This has been an interesting week in the news. Students of leadership,such as myself, saw two monumental presentations come forward to awaken and reawaken emerging issues prevalent in our educational institutions and organizations. The first is the legislation signed into law by NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding cyberbullying and what schools will be mandated to do in following through with an investigation and punishment of perpetrators. The second was the release of the Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of the Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse of Gerald Sandusky (also known as the Freeh Report, 7/12/2012).
The legislation in NYS is newsworthy because it finally brings to bear the guidelines necessary to hopefully hold people accountable for bullying behaviors that occur online. Unfortunately, the irony of this event is dulled when the NYS Governor Cuomo is also known as the "bully-in-chief" for the manner he has attacked, cajoled, used the authority of his office to belittle, bully, and intimidate public education in NYS, once renowned as an exemplar throughout the country for accountability, and student achievement.
The Freeh Report, which was completed in an objective, investigatory manner that should be modeled through our organizations for its style and directness, summarily found that the four most important people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. Unfortunately, the most attention that has risen from this report is that the legendary, God-like figure of Joe Paterno is one of the people referenced as being responsible for not reporting and investigating this matter when it was brought to his attention 10 years ago. But, after a closer read, the primary cause of this crisis was the lack of oversight, accountability, and discipline needed to supervise these Penn State "leaders" by the Board of Trustees. When the money coffers were filled to support the football program, all heads were turned the other way.
Apparently, even Joe Paterno -- as well as the top administrators at Penn State -- couldn't keep their priorities straight. They received a credible eyewitness report describing the rape of a young boy in a Penn State locker room shower -- a report from a then-graduate assistant on the football staff. The obvious response is to go to the authorities and seek a thorough investigation. But Paterno and Penn State administrators didn't do that.
According to the Freeh report, Paterno listened to the eyewitness account of his grad assistant and said, "You did what you had to do. It is my job now to figure out what we want to do."
Freeh asked: "Why would anyone have to figure out what had to be done in these circumstances?" The explanation may well be that Paterno was trying to figure out how to minimize the damage -- to himself and Penn State. In any event, the report says the coach talked to then-Athletic Director Tim Curley, and a decision was made not to report the incident to the police. Freeh said: "The best they could muster to protect Sandusky's victims was to ask Sandusky not to bring his 'guests' into the Penn State facilities."
The NYS legislation directs that accountability and discipline be applied to investigations of online abuse and perpetrators that are held responsible for the pain and misery of harassment and bullying, something that was missing at Penn State. A bigger failure of the institution was the lack of faculty and staff education on their role in being reporters of child abuse and harassment, something Mr. Paterno was clueless about.
The bigger they are the harder they fall, or so their legends crumble.
When so much ilk is placed in the reputation of a person or an institution at the price of allowing harm to come to one child, let alone eight or more, questions of managing human behavior should be discussed in public forums, and reassessment of perceptions critically analyzed.
This Friday morning, the tweets from social media networks are discussing if the statue of Coach Joe should be removed and the deific canonization of this human being be placed in perspective. My suggestion is to keep it where it is and turn it around so that we can honor a man that looked the other way when he should have been the leader everyone hoped he was.
O'Leary, J. (July 10,2012). NY Governor Signs Cyberbullying Law. Retrieved at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/48127962/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/
Freeh, L., Sporkin & Sullivan. (July 12, 2012). Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of the Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse of Gerald Sandusky. Retrieved July 13, at
(14July 2012) An Enduring Lesson in Ethical Leadership. The News-Journal. [Opinion]. Retrieved 14 July 2012 fromhttp://m.news-journalonline.com/Article.aspx?section=opinion&item=1