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October 16, 2012

Michael Bérubé, Joe Paterno, and Penn State
Posted by Teresa at 11:15 AM * 35 comments

Michael Bérubéauthor, sometimes blogger, bright star of academia, and current MLA President — has written a remarkable essay about why he has resigned the Paterno Family Professorship in Literature at Pennsylvania State University.

That’s “Paterno” as in Joe Paterno, as in former boss of Jerry Sandusky, as in the child abuse sex scandal at Penn State, so you might think there’s nothing to explain. You’d be mistaken. Michael Bérubé has done a thing that doesn’t happen nearly often enough: he’s sorted out the actual story, evidence to date, and moral responsibilities of individuals and institutions.

In a perfect world, pile-ons wouldn’t happen. In a marginally less perfect world, every pile-on would be issued its own Michael Bérubé.

I don’t need to explain why I resigned the Paterno Family Professorship in Literature at Pennsylvania State University, do I? I mean, really. It was the Paterno Family Professorship in Literature. That’s all you need to know.

Except that’s not all you need to know. And much of what you think you know is wrong.

Here’s what everyone knows: The Jerry Sandusky serial-child-rape scandal involved “an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency.” Those were the words of the NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, as he announced sweeping and severe sanctions against Penn State’s football program.

And there is no question about who is to blame: “In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.” Those were the words of the Freeh report, commissioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees and submitted by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. In his news conference on July 12, Freeh insisted that the iconic coach, Joe Paterno, “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal.”

I read the Freeh report the morning it was released and proceeded to ignore every news-media outlet’s request to comment. A producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered called my English-department office, my office at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, my cellphone, and my home phone. For good measure, she e-mailed and tweeted me. That afternoon, I saw a cloud formation that pretty clearly seemed to be a smoke signal — “Professor Bérubé, this is NPR. Please call us RIGHT THIS SECOND.” Radio, TV, newsmagazines, and newspapers called and wrote. But I had nothing to say that day, and I have had nothing to say since. Until now.

I knew the day the Freeh report was released that I would have to resign the Paterno chair, but I hesitated for almost six weeks. (I informed my dean on August 20.) I did so chiefly out of concern for the feelings of Sue Paterno, Joe’s wife. I have always been very fond of her, as has my wife, Janet, and my son Jamie — and she will always have my respect and gratitude. I thought also of Joe’s son Jay Paterno, a former quarterbacks coach at Penn State, whose wife, Kelley, was one of my students when I was a teaching assistant at the University of Virginia. …

Bérubé then discusses some of his interactions with the Paternos. I’m only leaving it out because it’s bad form to quote that much of an article.


More important, the Paterno family has done nothing wrong. Remember that the next time someone casts aspersions on the name “Paterno.” Yes, they are contesting the Freeh report, the NCAA sanctions, and the destruction of Joe Paterno’s legacy. From the outside, from where you sit, it doesn’t look good. But just imagine their shock and grief. Last year their father/husband was an idol, a symbol of integrity in the deeply corrupt and smarmy enterprise of big-time college sports, author of the “Grand Experiment” that sought to bring success with honor to dear old State. He was Saint Joe, a throwback to an era when football players actually took real classes and graduated along with the rest of their cohort. (Indeed, the graduation rate for Penn State’s African-American players has matched that of its white players; few football programs can say as much.) Suddenly he is associated with—and, by some accounts, the mastermind behind—the cover-up of the most horrible scandal in the history of American collegiate athletics.

Who can say what form the Paternos’ grief should take? Grief is perhaps the least manageable of human emotions. And if the family members were grieving, as I knew they were, should I add insult to injury by telling them I could no longer hold the chair that bears their name?

Of course, that’s precisely what I had to do. So once I received word from the College of the Liberal Arts that my resignation of the chair was official, I wrote to Sue to tell her of my decision. I assure you it was not an easy letter to write.

Over the past year, many people have remarked that Penn State is living inside a bubble. In State College, in Centre County, perhaps in a 50-mile radius around Beaver Stadium, you can still see hundreds of tributes to JoePa — on T-shirts, on taxis — and, even more common, in expressions of anger and exasperation at the “National Communist Athletic Association” and “the Freeh Stooges.” It is striking.

