The Penn State Board of Trustees has fired Graham Spanier who has been President of Pennsylvania State University for 16 years. President Spanier knew for years of the allegations of child sexual assaults by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky but chose to make no report of those allegations to police, which allowed the assaults to continue.
Penn State also fired the 45-year head football coach Joe Paterno for the same reason. He knew of the serious allegations against his former assistant but did not report them to police. Coach Paterno could not be allowed to continue coaching even through the remaining four games of this season. Here’s why:
Many Americans are like Spanier and Paterno, busy with our lives, trying hard to do a good job at our work, and feeling an acute shortage of time. Confronted with similar serious allegations of child sexual abuse against a colleague, we, too, may feel some reluctance to report those allegations to police. Why risk disrupting our already stressed lives by becoming involved in something so ugly, particularly if, as with Spanier and Paterno, we have no apparent legal obligation to do so?
Perhaps we might even feel, like Spanier and Paterno, that the professional work we are doing is so important that we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by concern over possible child victims whom we do not even know.
Pennsylvania State University and its Board of Trustees had to render a moral judgment on the choice that Spanier and Paterno made in that situation. I think the judgment that had to be rendered was obvious. No work however important, not even running a successful college football program, can absolve us of the moral responsibility to share what we know about possible child abuse with police.
Every day that Penn State allowed Spanier and Paterno to remain in their positions said otherwise, said that the work of winning college football games is so important as to overshadow any shortcomings of morality.
Penn State in firing its president and coach took the first step towards restoring the aspirations of its school song, “May no act of ours bring shame, To one heart that loves thy name.”