The imprisonment of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky after being convicted for sexually abusing 10 boys over the span of 15 years represents just one chapter in an evolving American tragedy. While more accusers, including one of Sandusky's adopted sons, have surfaced alleging further crimes and the investigation continues into Sandusky's conduct, attention has turned to the question of how much Penn State officials knew about the abuse and whether they engaged in a cover up to protect the university's reputation.
In November of last year, retired Penn State vice president for business affairs, Gary Schultz, and athletic director now on leave, Tim Curley, were charged by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with one count each of perjury and failure to report. The charges were in relation to the two administrator's alleged downplaying of what they knew about a 2001 incident reported to them by then-football graduate assistant, Mike McQueary. Both men have maintained their innocence and await a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 in Harrisburg.
According to CNN reporter, Susan Candiotti, Messrs. Curley and Schultz along with President Graham Spanier, who was fired by the PSU Board of Trustees last fall in the wake of the publication of the Grand Jury Report, allegedly exchanged a series of emails discussing strategies for handling what they knew to be a problem 16 days after McQueary brought the incident to the attention of head football coach, Joe Paterno. The emails were discovered as part of the independent investigation commissioned by Penn State and conducted under the direction of former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Louis Freeh. Once found, the Freeh team turned the emails over to the state attorney general's office.
Purportedly Curley, Schultz and Spanier considered a three-part plan that would have included barring Sandusky from bringing children to campus and urging him to get counseling, contacting the head of the Second Mile (the youth services charity that Sandusky had founded), and making a report to the Department of Welfare. The emails appear to document that a decision was made not to report the incident to a state agency. In an exchange which is alleged to have taken place between Curley and Schultz, the athletic director mentions being reluctant to contact outside authorities because of his own discomfort and after having had a conversation with someone who is called Joe, presumably Paterno.
In response, President Spanier indicated that the plan was "acceptable" but wrote, "The only downside for us is if the message isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed." Vice-president Schultz is believed to have written, "This is a more humane and upfront way to handle this" but insists that the officials at the Second Mile be notified.
Caroline Roberto and Tom Farrell, lawyers respectively for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, have taken the position that the emails do not provide proof of a cover up but demonstrate that officials were trying to develop a plan that acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations. In a statement issued last week, they said:
"For Curley, Schultz, Spanier and Paterno, the responsible and "humane" thing to do was, like Governor Corbett, to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague, but troubling allegations. Faced with tough situations, good people try to do their best to make the right decisions."
That term "humane" has been a linguistic anchor for meaning in those emails. It emerges first in the response from Spanier, whose presidency was advised by his expertise in sociology and family therapy. In 2001, the same year that McQueary came forward to report witnessing Sandusky engaged in an "extremely sexual" act with a young boy in the showers of a football facility on campus, Spanier published an article entitled The Soul That Resides Within Us which appeared in The Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences.
In it, he wrote, "Among my highest priorities has always been to 'humanize' the university." Advocating for the idea of "putting people first", he continued,
"In meetings, private interactions, public appearances, and decisions, I think a lot about the people involved. How are they affected personally by the discussion or the decision? What is the impact on the quality of life of individuals and families?"
What do these leaked emails do to our understanding of what really happened? Are they proof that there was a cover up or a window into the deliberations of administrators trying their best to make the right decisions? Is the public interest in this case and the private concerns of the abused served by the selective disclosure of the record?
Just a short while ago, Wick Sollers, attorney for the Paterno family called for the Attorney General's Office and the Freeh Group to make available all of the electronic emails so that the public would not need to piece together the truth.
The soul that resides within Penn State has been troubled now for some months, some would argue for many years. What will it take for that soul to be cleansed?