Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Ethics Of Political Brinksmanship

Also see this article posted online at its original source:  http://www.globalethics.org/newsline/2012/12/17/political-brinksmanship/

Two more weeks until the United States pitches over the “fiscal cliff”!

The phrase is shorthand for the consequences anticipated on December 31 should the U.S. government fail to address the Budget Control Act of 2011 with its attendant tax hikes and spending cuts.

When Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke warned of the fiscal cliff last February, he likely intended to heighten public awareness of the risks that would follow should leaders fail to address the national debt, spending, and the pending expiration of Bush-era tax cuts. Ten months later, as the deadline for action looms closer, the term fiscal cliff has been flung about so often that its power to shock has been replaced by its power to annoy. It’s a phrase now amplified by dire warnings of massive unemployment, Wall Street hoarding, economic stagnation, a decimated federal credit rating, middle-class devastation, and other apocalyptic forecasts. The language describing the negotiations themselves is similarly extreme (and prone to sports metaphors). These are gladiators, going multiple rounds in a showdown that is (variably) stalled, softening, heating up, tense, and too late. The negotiators are punching, posturing, leveraging, uncooperative, confident, blinking, playing chicken, flailing, taking hostages, and seeking cover. Proposals are laughable, dead on arrival, delusional, unserious, a charade, a chess match, and unworthy of a response.

Exaggeration, hyperbole, and threats seem to be endemic to all forms of negotiation, from used car prices to pro hockey contracts. At their essence, are these strategies tantamount to lies? And if they are lies, are they justified? Is their use ethical? Even if acceptable for tactical advantage in job negotiations, are they appropriate in legislation involving the world’s largest economy?

Under the best of circumstances, negotiators may find themselves confronted by ethical dilemmas characterized by competing goods. Truth-vs.-loyalty dilemmas arise when parties are inclined to be forthright, but the strictures of the bargaining process or promises made with allies prohibit transparency. Short-term-vs.-long-term considerations also must be weighed as the immediate values of respect and candor are juxtaposed against the ultimate aim of prevailing in the deal. And the individual-vs.-community paradigm is evident when negotiators weigh their own electoral interests with the needs of their constituents, their donors, and the country at large. Similar conflicts of interest are reflected in inside-outside messaging when negotiators posture to maintain their followers and appease allies while making covert diplomatic efforts to reach consensus with the other party.

Maybe such deceit does not even constitute an ethical dilemma. Some would contend that it is a routine and expected element in any negotiation. The extremes ostensibly create starting points from which the parties can move closer to an acceptable compromise. Starting with honesty and transparency would mean conceding past a fair midpoint if the other party failed to do the same. Taking all statements at face value is naive and violates the first rule of bargaining: “Let the buyer beware.” Perhaps implicit in this view is the consequentialist position that the ends justify the means. If the norms of negotiation involve overstatements, omitting relevant facts, misrepresenting intentions, or concealing the bottom line, isn’t it implicitly fair to all parties — and therefore ethical?

According to Sisela Bok, “A lie is a statement, believed by the liar to be false, made to another person with the intention that the person be deceived by the statement.” If the other party in a negotiation expects false positions and will not be deceived by outlandish threats and brinkmanship, perhaps the inflammatory statements are not technically lies. Still, they clearly are not the truth, either. Bok cautions us about the slippery slope that emerges when the principle of veracity is not universally embraced. In cases like the fiscal cliff, there are other harms of dishonesty to consider beyond the risk of deceiving the other party.

Played out on a national stage, amplified by a 24/7 news media voraciously seeking a new twist on an old story, political leaders’ maneuvers do great damage. Extreme postures erode public confidence and increase cynicism. Like the boy who cried wolf, our leaders’ extreme positions create a public inured to warnings, discouraged about civic engagement, and detached from the outcomes of political jousting. And contrary to the popular wisdom about extremity as a precursor of compromise, the noise and threats seem only to lead to further escalation and distance between positions rather than to resolution.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Petraeus’s Fall & Punishment-By-Resignation: Worthy Or Wasteful?

