Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We are....

Gregg Easterbrook writes in typically overwrought fashion about the Penn State scandal -- he opines that PSU should just terminate its football program, which seems over the top even to me, and I'm about as disgusted by this as one can get -- but I did like this:

[Interim PSU President] Erickson closed the commercial by declaring, "We are Penn State." Supporters of Penn State have used this phrase for decades, commencing at a time when the words reflected well on the college. How can the phrase be appropriate here, if Penn State acted dishonorably?

In recent years the "we are" formulation is best known from "We are Marshall" and "We are Columbine." In neither case, the 1970 Marshall plane crash nor the 1999 Columbine mass murder, was there any moral failing on the part of authority at either school. By contrast, at Penn State several people in high authority stand accused of criminality and substantial moral failings.

For the college's interim president to say "We are Penn State" expropriates a noble expression in order to suggest that the Penn State of today deserves the kind of empathy accorded to Marshall and Columbine, or to Penn State when it opposed segregation. Unless it is shown the Penn State charges are false, and the school's own interim president appears to believe the charges are true, Penn State has no business wrapping itself in the language of nobility. If the charges are true, "We are Penn State" should be replaced with "We are ashamed to be Penn State."

I've been troubled by the solidarity PSU folks are showing throughout this whole thing. On the one hand, it's got to be traumatic to have your school thrust into this kind of spotlight, and it's got to be even tougher at a place like PSU, which seems to be one of those schools that inspires a larger than usual amount of pride in the people who go there. And there really is the truth that you can't really hold any of this against, say, some junior who is majoring in architecture.

But here's the thing. First, it's going to get worse before it gets better. Things like this always do. We haven't heard everything, and it's going to get a lot uglier. There's an extent to which the whole "college is a world in itself" thing is good, but it really tends to go too far, and this whole affair is a result of that mindset.

And secondly, nothing happened TO PSU. Penn State has zero claim to victimhood here; or rather, if it does, it is of such order of magnitude less than the actual victims of Sandusky's alleged sexual assaults that it's as if we took time from prosecuting a murder to feel sorry for the guy whose front lawn got chewed up when the murder suspect drove across it.

Some folks are taking the "Oh come on, you don't know what you would have done" tack here, but I find that entirely unconvincing, on several levels. First, I have a pretty good idea what I would do if I walked into a shower and saw what was going on. Second, even if that's true and there's an actual strong chance I'd cover it up too, what does that say? Is this whole collegiate-omerta thing supposed to be a good thing now? Are we really to believe that this is an actual mitigating circumstance? "I would have done the right thing, but...." still reduces in the end to "I didn't do the right thing."

Another good article on PSU, this one by Charles Pierce:

It no longer matters if there continues to be a football program at Penn State. It no longer even matters if there continues to be a university there at all. All of these considerations are trivial by comparison to what went on in and around the Penn State football program.

(Those people who will pass this off as an overreaction would do well to remember that the Roman Catholic Church is reckoned to be a far more durable institution than even Penn State University is, and the Church has spent the past decade or so selling off its various franchise properties all over the world to pay off the tsunami of civil judgments resulting from the raping of children, a cascade that shows no signs of abating anytime soon.)

There will now be a decade or more of criminal trials, and perhaps a quarter-century or more of civil actions, as a result of what went on at Penn State. These things cannot be prayed away. Let us hear nothing about "closure" or about "moving on." And God help us, let us not hear a single mumbling word about how football can help the university "heal." (Lord, let the Alamo Bowl be an instrument of your peace.) This wound should be left open and gaping and raw until the very last of the children that Jerry Sandusky is accused of raping somehow gets whatever modicum of peace and retribution can possibly be granted to him. This wound should be left open and gaping and raw in the bright sunlight where everybody can see it, for years and years and years, until the raped children themselves decide that justice has been done. When they're done healing — if they're ever done healing — then they and their families can give Penn State permission to start.

If that blights Joe Paterno's declining years, that's too bad. If that takes a chunk out of the endowment, hold a damn bake sale. If that means that Penn State spends some time being known as the university where a child got raped, that's what happens when you're a university where a child got raped. Any sympathy for this institution went down the drain in the shower room in the Lasch Building. There's nothing that can happen to the university, or to the people sunk up to their eyeballs in this incredible moral quagmire, that's worse than what happened to the children who got raped at Penn State. Good Lord, people, get up off your knees and get over yourselves.

Yup. "We are Penn State"? Really?


Matt said...

If this is true, then all the morally irresponsible hand-wringing is going to be very embarrassing:

Kelly Sedinger said...

If that is true, then...not much is different, I'm afraid. And we're talking about a pretty big 'if' there, to begin with: the e-mail was just written last week, and it's full of weasel words. The text of the e-mail reads like a document that was specifically written to serve as a red-herring in legal proceedings. "I didn't stop the abuse myself, but I made sure it was stopped"? How? By whom? "I talked to police and the person in charge of the police"? Which police force? The 'real' police, or PSU police? If the latter, then goodie, there's even more people involved in the cover-up. And the odd way in which McQueary insists that this e-mail is "off the record", and yet, magically, it's out there in the news. This stuff is right out of an episode of any legal drama that's ever been written.

And even if it is true, so what? There was still a cover-up and still years' worth of questions to be answered and it's still clear that an awful lot of bad behavior was covered up by people in position to do so. If the e-mail is true, I don't see anything in it that is inherently exonerative of Joe Paterno or anyone else. And as I write this, the state police in State College have already stated that he didn't talk to them. Hmmmmm.

So as yet, I see no reason to consider any of the moral hand-wringing irresponsible. But then, I'm not emotionally invested in the legacy of some old football coach with whom everybody seems to think they're on a first-name basis.

Bergie said...

interjecting as a faculty/staff member of said Marshall.

What the mighty hell??

Matthew Jones said...

Perfectly entitled to your opinion, just as I am entitled to my view that your opinion disgusts me. Agree to disagree!

Kelly Sedinger said...

Well, fine, my view disgusts you. I stand by it, though...and my belief that of our two respective views on this matter, mine would be less likely to be different if this exact state of affairs exists not at PSU but at, say, UTEP.