Some visitors find such a reaction appalling — with good reason. Surprisingly few people here realize how bad it looks to contest the report our own trustees commissioned, flawed though it be; surprisingly few people here realize how it looks to wear T-shirts that construe Penn State as the victim in all this, as if they are willing to become complicit with the whole mess, active participants in the culture that produced this scandal. …

And yet we who live inside the bubble know a few things you don’t know. We know there is good reason to be puzzled at Freeh’s conclusion that Joe Paterno “closely” followed the 1998 police investigation into an allegation that Jerry Sandusky had engaged in inappropriate conduct with a boy in the showers at the university’s athletic facility. The Freeh report itself produces only two e-mails from Tim Curley, the athletics director who is now on leave, to support that argument. One indicates that Curley had “touched base” with Paterno, and the other asks for an update because “Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” The funny thing is, people didn’t usually refer to Paterno as “Coach”; they called him Joe. Of course, it’s possible that Curley was speaking in code precisely to protect Paterno; but it’s also possible that the second e-mail refers not to Paterno but to Coach Sandusky himself. We really don’t know.

But we do know that when it comes to the 1998 investigation, Freeh’s claim rests on a curiously thin reed. And though that doesn’t absolve Paterno for his inaction after Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant, reported seeing Sandusky in the showers with a boy in 2001, it does hold out the possibility that he was not lying to the grand jury in 2011 when he said he didn’t recall the 1998 investigation. (By contrast, it does not seem plausible that Curley and Gary Schultz, now a former vice president of the university, would not have remembered the 1998 investigation, as they claimed in 2011. But we will have to wait for their day in court, scheduled for next year.)

And we know that while the body of the report contains crucial details about the real scandal of the 1998 investigation, no one has cared to focus on those details. They may not have been part of Freeh’s commission, but they raise important questions about why the investigation was shut down, and they warrant attention. They tell a sorry story about local law enforcement and child services — but they don’t tell the full story. Alycia Chambers, a psychologist who was contacted by the mother of one of the boys Sandusky was “grooming,” filed a report with Detective Ron Schreffler of the university police department and with the Pennsylvania child-abuse line, affirming that Sandusky fit the profile of a pedophile. Schreffler, in turn, reported to a caseworker at Centre County’s Office of Children and Youth Services, but the Freeh report does not indicate whether he passed along Chambers’s report.

The mind boggles at how much human misery, first and foremost that of Sandusky’s subsequent victims, could have been prevented if anyone had had the sense to listen to Chambers and act accordingly. According to Freeh, because the youth-services agency had conflicts over contracts with the Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded, the investigation was handed over to Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare, which engaged its own psychologist, who proceeded to tell everyone that there was no cause for alarm: Sandusky wasn’t grooming kids for abuse, and the psychologist had never heard of a 52-year-old man “becoming a pedophile.”

How did this debacle happen? Was someone in the know protecting Second Mile, which Sandusky used to recruit his victims? Did the second psychologist just tell the public-welfare folks what they wanted to hear? Did everyone involved sigh with relief when the district attorney closed the investigation?

We don’t know. What we do know is that everyone who had any knowledge of the 1998 investigation should have rung every available alarm, and gone to every appropriate authority, after McQueary reported what he saw in 2001. No one in the Penn State leadership did so, and that — not their responses three years earlier, when the district attorney sounded the all-clear — is what is unforgivable.

So there are two institutional failures here. The first, in 1998, is primarily a failure of our police and child-protection authorities. The second, in 2001, is primarily a failure of university governance. …

Bérubé digs into more details. At no point do I get the impression that he’s trying to exonerate Joe Paterno. Mostly, he’s sorting out the evidence and putting it in context. That’s a worthy thing, however ugly the story.
It may be too late to try to scale back the hysteria; it may not even be possible to call it by its proper name, “hysteria.” But those of us who live and work at Penn State, and who are most horrified and disgusted by these crimes, might yet be able to try to say that some of what has been said and written about Paterno has been unfair — even unhinged. And we might be able to say so while acknowledging that his failure to ensure Sandusky was stopped is more than enough to taint his legacy forever.

I have read a year’s worth of essays and blog posts and tweets and message boards now, and I have found that there are people out there who speak as if Joe Paterno had tried to find ways to help Jerry Sandusky rape children for decades. It is no wonder that 28 percent of the American public believes that Paterno himself was a child rapist, and an additional 15 percent are not sure. As usual, The Onion said it best: “Additional Findings Show Every Penn State Student, Alumnus Also Knew About Ongoing Child Molestation.” That is how some of the media coverage has gone.