Also see this article posted online at its original source:  http://www.globalethics.org/newsline/2012/11/19/punishment-by-resignation/ 

This week David Petraeus joined the pantheon of powerful men undone by sex scandals. Like Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, John Ensign, and a host of others who have gone before, this most recent dishonor makes an easy target for ethicists. It features the usual characteristics: conflicts of interest, the misuse of power, moral and familial failings, and an innocuous event that unraveled to reveal secrets and duplicity.
The table discussion at my business dinner Monday night revealed the diversity of public opinions on such matters:
  • What concern is it of ours how one conducts his or her personal life? The Europeans think we are absurd and puritanical on these matters.
  • The personal is professional. Such behaviors create the risk for blackmail or other compromises in order to maintain the secret and uphold the image created by the leader.
  • Infidelity is not an isolated event. If one would betray the trust of his family in this manner, doesn’t that suggests other failings of character that are undesirable in our leaders?
  • These scandals reveal poor judgment. Should someone who uses commercial email to communicate with a paramour be the nation’s spy chief?
  • Petraeus’s actions erode trust in all authority figures. He is a role model and should be held accountable for his example.
  • Perhaps the public should not be so indiscriminate in its hero worship. Petraeus is human and to expect him never to err is naïve of us and unfair to him.
  • Why aren’t any women represented in this “Hall of Shame”? Are there simply too few in high-level leadership roles to call attention to their failings? Are women less likely to stray in the first place or are they simply more discrete when they do so?
  • Why are so many of these scandal-ridden people lawyers? Are some professions more prone (or immune) to adultery in public office? If so, what characteristics explain these patterns?
  • The preoccupation with infidelity in this case is a red herring. It diverts us from more important issues like electronic data privacy and the war in Afghanistan.
  • And, on the Veterans’ Day holiday, an historical note from a WWII vet: What if General Dwight Eisenhower had been forced to resign on the eve of the invasion of Normandy due to allegations of an affair with his chauffeur, Captain Kay Summersby?
This last point turns the discussion to an important and less examined ethical question: What is the proper response to ethical lapses — in particular, sex scandals? Why is a job resignation the apparent default choice in such circumstances?
A leader’s resignation may quell the publicity, provide privacy for healing, and satisfy societal clamoring for punishment, but is it just, effective, and proportional? Does punishment-by-resignation ultimately deprive the public of the talents and abilities of the banished leader, compounding the cost of the scandal?
Three cases come to mind that offer lenses for these questions:
  • The 1968 death of Mary Jo Kopechne and the 1991 rape allegations against his nephew William Kennedy Smith raised significant questions about Senator Ted Kennedy’s judgment and conduct. Kennedy received a suspended jail sentence for the Kopechne case and public derision for both incidents, but he refused to resign and served in the Senate until his death in 2009. His government service led to significant pieces of legislation spanning health insurance, civil rights, mental health services, AIDS treatment, and education. His long-standing quest for universal healthcare influenced passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
  • Even before he became president, Bill Clinton was surrounded by allegations of sexual impropriety. In 1998, he was impeached for obstruction of justice and other charges involving his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky. While his second term in office was severely compromised by the scandal and impeachment proceedings, his legacy after the presidency is distinguished by humanitarian relief efforts, establishment of the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation HIV and AIDS Initiative, and diplomatic roles such as special envoy to Haiti following the 2009 earthquake.
  • Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the U.S. presidency four times and served during tumultuous years for the nation and the world at large. His affair with Lucy Mercer, his wife Eleanor’s social secretary, was discovered by his wife and mother, but did not result in divorce, likely for political and family reasons. Mercer and Roosevelt continued to be companions, and she was with him at his death in 1945. Roosevelt’s paralysis also was successfully concealed throughout his presidency. His legacy in legislation and global leadership endures today.
As my dinner conversation suggests, we are far from unanimity on what role, if any, public opinion should play in response to personal failings by our leaders. Clearly these scenarios constitute powerful examples of the justice vs. mercy dilemma. Firing the leader may conform to public standards and notions of justice, but it fails to take into account the consequences of justice. Mercy would suggest that there are countervailing considerations, as the cases of Kennedy, Clinton, and Roosevelt illustrate. Taken to its extreme, however, mercy gives rise to extortion, wherein some people can flout standards due to their importance, or relativism, in which no standards apply because of public unwillingness to sit in judgment of the mighty.
©2012 Institute for Global Ethics

