Skip to main content

Penn State report is a warning to all of us

By Edward Queen, Special to CNN
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Thu July 12, 2012
 Louis B. Freeh speaks with the media after releasing a report highly critical of Penn State's handling of the Sandusky case.
Louis B. Freeh speaks with the media after releasing a report highly critical of Penn State's handling of the Sandusky case.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Louis Freeh releases report showing failures by Penn State administrators
  • Edward Queen: The report shows total lack of regard for innocent victims
  • He says administrators and Penn State board didn't live up to their obligations
  • Lesson is to focus on doing the right thing, not on covering up misdeeds, he says

Editor's note: Edward Queen directs the D. Abbott Turner Program in Ethics and Servant Leadership at Emory University's Center for Ethics in Atlanta.

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- The ongoing Penn State scandal reached if not its denouement Thursday at least its climax with the release of the report prepared under the auspices of former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

The report answers numerous questions about who knew about Jerry Sandusky's abuse of children as well as how suspicions, rumors and allegations were handled. For many of us the most disturbing element of the report already had been intimated in the press, the role that coach Joe Paterno played in handling complaints against athletes internally and disregarding both Penn State's procedures and also the law.

While charitably one could suggest that Paterno saw discipline as his role as a coach and mentor, less charitable interpretations also make sense, particularly a desire to maintain the reputation of the program and the income and prestige it brought.

Edward Queen
Edward Queen

Beyond motives, however, the creation of an environment where discipline took place "off the books" was destined to lead to a collapse at some point. Unfortunately when this collapse occurred its victims were children.

News: Penn State leaders disregarded victims, 'empowered' Sandusky

Freeh said in releasing his report that the investigation's "most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State."

"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized," he said. "Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest."

Freeh: 'Total disregard' for children
Former Penn St player speaks

That remark, which many of us hoped never to read, speaks directly to the findings of the report and to the organizational and moral failures of Penn State. Even more directly, the report directly chastises the university's board of trustees for a failure to exercise its oversight functions and its dereliction in ensuring that it was appropriately and adequately informed of risks to the university.

Not only did the university's administration not inform to the board about the suspicions of and allegations against Sandusky, the board failed in its responsibility in establishing a system to seek such information. Most shocking, however, given its legal obligations, was Penn State's complete dereliction in its responsibilities under express laws, including those mandating reporting and protecting those who bring violations to light.

News: Reactions to Penn State report flood social media

Freeh's ability to identify and order the moral failings of the university in the most appropriate, empathetic and humane way is admirable. He centers his condemnations primarily on the fact that at every level --the board, the president and Paterno -- no one expressed any concern for the boys whose lives were devastated by the abuse inflicted upon them by Sandusky.

Regardless of the structural, administrative and disciplinary failures at Penn State, the central moral failing was that the school cared more about its reputation, its football team, and even Sandusky than about his victims. The school grossly mis-ordered values and failed to meet its duties.

What Freeh has found is most disturbing and depressing.

A superior institution of higher education and a football program and coach admired for their express commitment to principles proved themselves to have feet of clay and appalling disregard for the safety and security of many innocent children.

News: Key players in Penn State report

Penn State's failings should be a warning to every organization and to all of us. We protect our reputations by doing the right thing, not by hiding our failings. Indeed, even amid discovery of error and wrongdoing, reputations are enhanced by acknowledging, dealing with them immediately and directly, and working to minimize their recurrence.

If we can draw a salutary lesson from this scandal, it is that. Unfortunately, for the innocent child victims of Sandusky's predation, the lesson has come too late. Maybe, if other organizations take these lessons to heart it will prevent future abuses and save others from becoming victims.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward Queen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT