The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Chip Minemyer

March 25, 2012

Chip Minemyer | Only complete openness will guide Penn State back to the light

By the fall, we’ll presumably learn the findings of an extensive investigation by former FBI head Louis Freeh launched in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse allegations at Penn State.

Freeh told the media recently that some 200 interviews have already been conducted into Sandusky’s actions, and also into the enormous shadow cast by the football program under the late Joe Paterno.

Some preliminary findings have been released, and more details are on the way.

But here’s what we’re learning or will have confirmed by the time this probe is completed:

-- Penn State routinely made decisions based on protecting its image and enhancing the football program, often at the expense of the right path morally, legally or procedurally.

-- The monolithic university had lost its focus on critical details, especially as they related to hiring and dispatching of employees.

-- The football program was both a driver of revenue and prestige, and an all-powerful and domineering force in many areas of policy and rules development and enforcement (or the lack thereof).

We’re told the university has been cooperative in this investigation – which could be a sign that a new age of transparency is upon us, or that the school has figured out that it’s just too late to be self-protective.

Penn State trustee Joel Myers, founder of AccuWeather, said Freeh’s committee is working without the encumbrance of board influence.

Myers said the goal is to “let the chips fall where they may so we come out of this a better institution.”

There can be no other way.

Indeed, Penn State worked under a closed-ranks system for so long that when the doors were blasted away by scandal, there was nothing left to do but wipe away the tears and open the information vault.

Investigators have been talking with top administrators including members of the board of trustees, new president Rodney Erickson, officials in the athletics department and other top PSU brass.

In addition, interviews are being conducted with athletics staffers, including many who worked in the football building during Paterno’s tenure.

Retired athletics personnel department worker Linda Woodring told the Associated Press that she did an extensive interview at Freeh’s headquarters in State College that focused on the duties of her job and what she had seen and heard over the four decades she was there.

Woodring said: “They expressed to me that they were looking toward the future of Penn State to try to prevent things like this from happening again.”

To get to that point, the investigators must learn how circumstances went so wrong in the first place – and why no one did enough to stop what has been called a systematic targeting of young boys by a child predator in and around the football program and its facilities.

The story is as shocking now as it was last spring, when the first hints of a scandal were emerging.

As it was last November, when a grand jury report led to charges against Sandusky and two top Penn State administrators, and cost then-President Graham Spanier and Paterno their jobs.

And we will confront more gut-wrenching details as Sandusky’s trial rolls forward in the coming weeks.

In the end, Freeh’s investigation must result in the dismantling and then rebuilding of the Penn State culture.

That process certainly will mean new procedures and standards.

But that rebuilding must also involve new attitudes and priorities.

The doors now thrown wide open must not be allowed to close again.

The Penn State community is learning a painful lesson that was a long time coming, and which took a great tragedy to reveal.

When there is no other option, you must simply surrender.

And trade in your weapons of self-preservation for the redeeming power of honesty.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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