The internal investigation of Penn State University’s complicity with Jerry Sandusky’s serial raping of young boys has been completed and Gawker puts the conclusions best: “Everyone Pretending They Didn’t Know Actually Knew.” It turns out that all of the high-level administrators were aware of Sundusky’s crimes for at least four years before he was caught raping a boy in a locker room shower. Gawker, again, highlights the summary paragraph:
“Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims.”
My initial thoughts: burn the place to the ground.
Obviously, this is a bit extreme. There are going to be some serious lawsuits and if there is any semblance of justice in the world, insurance money and the university’s entire endowment will be spent making up for the suffering, lost childhoods, and torment that Penn State administrators helped foist on innocent children. This, of course, would cause the university to close, leaving tens of thousands of students without a school and thousands more faculty and staff without jobs. One could make the serious argument that these people don’t deserve the punishment. Does this mean Penn State should be allowed to exist?
One way of dealing with this is to remind ourselves that thanks to the Supreme Court, corporations like Penn State are considered people. As we learned from Stephen Bainbridge during the June episode of WHY?, the reason why corporations should be treated as such is that it is unclear who ought to be sued in a large-scale bureaucracy. The president? The police? The guy who opens the locker room for Sandusky in the mornings? None of these benefits are directly connected to the crime, and even if the President enabled Sandusky, which he did, how does his culpability relate to others? This is all too complicated not to guarantee reasonable doubt or (in a civil case) less than a preponderance of the evidence. Instead, if we regard Penn State as the person, the victims and their families can sue the university itself.
This makes sense. Penn State benefited from all those football victories. Penn State benefited from the massive alumni donations. Penn State recruited more students and faculty. And, Penn State got more publicity. Sure, the President’s salary was higher than it would have been if Sandusky had not helped win those football games, and sure, the guy who unlocked the locker room got to unlock a nicer, more prestigious locker room, but how do you put a monetary value on those actions?
What is clear is that Penn State, the person, is guilty of all of it, and since Penn State can’t go to jail, Penn State should be shut down. Are innocent people going to suffer? Yes, but innocent people have already suffered and, frankly, the students, faculty, and staff of Penn State probably aren’t all that innocent to begin with.
The vast majority of people at Penn State worship at the altar of university sports. They want to be there in large part because of the prestige. (For a horrifying and thrilling picture of life at Penn State, listen to This American Life’s episode “#1 Party School”) Academics are valued infinitely less than the sports program (much like at my own school, I would add). Can you imagine every top administrator engaged in a conspiracy to protect a pedophile philosophy professor? Me neither.
Furthermore – and now I’m speculating even more – I think a lot more people knew than just the administrators. I have lived more than half of my life on college campuses. Word gets around pretty quickly about faculty affairs, administrators’ drinking problems, and whose research is questionable. Hundreds of people were around Sandusky and his prey, meaning that thousands of people were privy to the gossip and none of them acted on it (as far as we know). So, in fact, there is a lot more guilt to go around than the report suggests. Does this mean that everyone knew or that people who heard the stories were certain? No, but this is exactly why Penn State must be regarded as a person. There is no way to provide convincing evidence that anyone below the highest levels knew anything specific even though many probably did.
There is an alternative: disallow Penn State’s participation in college sports and send the entire administration to prison for conspiracy. Prevent the university from having a sports program for at least as long as any of Sandusky’s victims are alive. This would be real justice, not just monetary compensation. But this will never happen for exactly the same reason that everyone protected Sandusky. Football at Penn State is sacrosanct. So, it seems to me that Penn State should go where it sports should go, down for the count.