Also from The Onion on this subject:
12 August 2011, Penn State Players All Worried They’re Going To Be The One Who Accidentally Kills Joe Paterno
July 12 2012, Freeh Report: Joe Paterno Burning In Hell Right Now
July 21 2012, Details Of Paterno Family’s Internal Report
July 23 2012, Penn State To Also Remove Statue Of Showering Sandusky
July 29 2012, Texas A&M Fans Celebrate 1999 Alamo Bowl Victory Over Penn State
July 31 2012, Penn State Students Trying To Understand Why They’re There Now
August 27 2012, Penn State Bans The Who’s ‘Fiddle About’ During Games
October 11 2011, They Can Never Take Away My Memories by “Jerry Sandusky”
The Onion had a field day with that story. So did a lot of other publications that weren’t nearly as funny.
I have read countless denunciations of the man’s desire to coach into his 80s, written by people who are convinced that Paterno covered up Sandusky’s crimes simply because he wanted the record for most career wins-and who are apparently unaware that Paterno feared that when he stopped coaching he would die. (You know what? He was right.) I have read longtime Paterno haters jump on the man’s corpse because he continued to play Rashard Casey at quarterback at the start of the 2000 season, after Casey had been charged with aggravated assault by the Hoboken, N.J., police, despite the fact that Casey said he was innocent. (The grand jury refused to indict him, and the city of Hoboken eventually settled Casey’s lawsuit for malicious prosecution.) Paterno’s support of Casey was actually laudable, at least for people who believe in the presumption of innocence.

I have read sportswriters sputtering with indignation all over again about how arrogant and deluded Paterno was to believe that Penn State, and not Texas, should have been national champions in 1969, because everybody knows that Texas was a stronger team. (As the sportswriter Allen Barra recently pointed out in a sneering review of Joe Posnanski’s biography of Paterno, Penn State’s opponents that year were very weak, going 49-44; as Barra inexplicably failed to point out, Texas’ opponents were 39-61. You could look it up.) I have read right-minded citizens complaining loudly about Paterno’s exorbitant salary, ignorant of the fact that it was a fraction of those of his peers for almost his entire career. Our local paper’s former sports editor actually came out of retirement to chortle that he always knew Paterno would come to a bad end, and recounted the outrage he felt in 1985 when Paterno didn’t tell him the full story of some kid’s injury. (I am not making this up.) I know it is hard to think that “Paterno is innocent of X and Y even though he is at fault for Z,” when Z involves something so hideous and overwhelming. But the schadenfreude and the piling on have been remarkable.

Cheap moral glow: never edifying. One of these days I must write about pile-ons and how they work. They’re an evil phenomenon.
And I have watched in amazement as Vicky Triponey, a former vice president for student affairs who became infamous in some circles at Penn State for eliminating the right of students to have a say in what groups are recognized on campus, remade herself as “the Woman Who Stood Up to Paterno” (to cite a headline from July 2012). If you never heard of Triponey until she began to take her sweet revenge on Paterno, you don’t know how surreal it is for many of us to see the woman who tried to cut funds from the student radio station — for its criticisms of the university administration, some students charged — being touted as the brave whistle-blower who lost her job for crossing the football coach.
As Patrick remarked yesterday, when one of these trains gets moving, all kinds of cars will opportunistically latch on. It’s another thing that happens in pile-ons.

That’s not the end of the essay. Bérubé ties in half a dozen more issues, all of which have significance beyond the Penn State football program. Go, read.

Comments on Michael Bérubé, Joe Paterno, and Penn State:
#1 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 11:42 AM:

It's a great essay, all right—I read and enjoyed it yesterday, and perused it again just now before commenting here.

However, and I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong about this, it seems to me that one of the few things the essay doesn't address is what's promised in the title: why did Bérubé resign the chair? It was the Paterno Family Professorship; a major thrust of the essay is about how blameless the Paternos of the non-Joe variety were in the horror that happened, and as MB says, the library remains named after Paterno "as well it should." Isn't an endowed professorship of literature (named after the whole family) more like a library than it is like a bronze statue of JoePa-qua-football hero?

For an essay that's all about not taking for granted the easy self-righteousness of a pile-on, it's odd that he would say something like "I knew ... that I would have to resign the Paterno chair" without unpacking it even further.