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Foundations Of Fame

Also see this article posted online at its original source: http://www.globalethics.org/newsline/2012/10/29/foundations-of-fame/

Charitable foundations provide essential support to the fine arts, education, social services, and other philanthropic endeavors in the United States. These foundations thrive based on their capacity to generate donations and funds from individuals, companies, family endowments, and other institutions. Ranging from small community and nonprofit entities to sprawling organizations — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of more than $37 billion, for example — foundations play a pivotal role in the solicitation and distribution of charitable funds.

Unfortunately, though, two recent cases serve as cautionary tales about the ways that famous founders can rally critical support for a cause, but also contribute to its undoing.

In 1997, having survived cancer, cyclist Lance Armstrong created the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) to support others afflicted with the disease. Through parties, races, memberships, and other initiatives, the LAF funded survivorship programs, education, research, and support services.

At the same time, Armstrong’s success and repeated Tour de France wins gave hope to survivors and publicity to the foundation. In 2004, the sale of tens of millions of yellow LIVESTRONG wristbands expanded the organization’s reach and power. In 2009, the LAF became known as the LIVESTRONG Foundation.

Throughout this time, Armstrong denied the steady stream of allegations that he illegally used performance enhancing drugs. This fall, amid the weight of mounting evidence against him, Armstrong suddenly decided to stop officially challenging the allegations. He was summarily stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, dropped from endorsement deals, and banned from the sport of cycling for life; he also stepped down as chairman of the foundation that he had helped launch.

Another recent case illustrates a similar fall from grace. Wyclef Jean, a well-known musician and member of the hip-hop group The Fugees, established his foundation in 2001. Known as Yéle Haiti, the organization provided scholarships, meals, school funding, and other resources. It grew exponentially following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti thanks to subsequent fundraising appeals from Jean via social media.

Despite financial success, the organization closed this summer amid allegations of mismanagement, including the failure to submit tax returns, nepotism, improper transactions, and nonexistent and underwhelming services. One of the more galling claims was that expenses included payments to Jean for performing at his own charity’s fundraiser, though at “less than market value.” For his part, Wyclef Jean has pushed back against the critics, calling it a “crucifixion” and ascribing problems to a few personnel and organizational growing pains. He also cites the long-standing problems facing Haiti and notes that his is not the only NGO to struggle to make progress there.

On the surface, Yéle Haiti and LIVESTRONG may have little in common: The first is shuttered, the second survives; the first was widely accused of poor management, the second is not. But both had charismatic and passionate founders and were intended to address compelling and timely needs. Their failures hurt not only their employees and potential beneficiaries, but also their donors and the philanthropic community as a whole. The big names that drew donations in the beginning also drew exposés at the end.

As with the William Aramony scandal at the United Way and the more recent backlash against the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, high-profile failures such as the Lance Armstrong and Wyclef Jean cases create cynicism and distrust.

If wearing a yellow wristband originally signified respect for a heroic athlete and cancer survivor, does wearing it now signify support for a liar and cheat? To the extent that fame brought people and dollars to LIVESTRONG, will infamy drive them away? Perhaps. But for those who identified more strongly with the mission than with the founder, the commitment likely will endure. How many supporters fall into each category remains to be seen, but both the benefits and perils of high-profile leadership are evident now.

