Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State

Take the state of Pennsylvania and draw the two diagonals. Where they cross is the small town of State College, home of the Pennsylvania State University. I first traveled to Penn State in 1989 on an interview trip. We went to dinner at the only nice restaurant near campus. The conversation turned to Joe Paterno, Penn State football coach. The waitress, a Penn State undergrad, said "Oh, you mean God."

As many of you know, Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier were fired last week in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.

I have a certain affinity for Penn State.I have worked with researchers there from experimental economics to pure logic and they have a number of people there connected to my NEC days. I have been back to that campus several times most recently in the spring of 2010. The changes in those two decades have been amazing.

Quite a bit of new building on campus and off. There are now a number of nice restaurants near campus. There are plenty of new buildings on campus too including a beautiful IST (Information Sciences and Technology) building that houses the IST and CSE departments. Just in theoretical computer science, Penn State made some recent strong hires and had a rare double PECASE win of Adam Smith and Sean Hallgren.

Paterno helped build the Penn State brand through football which he coached at Penn State since I was a toddler. Paterno also knew that Penn State meant academics as well, he had a large number of academic all-Americans on his team and donated money for a library on campus that bears his name. Spanier build on this brand to develop real growth in the university and the town it lives in.

Paterno and Spanier should have done more to protect the children but I hated to see them leave under these circumstances. They have both done much for Penn State and not just on the football field.


  1. As often is the case, one bad decision can wipe out a lifetime of good decisions, and this was an egregiously bad decision. What it doesn't do, though, is undo the good things that Paterno and Spanier have done, only peoples' impressions of those things are altered.

  2. I built this bridge, but do they call the "the bridge builder"? No! I brought football to prominence, but do they call me "the football guy"? No! I founded this department, but do they call me "the department founder"? No!

    But you cover up for ONE child rapist...

  3. Hi Lance,

    I read the grand jury report last night? Have you? If the timeline turns out to be accurate, you might decide to change your remarks.

    1998 - first internal investigation against Sandusky.
    1999 - Paterno ends Sandusky's career at Penn State
    1999-2002 - Sandusky has an office and perks as an emeritus, brings children on campus to many events
    2002 - eyewitness report of Sandusky raping child in Penn State shower brought to Paterno
    2002-2007 - Sandusky not allowed to bring children onto main Penn State campus but still perhaps allowed to bring them to satellite locations
    2007 - Sandusky brings a child (one of the alleged victims) to closed practice of Paterno, presumably implying that Paterno authorized the presence.

    Also, last night, I watched a YouTube video of Paterno talking outside his house after being fired. Among other things, he told the assembled students to say a prayer for the victims. Nothing like "everyone is innocent until proven guilty."

    I wasn't there, and I don't know what happened. But, if true, it is likely that quite a few people, including the football coach and the university president, decided to sacrifice a couple dozen poor black kids because it would have been inconvenient to their own careers and friendships to do the right thing.

    Also, the correct metric to use to measure, e.g., Joe Paterno's financial legacy, is all the money he raised minus all the money the Pennsylvania taxpayers may have to pay out, and also minus all the lost donations over the next several years because of this situation. So whether his net financial legacy to that university is positive is unclear to me.

  4. Sandusky was a decades-long friend of Paterno. Paterno knew of allegations that Sandusky was a child molestor for several years. When Paterno was told that Sandusky was witnessed anally raping a 10-year-old boy in a campus shower room, Paterno continued the friendship and did nothing to stop Sandusky from continuing to molest more children. Paterno and Sandusky were together, smiling and enjoying themselves, at parties and other social events. If we accept - and all evidence supports it - that Paterno knew that Sandusky was a child molester all that time, can we really look past that?

    Paterno, more than anyone, was in a position to put 1 and 1 together and be concerned about Sandusky's charity and how he might be using it to acquire his victims. As "God" of Penn State, Paterno could have stopped the molestation at any time. Instead he protected and enabled his molester friend. Paterno didn't get "swept up" in this scandal, he and Sandusky created the scandal.

  5. It is well for every adult American to know these laws: Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws.

    My wife and I, in serving as licensed foster-care providers, have gained a first-hand appreciation that abuse and neglect of children is sufficiently commonplace, that the likelihood of any given citizen being legally and morally compelled to action under these laws, over the course of a lifetime, is of order unity.

