Media Says: "Joe Paterno Ran Penn State"

Posted on December 2, 2011 

Nobody knows all the facts about the recent happenings at Penn State. This post isn't about what should have happened or what will happen. Instead, it looks at statements in the media and how Penn State is portrayed.

It's interesting how a misspelling—like "McCreary"—can be spread and repeated throughout the Internet in a few hours. It's also interesting to see how writers and reporters frame the university in simple ways. One comment that sticks out to me and is often repeated is: "Joe Paterno ran Penn State."

It's hard to oversimplify any more than that. It paints a picture of an old football coach handpicking faculty and setting room and board rates. If you didn't know any better, you'd think Paterno had a vote on tuition increases and approved research requests.

Penn State's annual budget is $4 billion. It's no secret that football is big here and it's importance stems deeper than any monetary amount can calculate. And Joe has done more for the school than almost anyone. But at around $70 million, it's small potatoes compared to all the great things the university does.

I've had the opportunity to sit in Finance & Business meetings, meet with budget representatives, and go to strategic planning retreats over the past five years. And not once was Paterno present or mentioned.

What was mentioned? I heard leaders at Penn State talk how to make the university more student centered. They spoke of ways to increase accountability. They wanted to enhance diversity in all aspects of the institution. They found ways to cut costs. 

So, I have a hard time listening to sports pundits say things like, "Let's not beat around the bush. Joe Paterno ran that school." It's untrue. He, like many coaches, may have ruled his football program with an iron fist, but it's clear to me that Penn State is more than seven Saturdays a year.

The student section only holds about one-fourth of the entire student body. The stadium itself sits one-fifth of the alumni association. Life still goes on between December and August in Happy Valley.

I love football. But I think I can speak for the thousands of Penn Staters in town, in Pennsylvania, and around the world who came to Penn State to study, learn, grow, research, and work, there's a lot more to us than a football team.




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