Donors who contributed to Yéle Haiti because they were fans of Jean’s music and were moved by his appeals on Twitter, may not notice the charity’s closing or be perturbed by the allegations of misconduct. Others, though, take notice, unfairly equating Yéle Haiti’s downfall with successful celebrity work in the region (see: Sean Penn) or elsewhere (see: Angelina Jolie). For more casual observers, these failures fit into an overall narrative: that money is wasted by charities and that those who lead them have flawed or suspicious motives. With competition for donations high and resources low, fundraising is already hard enough. Skepticism just makes the job more difficult and diminishes the return on investment.

Not everyone should start a foundation and not everyone should lead a foundation. But this does not mean there is no place for the famous in the work of foundations. Many worthy causes that already exist struggle in anonymity and could benefit from the involvement of a high-profile champion. Concerned celebrities can develop fiscal sponsorship arrangements or partner with community foundations to channel their gifts through established and reputable entities.

If they insist on starting from scratch, stars should make sure that professionals are hired to advance their cause. Assigning clear and appropriate roles to the founder and to the administrative leadership will help protect against conflicts of interest and insulate the mission if the star sponsor turns out one day to have feet of clay.
©2012 Institute for Global Ethics

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Time to Look in the Mirror

It’s like one of those movies where the husband dies in a plane crash and the wife learns he had a secret life—another identity, a second wife and kids, etc. The world she thought she knew is turned upside down. Trust is broken. Were friends complicit in the lies or as stunned as she was? Can she ever love again? 

That’s pretty much how I feel after the last in a series of scandals emanating from my workplace, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

I fell head-over-heels for UNC (no pun intended) the first day I interviewed here in 1998. The grounds were gorgeous, the people were friendly, the students bright, the opportunities abundant. I am an unmitigated sports nut, so I have been in blue heaven for 13 years, even in the losing seasons. I incorporated UNC as part of my identity, proud of the work I did for my School and for other units on campus. I have a wardrobe constructed around Carolina blue. As a more cynical colleague says, I drank the Kool-Aid. 

I am not naïve to the fallibility of individuals or organizations. I have been an administrator in non-profit, academic, and public institutions. I serve as an expert witness in professional negligence cases. I write about ethics and moral courage. If anyone should have been inured to the possibilities for failure, it would have been me. So how come I am gob-smacked by the revelations this week that our VC for Advancement misused his budget for travel with his girlfriend (the parent of a famous athlete and a UNC development employee whose job the VC appeared to create)?  It’s not like this was a surprise—even people as low on the food chain as I am knew parts of this story. Maybe I am just fatigued at waking up each morning to find some new, shameful revelation about a place I love, a place I thought could do better. This drama follows a transcript scandal that followed an academic scandal that followed a football scandal. I’m not even counting the lovesick professor-turned-drug-mule scandal. 

I struggle to make sense of it and to search for an answer. There is not one bad apple to tie all of these humiliations together. There is not (I don’t think! But what do I know!?) a culture of corner-cutting and side-dealing that would have predicted these events. Campus leaders are smart, hard-working, accomplished, and dedicated to UNC. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni are not shy about speaking up about issues large and small. The checks and balances that assure integrity seem to be in place, but clearly they are not. Right now I am not equipped to deconstruct these events for any kind of useful analysis on governance and ethics or even to begin to answer the question why. It is all too close and still unfolding. I am still in the shock stage of the phases of grief, though moving quickly past denial to anger, mourning our lost reputation and my lost trust, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Penn State/Second Mile Scandal 6.0: More on How the Good Go Bad

