel, Cynthia Baldwin, informed the Board of Sandusky’s 1998 and 2001 incidents months earlier. According to her January 2012 signed affidavit, Graham Spanier asked Baldwin to brief the Board of Trustees on the circumstances regarding Sandusky’s investigation.
In May 2011, she described to the Board the Grand Jury process, Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier’s testimony to the Grand Jury, and the particulars of both the 2001 and 1998 incidents. May 2011 seems like an ideal time for the Board to have decided whether Paterno and Spanier’s actions “constituted a failure of leadership.” The Board might even have found time to ask Paterno about his actions before voting to dismiss him. Instead it seems the Board preferred to wait for a late night crisis.
Moral courage rarely hides under cover of darkness. The Board’s actions did. They made the decision to fire Spanier and Paterno after 9:00 at night. Predictably, the gathered students rioted, causing close to $200,000 of property damage and sealing the cult narrative that all Penn Staters worship football over child safety.
Had the Board courageously acted in the transparent light of day, Penn State’s fate may have been entirely different. Maybe the crisis really would have become a distant memory as chairwoman Karen Peetz’s once predicted. Maybe the Board’s heavily mocked Move Forward campaign would have been believed.