#2 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 11:45 AM:

I live in State College, and work in a tiny bubble of federal land surrounded by central campus. I even hold a Penn State M.S.

All I can say is that it's complicated. Not Sandusky: those were evil acts, and any adult who acted to conceal them should be punished. But beyond that, both the home-town unquestioning support of Paterno (you should see some of the memorabilia) and the outsider unquestioning opprobrium are problematic. Bérubé does a remarkable job presenting the nuances; I'll be rereading his essay more slowly so that I can muster more of his points next time someone says to me, "Oh, you live in State College? How about that Sandusky?"

#3 ::: Vance Maverick ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 11:56 AM:

I was sure the end of the story would be that Berube would leave Penn State. Instead, he's now the Somebody Else Professor. I have great respect for him, but like Chris, I wanted another paragraph explaining why he felt changing chairs was an important step.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 11:56 AM:

I'd just read Bérubé's essay when I came here. I think Teresa's point about pile-ons is important and valid.

My own thought on the subject is a bit different. Paterno is a case of the priest becoming the sacrifice. The flip side of the sacred is not the profane but the unclean.

#5 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 12:13 PM:

Meanwhile, the person who actually reported Sandusky is the only assistant coach who was not invited back to continue coaching.

#6 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 12:37 PM:

Chris (#1): Re-read the essay. You'll see that Berube presents the (distinct, even strong) possibility that Paterno was not involved in the 1998 whitewash, but that he was a discussant in 2001--when most of the 1998 parties were still in position, and could provide background.

The realistic scenario from that is that Paterno was not so culpable as Spanier et al. (who clearly were involved both times), but that everyone who was involved in the 2001 investigation should and could have Done Something More. And that includes JoePa.

The best-case scenario--the one the extant evidence shows--is that Paterno willingly allowed others to cover-up for someone they knew to be a serial offender.

If, as with Berube, you have made a career based in part on the choices you make and their attendant morality--we should all be so fortunate--that is compelling motivation. (See his paragraphs earlier discussing children, abortion, and the papers Sue Paterno read; they're not mentioned idly, or solely to establish a relationship with the family.)

#7 ::: Malaclypse ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 12:45 PM:

The LGM thread on this, where Bérubé shows up, only to be called a PR flack, is a rather depressing read.

#8 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 12:51 PM:

Ken @6: Sure, Bérubé is clear about the share of the guilt Joe Paterno bears—I'm not suggesting that the essay is a whitewash. But another main thrust of the piece is the distinction he draws between Joe Paterno and the rest of the Paterno family; his former professorship was named not after Joe but after the Paterno family. Furthermore, unlike some who have commented on this business, Bérubé largely buys the claim that Paterno's "grand experiment" really did make Penn State a better place on the whole, and respects his advocacy for academics (of which the endowed professorship is surely a facet). So I think my earlier question stands: If MB thinks the library should continue to bear Paterno's name, how is his endowed professorship different?

Maybe what you're suggesting is correct—that the specifics of MB's work on disability and so on put him in a state of special responsibility to the victims of Sandusky's abuse, such that he himself was morally obligated to resign the chair but (presumably) some other person might not have been. But if that's the case, it's a deeply subtextual reading of Bérubé's essay and one that I think he could have spelled out a lot more explicitly. And it's not even clear to me that that is what he's suggesting was his reason for resigning the chair. He just says it was obvious that he would have to resign it, which is peculiar in an essay making the case, essentially, that morality and responsibility are very complicated even in the most superficially black-and-white situations.

#9 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 01:14 PM:

This is what Michael Berube had to say on Facebook when the question of why he resigned the chair came up:

"I believed that as of mid-July, I had to resign the chair as a precondition of speaking out about the Sandusky scandal. I didn't think so before the release of the Freeh Report, which is why I went ahead and wrote my NYTimes op-ed last year as the Paterno chair. But after the release of the Freeh Report, and especially Freeh's press conference, I felt that any attempt on my part to criticize that document, or the NCAA sanctions that followed, or the whole bizarre media circus that somehow transformed the Sandusky scandal into the Paterno scandal would be worse than self-defeating if I tried to comment *as* the Paterno chair. Not only would my comments be dismissed as self-serving; they would be read as the apologetics of a bought-and-paid-for toady. (I see that my essay is being read that way by some people anyway! Just imagine if I hadn't resigned the chair....)"