Last month I introduced the topic of why people of integrity sometimes do the wrong thing (or fail to do the right thing). I used as an example famed football coach Joe Paterno. After he was excoriated last week in the Freeh report on the PSU/Sandusky scandal, the late coach’s family questioned how any “sane adult” could cover up for a child molester.  Indeed. Ignorance, denial, misplaced loyalty, short-term thinking, and perceived helplessness could have all conspired in his failure. In my earlier post I discussed ignorance. Today I’ll address the others and throw in two more hypotheses as a bonus.
In this case, denial doesn’t mean denying culpability in an event. It refers to the defense mechanism wherein something is so difficult to comprehend that the individual refuses to accept the reality, even in light of overwhelming evidence. Finding that an assistant you trusted for over thirty years was using your workplace to seduce and sodomize boys could certainly qualify as information too painful for Paterno to bear.
            Loyalty is a great quality. It means we stick by those we care about, not just in the good times, but in the bad times, too. We may become dedicated to institutions as well as to individuals. Unfortunately, people are sometimes loyal well past the point of reason, twisting the virtue into a vice. Some remain loyal to those who misuse and abuse them. Others are so blinded by their loyalty that they cannot see the failures and fallibilities of the organization or the person they love. They double down on their dedication in the face of “attacks” from outsiders. Perhaps Joe Paterno’s devotion to Penn State or to his longtime friend distorted his judgment. His loyalty to those he knew (Sandusky, the football team, the University) was more powerful than his responsibility to nameless, faceless kids abused under his watch. 
Short-Term Thinking
            In times of emergency it is easy to focus on immediate needs at the risk of long term implications. This is even more likely when high stress and strong emotions are involved.  Scandals are usually made worse by the efforts to make them go away through lies, evasions, blame, withholding information, destroying evidence, and circling the wagons among a trusted few individuals. Such efforts to mitigate the damage preclude clear thinking, perspective taking, and consideration of the “what-ifs” that lead to rational, long-term planning. Amid the decision to close an investigation against Sandusky in 1998 without charges, PSU VP Gary Shultz asked if Sandusky’s behavior was the “opening of Pandora’s box”. In retrospect, it’s unfortunate that Shultz’s big-picture “what if” question didn’t have more influence on the decision makers.
Perceived Helplessness
            A common refrain in many of my moral courage workshops is that would-be whistleblowers fail to speak up because they think it is futile to do so. They feel powerless over longstanding corruption, entrenched interests, or people higher than them on the org chart. The Freeh investigation identified this apprehension on the part of janitor Jim Calhoun who feared losing his job if he reported observing a Sandusky sexual assault. Since the person he feared was Joe Paterno himself, it’s unlikely that Paterno was stymied by perceived helplessness. I’d suggest the coach was thwarted by the inverse—perceptions of power.
            People who have possessed great power-- financial, political, social, organizational etc. are used to exercising it to meet their personal and professional ends. The risk is that it can create an illusion that the power is sufficient to contain all forms of human behavior or all types of institutional crises. Over the years Joe Paterno was able to inspire thousands of young men, vanquish competitors, evade PSU student disciplinary processes, and refuse entreaties from the University President that he resign. Perhaps these and other successes led him to believe he could compel Jerry Sandusky to cease his abusive ways or that he could contain damaging revelations. If the Freeh report is to be believed, Paterno and other PSU leaders were powerful enough to suppress disclosures about Sandusky’s abuse for over 12 years. But power has its limits. Eventually Victim 1’s mother was able to ignite the investigation that brought the whole house down.
            Like denial, rationalization is a defense mechanism. In this case, justification is used to tolerate (or even glorify) unacceptable feelings or actions. In the Penn State case, the failure to act on Sandusky’s behavior may have been justified by contending that it was “more humane” not to report him, that it would protect the school or the football program, even that it would spare the victims the shame of investigations and testimony. Another pernicious rationalization employed by otherwise “good” people is that a bad act isn’t of the magnitude to undo their overall virtuous self-image. (For more on this principle, see research by Dan Ariely in his book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty).    

