The Penn State-Sandusky sex scandal was exposed dramatically to the public on all major news broadcasts as running heads in bold letters across television screens, on airwaves, the internet, and in print. I can recall that the press coverage felt like a natural disaster or some other catastrophic event had occurred and it took some time for the magnitude of what actually happened to sink in. In my mind I was asking myself, Is it real? How can this be true? I mean, we are talking about Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno, a living legend. Did Joe Paterno really know about this? Why didn’t he protect those young men? Then something that my grandfather said to me when I was very young came rushing back to me. He said, “You never really know someone or what they are capable of in a given situation.” In that instance, this sentiment definitely summed up my innermost feelings. In the days to follow, widespread media coverage leaked tidbits and details of the sad events and suddenly the news broke that the University President as well as Joe Paterno had been fired.
The news of the firings, we’re in my opinion, largely symbolic. In recalling the symbolic frame from the Bolman and Deal text, Reframing Organizations, symbolism is heavily enmeshed in the things (i.e. rituals, protocols, and legends) which directly impact the culture of any organization. Joe Paterno was certainly a figurehead, a legendary football coach, and to many, THE symbol of Penn State. In firing Joe Paterno as well as the University President, a clear message was being sent to the world that this behavior is unacceptable and that no person is above reproach.
Penn State’s Interim University President, Rodney Erickson, stated that he would “not only do what is required under the law, we will do what is right.” This was an emotionally loaded statement that appealed to the public as well as Penn State Students and Staff as a means of reassurance. After all, he does still have a university to run and core values to uphold which he has quoted several times in interviews. The message was overall positive and that sentiment is echoed when Rodney Erikson stated in an interview, “I want all Penn Staters to know that our future is still bright” and that “our core values … will define this university long after we’ve gone.” Those values: “honesty, integrity, excellence and community.” In the face of such a tragedy, the interim University President would have to be a champion for all the greatness of the University to maintain morale. That is exactly what he is doing and will continue to do.