The decision by 13 members of the Penn State board of trustees to sit down for an interview with the New York Times was a painful step in the direction of transparency. In the article, the trustees lay bare the university’s seriously flawed response to the arrest of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the steps leading to the firing of coach Joe Paterno.
Among the revelations, the trustees told the Times that (now former) university president Graham B. Spanier said, shortly after Sandusky’s arrest, “We deal with crisis every day at this university… We won’t have a problem with this.”
“Part of being a leader at that level is to be a risk manager and to think through what might happen,” said trustee Karen B. Peetz to the Times. It’s clear that Spanier did not understand the severity of the situation, and subsequently did not meet this requirement.
Peetz’s comment could be applied to the board as well. Steve A. Garban, the board’s chairman, revealed that he had not read the grand jury’s charges until more than 24 hours after they had gone public. Trustees’ reported being caught off-guard when the allegations came to light, saying they had not been accurately informed by Spanier about the grand jury investigation. While that may be the case, it does not mean that the trustees didn’t have the means to stay abreast of the situation surrounding Sandusky. The Patriot-News of Harrisburg had reported in March 2011 that a grand jury was investigating an allegation that Sandusky had molested a local high school boy.
The board members opened themselves up to further criticism by submitting to the Times interview—and this is actually a step forward for Penn State.