Penn State calls for civility in wake of scandal

Posted Friday, Sep. 05, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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As fallout over the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal continues, Penn State's new president and other university officials asked members of the school's huge community on Friday to at least be polite if they cannot agree with each other.

The 450-word message posted on Penn State's website from President Eric Barron and dozens of administrators and faculty members comes two weeks into the fall semester and nearly three years after Sandusky was arrested.

It does not mention Sandusky. Rather, it notes that Penn State's traditional bonds are under stress and cites one issue "of particular concern."

"There are honest disagreements on fundamental issues related to whether our institution acted appropriately, how our institution handled a crisis, and whether the sanctions that resulted are appropriate," it said. "Reasonable people can be found on all sides of these issues. The reasons for this disagreement are clear. Much is still left to interpretation and the issues have considerable emotional significance to us all. We are likely never to have the full story. We are equally likely never to reach consensus."

The authors go on to suggest that rudeness in debating those issues deepens the divide and provides a bad example to students. They give three examples, without naming names: An alumnus who "lost his best friend" over his opinion of a report on the Sandusky allegations that Penn State's trustees commissioned from former FBI director Louis Freeh; a trustee candidate who faced "dozens of unkind comments"; and a donor "who no longer feels welcome."

The message drew a strong response from the son of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

In a blog post, Jay Paterno wrote that "respect is earned and is a two-way street." He also suggested that Penn State's administration is fueling the incivility by creating people who feel disenfranchised.

Penn State's trustees fired the elder Paterno in the wake of Sandusky's 2011 arrest. He died of lung cancer months later. The Paterno family has fallen out with university leaders over the firing and the conclusion of the Freeh report. Jay Paterno also is suing Penn State over his own firing in 2012 from a job as a football team assistant.

Joe Paterno's firing, and a subsequent decision to remove his statue from outside the football stadium, remains controversial among Penn State alumni and fans.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said there was no specific incident that triggered the statement. Rather, she said, growing incivility is a national issue, and the leadership of Penn State felt that the beginning of the semester was a good time to begin a conversation on civility and respect.

Asked if it should be read as a response to debate surrounding Sandusky-related matters, she said it should be read as a "broad message related to respect."

"Every person will interpret it in their own way," she said.

Lawsuits concerning the NCAA sanctions and the school's handling of the matter are ongoing in various courts. A criminal case against three former Penn State administrators charged with covering up complaints about Sandusky is still without a trial date.

Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and is serving a lengthy state prison sentence.

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