When the Penn State scandal broke and the University president was replaced, the new interim president stated that, in the future, Penn State would “not only do what is required under the law, we will do what is right.” In light of what we have been discussing, what do you think he meant by that? What is your reaction to his statement?
Years ago as a newly trained guidance counselor, I learned the chain of command concerning suspicion or report of child abuse. The chain was from informant to administrator and many times I made that phone call on behalf of the principal. Sometimes that phone call was uncomfortable, but I knew it had to be made and was very much warranted. I know what it feels like to make a call and hope and pray that it “works out”. However, regardless of that gut feeling inside, you make the call. Who is to say that not making that call may cause the death of an innocent person– a child that trusted you the principal, a teacher, or even a child that trusted the school system.
In the school setting, we are taught to report suspected child abuse to the school administrator. Administrators report all suspicions to the agency in charge, typically the Department of Social Services. The Department of Social Services investigates the suspicion and takes necessary actions to protect the child. The new interim president stated that Penn State would do what was required by law as well as what is right. Reporting the possible abuse to a school administrator reinforced the attempt to follow the law, but only partially. The report was made to a higher administrator within the organization, not to an acting agency that investigates such charges and is trained for these situations. Not following through on this report has caused irrevocable damage to many families. The real victims have been forgotten and replaced with day to day tabloid updates on the university and its coaches. A university, once founded on a reputation of pride and tradition, is in turmoil.
Doing what is right should have included reporting the suspected abuse to a higher agency, an agency not engulfed by the environment of a huge university. This case demonstrates the true effect of individuals becoming bigger than the organization. This causes a type of insulation, if you will, that allows individuals to close their eyes to wrongfulness around them. They become bigger than the system and blinded by what is happening around them.
This case shows the political framework in full swing. It exemplifies what Lencioni (2002) referred to when describing the political pull on team dysfunctions: “Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think” (p.88). We can only guess what the interim president meant by his statement, “we will do what is right”. In this political debate, all can agree on one thing— hindsight is 20/20. Although change will be inevitable for this university and new policies will become practice, the children whose youth was stolen from them will remain… victims… of an insulated environment in which some could do no wrong.
Lencioni, P. (2002) The five dysfunctions of a team (First ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.