#10 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 01:22 PM:

Chris @ 8--isn't it plain that, in the present context, and regardless of the innocence of the other members of the family, having a chair at Penn State named after the Paterno family would be regarded by the rest of the world as at best a bad joke?

#11 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 01:22 PM:

Thanks for posting that, Janet, I wish his Chronicle essay had included something so explicit.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 02:28 PM:

Here in the UK, we have a similar, and new, scandal about Sir Jimmy Savile, who died last year. What makes it feel worse is that some of the accusations have come from people who were patients at hospitals where he worked as a volunteer.

He raised millions for charity. He was a successful TV and radio presenter for the BBC. And now people are saying there were rumours and there are questions asked about what the BBC did.

His personal style, his image, was weird, even creepy. That doesn't prove anything: he presented Top of the Pops in the 1960s when weirdness was par for the course. He was apparently given the run of Broadmoor hospital (this is one of the high-security mental hospitals in the UK), and a current joke is that Peter Sutcliffe (serial killer) is denying he ever met Jimmy Saville.

You cannot try a dead man, and the focus is inevitably on how nobody apparently noticed.

#13 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 02:42 PM:

Jim Macdonald @5

Meanwhile, the person who actually reported Sandusky is the only assistant coach who was not invited back to continue coaching.

In all fairness, the reason none of the other asst. coaches reported Sandusky is that none of them observed or knew about the incident with the kid in the showers. And the asst. coach who reported Sandusky to Paterno arguably should have done something more when he observed that Paterno did nothing. That's a tough standard to hold him to, but it's at least arguable--and none of the others had any arguable culpability at all.

#14 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 03:25 PM:

Anyway, to veer off on to the topic of pile-ons -- I experienced one once when I made an unguarded comment on (some other website) in a moment of "bad brain weather." Having what I thought of as a relatively supportive community (one I've seen help others through such unguarded moments) turn on me was a frightening experience and certainly sent the bad brain weather into overdrive. Would it have been worse had I been using my real name and not a pseudonym, or would the presence of an actual name have made the others think of me as more of a person? Well, I'd rather not find out, really. Yes, an evil phenomenon indeed.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 05:13 PM:

As Michael Bérubé sees it, he couldn't speak to the issue as long as he held the Paterno Family Professorship. That strikes me as honorable.

There's also the matter of his own name being worth something. It could be that he doesn't want it used to provide cover. I don't know about that one; I'm guessing.

#16 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 05:25 PM:

Apropos Dave Bell #12 -- I strongly encourage US readers to look at the Saville case (Brief summary here) because, unlike the Sandusky case, you've got enough distance to look at it objectively. (The resonance to the name "Jimmy Saville" in the US media is probably about as strong as the name "Jerry Sandusky" in the UK, i.e. not very strong at all.) This should make issues of dogpiling and recrimination easier to spot. Excellent training for identifying such trends in one's own media bubble.

In the case of Saville, apart from the fact that he's dead (and so cannot be personally held to account), a very significant point is that he worked for the BBC for several decades; this therefore gives the Murdoch press and other British newspapers (who, broadly, hate the BBC) a stick to beat the Corporation with. There's also some question over its utility to the current government, who were very close to NewsCorp (before the News of the World phone tapping scandal broke), and who are terrified of where the ongoing public inquiry is going; they can't overtly whack on the BBC, but would relish an opportunity to exert some leverage in favour of positive coverage of the PM (who, I will note, used to be a close personal friend of Rebekah Brooks, who just happens to be awaiting trial for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice: other members of that circle are currently awaiting trial on perjury charges). So there is dogpiling going on, via the media -- lots of it, for very high political stakes.

#17 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 06:43 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 16: That was ... eye-opening.

(I had actually heard of Jimmy Saville, mainly in connection with the Beatles. I may even have heard him a few times.)

#18 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 06:44 PM:

I reckon that it also matters that Berube is this year's MLA President. Whatever he writes about this year will reflect on the MLA at least potentially. Hard to ride two horses and publish as both the MLA and the Paterno Chair where one has become a controversial title.

#19 ::: xaaronx ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2012, 11:34 PM:

It's worth mentioning, I think, that most of the nastiness in that LGM thread is from one commenter who has most everyone else telling him he's being a dick and who repeats the same talking points in response to a bunch of different subthreads. I feel like everyone else is pretty level-headed, even the ones I think are wrong.