    This high probability does not signify that every child is abused, but rather that when children are abused, it is too-often found that adults have turned a blind eye to evidence of that abuse.

    Therefore: (1) know the law, (2) reflect upon your duty, and (3) take immediate responsible action if and when circumstances require it.

  6. I think I agree more with Scott's response to this post:

  7. I read that Paterno did what he was required to do by law. Did he break a law?

  8. I agree with this article, which states that the football program is a net negative because of its moral effects.

  9. The question was asked whether Paterno broke any laws. Given his knowledge that Sandusky was a child molester, if Paterno did anything that facilitated Sandusky's ability to molest children then, yes, that is a serious felony. At present it is only known that he did not aggressively push for law enforcement to get involved. That isn't illegal under current Pennsylvania law. However, if it is shown that Paterno facilitated Sandusky's opportunity to transport a child to out-of-state Penn State games then things get dicey.

    A legal minefield may emerge as more information comes out about Sandusky's actions on campus (or connected to the Penn State athletic program) *after* his molestation activities were reported to Paterno. It's one thing not to report an instance of child molestation but very different to do anything that directly or indirectly facilitates further acts of molestation.

    As to article's position on Paterno's legacy, the myth has been that Paterno built a great tradition based on honor and doing the right thing. If that is not true then everything else falls with it. Said another way, Paterno may be recognized as a self-aggrandizing empire builder who was even willing to overlook child rape if it served his purposes.

    The larger lesson is that there may be similar bubbles of horrendous amoral behavior in athletic programs at other universities.

  10. Chmm .. I thought this is a Computational Complexity blog, not of Sexual Complexity which is a REAL science in itself but has little to do with the former ...

  11. At US colleges and universities, academic merit-based scholarships are largely being eliminated and being replaced by need-based financial aid, while ones based on athletic merit are still going strong. What does this say about priorities?

  12. Paterno also knew that Penn State meant academics as well

    I can't disagree, and in fact this is a perfect summary for the situation, but it makes me sad.

  13. I might not be following this complexity blog if Lance had not given a talk last year at Penn State, which motivated me to drive 130 miles R/T to hear him. Net win.

    In a small world moment, though, when I read that the district attorney who originally investigated Sandusky in 1998 was Ray Gricar, who disappeared in 2005, I shook my head. As a Civil Air Patrol pilot, I flew missions searching for Gricar up and down the Susquehanna River all the way down to Harrisburg. He was never found, but his laptop was recovered from the river.

  14. Haskell Curry was a professor at Penn State.

  15. @Paul, a large portion of university funds comes from undergraduate enrollment fees. Having a good football team gives a better name recognition than having a student writing papers what are accepted in top conferences. Most people can name hundreds of football and baseball players, tens of academy award winners, singers, and politicians, but very few can name 5 fields medalists. A university president is more likely to be congratulated for their football team becoming the champion than one of researchers in their university winning the Nobel Prize. I would guess that they make money out of advertising using their football team.

  16. Two quick points, both related to logic, hence appropriate for this forum:

    1. @Aaron Sterling re poor black kids. Do we know that these economically disadvantaged kids were black? No we don't.

    2. Logically I'd prefer if all references to Sandusky's alleged lawbreaking continue to be prefaced with the word "alleged," even though emotionally I'd prefer to omit "alleged."

  17. I agree with Lance and his heartfelt defense of Paterno (wipes a tear).

    We must look at the greater good.

    I mean, a few kids - black or white - were sacrificed, but c'mon, it's not like they were killed. Even if they were, so what? People die everyday. Look at all the good that came from Papa Paterno. Individual rights and all such similar baloney is meant for, I dunno , Scandinavian countries.

    We should look at the greater good. And Science funding.

    If Hitler had built a few more roads and bridges (all of high quality, mind you), I think the positives would have outweighed the negatives.

  18. how many of you people throwing stones at Paterno have reported something up your chain of command as required and then watched it get ignored or covered up or investigated and dropped and moved on?

  19. Reductio ad Hitlerum has been invoked which means that Godwin's Law still holds well and by one accepted corollary, Rama and his side of this debate lose.