Former FBI director Louis Freeh lauded Penn States reaction to early findings by his group and the local community for its reaction to the child sex abuse scandal.
It was one bright moment in an otherwise sobering presentation Thursday concerning Penn States handling of the Jerry Sandusky situation.
The Freeh report showed that top Penn State officials including the late Joe Paterno and former president Graham Spanier failed to report and in fact covered up Sanduskys crimes against children, and that their actions were part of a culture of secrecy that existed at all levels of the university.
Freehs recommendations paint a picture of a university with too much control in the office of the president and a few others, and a fragmented approach to meeting federal mandates for the reporting of potential crimes and oversight of such programs.
That system allowed Sandusky access to university properties where some of his crimes occurred, and kept individuals at various levels at Penn State from reporting what they had seen or heard because they either feared for their jobs or simply didnt understand procedures they were required to follow.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, according to the U.S. Department of Education, requires all institutions of higher education that participate in the federal student financial aid program to disclose information about crime on their campuses and in the surrounding communities.
Freeh noted progress in Clery Act compliance since January.
But clearly much work remains, and the board of trustees and top Penn State officials must be committed to implementing a wide range of new standards and procedures.
They say they are. Given the damning findings in the Freeh report, we would expect nothing less.
Moving forward, Freeh said, Penn State needs to institute an overhaul of its culture to reinforce the commitment of all university members to protect children and to bring the athletics program under closer control of a centralized compliance program.
Among specific recommendations, Freeh said Penn State should:
appoint an ethics officer and establish an ethics council to work with the board of trustees and university president;
centralize human resources and appoint a vice president-level official to oversee the office;
better track employee training and centralize background check procedures;
do more hiring of external candidates;
frequently review university policies and make changes as necessary;
emphasize and practice openness and transparency at all levels and within all areas of the university. We hope this transparency works both across departments and between Penn State and the public.
We see this list as something every university, indeed every organization, should already be doing.
Other critical recommendations included:
review and adoption of a conflict of interest policy for the board of trustees;
requiring full public disclosure of business dealings between trustees ad the university;
requiring that the university president and counsel keep the board fully informed of potential legal issues -which was not done during the Sandusky investigation;
conducting Clery Act seminars for board members and annually review all Clery-related reports;
assigning oversight of Clery Act compliance to an individual in the Penn State police department and providing resources to allow that individual to meet requirements of the act.
Freeh also said Penn State should complete periodic internal and external audits of Clery Act procedures.
It sounds like a lot, and it is. But the university must move swiftly to incorporate the Freeh recommendations into its practices and policies.
On Friday, board of trustees Chairwoman Karen Peetz said that by the time the trustees meet again in September, a structure will be in place for implementation of the Freeh plan.
That is a good first step. Changing and rebuilding Penn States culture in the wake of the worst scandal to ever hit a U.S. university will be an ongoing process that requires commitment on all levels and across the university system for many years to come.