BUT, there are a lot of fair criticisms of the essay. It is clearly the product of a good writer who has a lot of good points to make--and some which miss the mark--but it is not a very good essay on the topic it claims to address. The main problem is that despite the title I and a lot of other people couldn't figure out why Berube felt he needed to resign the chair. I only know that by reading Janet's comment above, where one sentence accomplishes that aim admirably.

Rather than plagiarize the other criticisms--which I think are less important, at least as far as discussing the essay itself--I'll just point to Bloix's comment over at LGM, which I agree with pretty much entirely:

#20 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 04:15 AM:

I'm not sure why Bérubé writes about Vicky Triponey in an either/or fashion. Who else would stand up to the mightiest power on campus, except someone convinced of her own righteousness? Someone so convinced that she would see student criticism as an affront and would believe herself justified in cutting funding for the radio station. Going up against the kind of power that Paterno had takes enormous self-possession and ego. I find it odd that Bérubé doesn't see this.

#21 ::: Clarentine ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 08:26 AM:

Doug @20 - just a WAG here, but wouldn't not liking someone, especially that someone's previous public actions, make it harder to admire their current actions?

#22 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 01:11 PM:

Speaking of trusts with well-known unfortunate names, a fried was at Princeton on the tab of the "Josephine Provenzano Memorial Scholarship Fund". Josephine had been the mother of noted NJ Teamsters Union official and Genovese-family captain, Tony Pro[venzano].

My friend's father belonged to the Teamsters Union, so she was eligible for the scholarship. She didn't feel compelled to give it up, but then, she wasn't writing columns about unions or organized crime.

#23 ::: an academic at a large sports-loving achool ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 01:34 PM:

I can understand why Berube wrote the essay he wrote. I'm sure it caused him a *ton* of flak at Penn State.

However, if he wanted to remain a respected member of his field, he was going to have to remove himself from the stain that the Paterno name now has (ie, resign the chair).

To people at Penn State, the fine details of proof in the Freeh report matter a great deal. But whether JoePa knew in '98 or '01 is of largely academic interest to the rest of academia, if I may use a pun for such a grim subject. The overall truth remains the same (and is largely uncontested)--JoePa had the most power at that university and he misused that power. People got hurt as a result.

Berube was stuck in a difficult position--stand with people who are geographically and emotionally close by (Penn State folks, the Paterno family) or move over by the other appalled academics. He chose the other academics. Was that the right choice? Sure. (And yes, JoePa also did good deeds and his family was kind, and dogpiling is bad, and life throws us ugly choices, etc etc, all fairly standard stuff, and true in its way).

But what makes me queasy about this essay is the way Berube elides his own career's best interest. There is nothing wrong with having a vested interested in a topic. But it is more honorable to acknowledge that interest and admit it. Penn State people will absolutely hate him, but it was that or have his fellow fuds reel back at the sight of his chairship name. And did Berube really risk that much? The dean created him a brand new chair. I don't doubt he could get another job. He wasn't in the position those janitors were in.

I don't know. But to me, as an academic at another sports-mad school, Berube is not standing out as a particularly honorable guy. He was a Paterno prof when it was good for his career. Now that it's bad, he's not, and they made him a new special profship. I've seen people take much riskier stands, and suffer greater hardships as a result, in order to 'do the right thing' or go on a quest for the truth. I don't think Berube is bad at all, but I don't think he's good, either. He made a politically savvy choice in a tough spot.

I'm sure others may disagree, but I thought I would post what seems to me to be the political realities of this particular field (sports-mad university academia) since some people wanted to know why Berube thought he 'had to' resign but the essay didn't address it directly.

#24 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 01:57 PM:

an academic, #23: But whether JoePa knew in '98 or '01 is of largely academic interest to the rest of academia, if I may use a pun for such a grim subject.

Pulling this out because it's also a fairly good description of my position here. I care much less about when he did these things than I do that he did these things, period. That when he found out, he continued not just to cover for Sandusky, but to enable the behavior and allow it to happen on the Penn State campus, in locations over which he had control of access. That, more than anything else, says "condoned" to me.

Also, I know Xopher has seen the report of Sandusky's statement at sentencing, but I wonder if anyone else has. It was vile.