So, why might a sane adult, widely believed to be a person of integrity, fail so badly? Clearly there are plenty of hypotheses. We must also consider the possibility that sometimes people just aren’t as good as they (or their PR machines) portray them to be. The “dark side’ of Joe Paterno is revealed in Vicky Triponey’s accounts of his treatment of her while she was a VP at Penn State. Maybe this “dark side” is just the occasional lapse of an otherwise exceptional human, or maybe it is really the defining characteristic of that person. Either way, we’re wise to follow the caution offered in Samuel Johnson’s novel, Rasselas, which is, ironically, set in The Happy Valley. "Be not too hasty ... to trust, or to admire, the teachers of morality; they discourse like angels, but they live like men."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Penn State/Second Mile Scandal 5.0: The Freeh Report

This morning, former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued the findings of his investigation into Penn State’s handling of sex abuse complaints involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky.  The 267 page report concluded that “the most senior leaders at Penn State” demonstrated “total and consistent disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” These four “powerful people” (President Graham Spanier, Senior VP Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Time Curley and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno) “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade”, concealing “Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community, and authorities”, exhibiting a “striking lack of empathy for the victims”… “in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity”.
The report criticizes the PSU Board’s failure to exercise oversight, create a climate that fostered accountability, have procedures or structures to address organizational risks, and make reasonable inquiries into the matter when it was reported in local news in March 2011. The Board was found to be “over-confident in Spanier’s abilities to handle crises and was unprepared to deal with the filing of criminal charges against University officials in November, 2011… and the firing of Coach Paterno.”
“From 1998-2011, Penn State’s ‘Tone at the Top’ for transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection was completely wrong, as shown by the inaction and concealment on the part of its most senior leaders , and followed by those at the bottom of the university’s pyramid of power. This is best reflected by the janitor’s decision not to report Sandusky’s horrific 2000 sexual assault of a young boy in the Lasch Building shower. The janitors were afraid of being fired for reporting a powerful football coach.”
It cites former President Spanier for “discouraging discussion and dissent” and notes a “lack of awareness of child abuse issues, the Clery Act, and whistleblower policies and protections”. (The 1990 Clery Act involves campus security policies and the reporting of crime statistics). The football program enjoyed an elite status on campus and “didn’t fully participate in, or opted out of, some university programs, including Clery Act compliance”.
The report concludes with 120 recommendations involving structures, policies and procedures to protect children, increase legal and regulatory compliance, strengthen the Board and improve administrative processes. It notes, however, that the largest and perhaps most difficult change involved that of culture “that contributed to the failure of Penn state’s most powerful leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator.” While the University’s culture has many laudable aspects such as collegiality, high standards of educational and research excellence, the report notes “an over emphasis on ‘The Penn State Way’ as an approach to decision making, as resistance to seeking outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the University’s reputation as a progressive institution.” PSU should engage stakeholders, peer institutions, and outside experts in ethics and communications to conduct a review of its culture, which “may well demand further changes” at the University.    
The Freeh report is painstakingly constructed and painful to read. It offers a cautionary tale for all of us involved in organizational governance. Fortunately though, it also offers a blueprint for strengthening institutions and mitigating future risk.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Penn State/Second Mile Scandal 4.0: The Failings of Good People

In my office I have a Penn State hat signed by the school’s famed late coach, Joe Paterno. My parents gave it to me, having received it at a corporate leadership conference at which JoePa was a featured speaker. His topic was integrity, and for many he epitomized the concept. The Penn State football uniforms were decidedly old school – no player names on the back, no decals on the helmets signifying interceptions, hits, or other performance targets. The coach disdained post-play showboating by team members – why should a player celebrate something he was supposed to have been doing in the first place? Devout Catholics, Paterno and his wife lived simply and behaved humbly. They contributed to the well-being of the community and University, co-chairing the capital campaign for a new library and donating a million dollars for a new hospital wing. Graduation rates of football players under Paterno were above the national average and he was known as a mentor who emphasized citizenship and integrity among his players. His abrupt firing in the wake of the Sandusky sex abuse scandal led to student revolt and enduring efforts to clear his name.
How can someone so roundly recognized as a person of integrity fail so spectacularly? And, if it can happen to him, can it happen to any of us?
Although the answers are speculative, they are worth considering. Good people fail because they aren’t as good as their image suggests. They also fail because of ignorance, denial, misplaced loyalty, short-term thinking, and perceived helplessness. I’ll address these features in this and upcoming blogs. First, some caveats: 1) my closest connection to Joe Paterno is the hat in my office, so I rely on the reports of others for insight into the man and his actions. Those sources may or may not be honest and valid, though I do the best I can to weed out overly biased accounts in either direction. 2) In the big scheme of the Penn State/Second Mile scandal, Joe Paterno is a very minor character (albeit the best known). Jerry Sandusky has been convicted on 45 counts of crimes against children, two PSU officials are charged with perjury, civil suits are lining up on behalf of victims, and investigations are underway concerning the two organizations involved. There are plenty of failures worth examining, and I likely will do so as the cases unfold. For now, though, I will focus on Paterno, whose outcome was so greatly at odds with his image. Let’s start with a recap of the case.
Case Review
On February 9, 2001, assistant coach Mike McQueary went to Paterno’s home and revealed that he had observed sexual abuse of a youngster by Sandusky in Penn State facilities the evening before. (The exact language McQueary used is in contention, with some suggesting that he wasn’t explicit in his explanation to his elderly mentor, and others maintaining that the message was sufficiently clear). Paterno reported it to his supervisor, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and appeared to leave it in his hands. Ultimately, with the consent of the University President, the leaders merely forbade Sandusky future access to PSU facilities. In November, 2012, grand jury findings alleged years of sexual abuse by Sandusky, including at least four cases that occurred following the 2001 case. Joe Paterno told the PSU Board that he would resign at the end of the football season but was fired immediately, as was PSU President Graham Spanier.
At least part of the continuing outrage at Paterno’s termination is based on the belief that he was made the scapegoat for the failings of his superiors. Many contend that he did what was right in reporting it and had no legal or organizational responsibility to pursue it further. Others feel he had a moral responsibility to assure that proper steps were taken, in light of his power and position and the victimization of vulnerable youths. The Coach himself said in November, "This is a tragedy". "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." Recent developments in the case suggest that Paterno did continue to be involved beyond his initial report to Curley, and that his actions contributed to the cover-up. Reports released yesterday reveal that administrators initially agreed upon a three-step remedy to the assault, including confronting Sandusky and banning him from campus, notifying The Second Mile charity, and reporting the case to child welfare authorities. Following a meeting with Paterno, the third step of the plan was dropped. The leaders suggested they would encourage Sandusky to get professional help and that this would constitute “a more humane and upfront way to handle” it.
Whether the errors were in what he did or what he failed to do, the roots of Paterno’s lapse of integrity are germane to all of us. For starters, perhaps he could have done better if he had known more.  
Failure of Knowledge
            Though school administrators and teachers are mandated reporters in Pennsylvania, college coaches are not. Nevertheless, anyone is entitled to report their suspicions of abuse or neglect to child protective services. Child abuse was probably not a common part of Joe Paterno’s lexicon or life experience. The coach admits as much in a January 2012 interview with The Washington Post. “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
Despite the widespread publicity about pedophilia in the Catholic Church, the notion of sodomy was even more difficult for the 85 year old to reckon with. In addressing the ambiguity over McQueary’s report to him, he told the Post, “You know, he didn’t want to get specific,” Paterno said. “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”
In addition to the lack of knowledge about procedures for addressing abuse and the harm such abuse causes victims, Coach Paterno and the PSU administrators also appear to have lacked knowledge of the characteristics of pedophilia. A stern talking to or a close call with reporting is insufficient to curb the assaults. Sandusky’s continued exploitation of youth following the 1998 investigation serves as evidence of that.
            There are many remedies for failures of knowledge: to be aware, to learn more, to avoid willful ignorance, and to seek out those who can educate us when we ourselves lack the knowledge to act.
Coming up in the next blog, the powerful combination of denial and loyalty.