EDITORIAL: Penn State should be condemned for lack of transparency
AT A GLANCE
Read more about the investigation and its impact
• Podcast: Daily sports editor Kedric Kitchens and assistant sports editor Dillon Phillips discuss the continued tarnishing of Joe Paterno's legacy at Penn State.
After Thursday’s release of Louis Freeh’s investigative report detailing former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse scandal, the former FBI director not only confirmed the late football coach Joe Paterno’s involvement to keep Sandusky’s acts under wraps but ultimately proved the importance of transparency.
The Sandusky scandal shows why schools nationwide should make an effort to become more transparent — to make records open, available and easy to access so even those in the highest positions of power are monitored and accountable. It also would make sure they abide by the Clery Act and efficiently disclose information about crime on respective campuses.
Freeh's report took eight months to compile. Investigators conducted more than 430 interviews and analyzed more than 3.5 million pieces of electronic information and data to piece together events over the last 15 years, dating back to Sandusky’s first incident with a minor in a Penn State football locker room shower in 1998. Had Penn State implemented a pledge to transparency instead of protecting a football legacy, these 15 years and months of research could have not only been prevented but also the $6.5 million spent on the investigation.
But Penn State is exempt from Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, meaning the university’s records — police reports, email, phone records, calendars and memos — are closed. According to Pennsylvania law, only “state-affiliated” government entities are subject to open record laws. Penn State is a “state-related” institution, meaning it has independent control of operation while it is supplied with public funds needed for operation.
Freeh said the most important evidence was emails between Penn State officials from 1998 and 2001. Such emails, public records at other universities, could have been exposed through an open records act had it been in place. Found in the emails was “a concern to treat the child abuser humanely,” though “no such sentiments were ever expressed by [officials] to Sandusky’s victims,” Freeh said in a press release.
Officials aware of Sandusky’s crime expressed a total disregard for Sandusky’s victims, though they expressed concern for Sandusky’s treatment. “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno said in an interview.
Truthfully, the university didn’t have a procedure.
Freeh found that Penn State failed to implement provisions of the Clery Act, a law requiring all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. According to a press release prepared by Freeh, the day Sandusky was arrested — Nov. 5 — Penn State’s Clery Act implementation plan was still in draft form. Additionally, the Board of Trustees’ first discussion about the Clery Act wasn’t until Nov. 11, just a week after Sandusky was arrested.
Freeh’s report cited fear of bad publicity and “a culture of reverence for the football program” as some of the most significant reasons Sandusky’s acts weren’t reported to authorities. No matter how much money a football legacy brings into a university, city or state, covering up facts and failing to report child abuse or other atrocities to the proper authorities is never pardonable.
OU, as a state agency, is subject to the Open Records Act. OU also complies with the Clery Act and is required to keep a public log of reported crimes through this federal law. Additionally, the Clery Act also requires universities to publish an annual security report, issue timely warnings of crimes that present a threat to the safety of students and employees and keep the most recent three years' worth of crime statistics that occurred on campus (published in security report).
Without the Open Records Act, The Daily couldn't best serve its readers. Journalism relies on transparency in all forms and strives to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information. Access to this information shouldn't be optional — it should be a right for journalists to best serve their community and a right for citizens to know what's happening in their community.
Penn State officials involved in the scandal should be appropriately convicted, but more importantly, the university should be held to higher standards of transparency to prevent future incidents. No university should be exempt from transparency or the Clery Act, which both encourage a safe and accountable community.