#25 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 02:32 PM:

Clarentine @21 That sounds very plausible to me. I wonder why no one pointed it out to him along the way.

#26 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 02:54 PM:

Vile and cruel. Designed to further traumatize his victims and their families.

Don't read it if you have any worries about it being triggery. It will be.

#27 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2012, 02:56 PM:

My #26 referred to Lee's #24. Gotta stop assuming no one will comment between me.

#28 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2012, 02:13 AM:

So, something to think about: it's very easy for news audiences to say "he should have known" about Paterno. Hindsight is 20/20.

I think it's entirely plausible that, even when he heard reports, that Paterno simply refused to believe that Sandusky would do any such thing. When someone you know and work with does something horrifying, it's easier to believe that the reports you hear are wildly exaggerated or bourne of malice then that they are true. Especially if your boss is also telling you that they are false and you should ignore them.

Sandusky was the leader of the largest disadvantaged child charity in Pennsylvania. It was clearly easier for everyone, including the police, the social services, the university administration, and the Last Mile staff, to believe the allegations were completely unfounded than to investigate them. Paterno was singled out by the press, I believe, because a fall from on high makes a better story. It's classically Greek.

Huh. Actually, a slightly distorted version of the Paterno story would make a great tragedy, or an opera.

Conspiracy theory corner: Maybe Freeh was eager to pin the blame on Paterno because he was covering for the FBI's failure to investigate Sandusky in 2001?

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2012, 07:34 PM:

Academic @23, I'll grant that things worked out for Michael Bérubé, but he's always struck me as a decent guy.

He was also the author of one of the most surreal moments of my life. I was sitting there at a big circular table in NY with a bunch of other lefty bloggers -- we'd gotten together for dinner because Bérubé was in town -- and he turned to me and said "What can you tell me about Dafydd ab Hugh?"

(Read the comment thread too.)

#30 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2012, 08:25 PM:

I was recently the subject of a pile on. That I might have expected it; because I was speaking out again on a subject I had previously been piled on about made it no easier.

I've been piled on before (and stalked... one person with a hobby horse can, over time, be almost as destructive as fifty with a sudden passion).

As Teresa said in the Daffyd ab Hugh thread (and I spent far too many years dealing with him in person to be anything but gobsmacked into stupor that he gets paid. If nothing else were going to make me see the vacuity of the Conservative Movement, that would have put paid to all), it gives one a PTSD sort of reaction.

A reaction which makes one doubt one's very self, which makes one hesitate to speak on subjects one knows one is right on... because the grief one is going to get is soul-killing; since one can't know who might come to believe the pilers on; even among those one counts as intimate.

#31 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2012, 09:49 PM:

God help me... I looked at the most recent big lizards... he's telling us how the military is screwed up; because of it's being "purged" by islamists in the gov't.

Or something.

#32 ::: MNiM ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2012, 06:01 AM:

Dave Bell @ 12

Here in the UK, we have a similar, and new, scandal about Sir Jimmy Savile, who died last year... and the focus is inevitably on how nobody apparently noticed.

I'm not in or from the UK, and my understanding may well be off, but what I've been reading in the UK press is the opposite -- that almost everyone knew, and no one did anything.

By everyone, I don't mean the general public. But people who knew him, the BBC, the press outside of the BBC, police in several jurisdictions going back decades and including only a few years ago.

Though the general public might have been given a bit of clue when he publicly defended Gary Glitter's use of child pornography in 2009.

#33 ::: wkwillis ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2012, 05:36 PM:

I don't object to dogpiling. If you don't punish them when you finally can, when their patrons and protectors can't enable them any more, when are you supposed to punish them?
Should we have let them get away with their crimes because it "wasn't a fair fight"? Was it a "fair fight" for the victims involved?

#34 ::: Michael Bérubé ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2012, 08:24 PM:

Academic @ 23, no, I didn't bother to check which side of my toast was buttered before I resigned the chair. I thought mainly of Sue Paterno, as I said. And do you really think it means so little that "Penn State people will absolutely hate" my decision? I honestly don't understand that.

#35 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2012, 10:21 PM:

wkwillis @ #33:

You seem to be implying that it's a straight-up choice between dogpiling or "letting them get away with it", with no other alternatives. Dude, really?

I'm also struck by your blithe assumption that there's no danger of a dogpile piling itself on top of the wrong person.

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