Too much power and a sports-centric culture run amok at Penn State.
Thats been one of the more controversial conclusions the Freeh report drew about athletics or more specifically the football culture at Penn State. And its also the message former vice president for Student Affairs Vicky Triponey has trumpeted in several interviews shes done since the Jerry Sandusky scandal erupted in November.
But pinpointing how to go about modifying the universitys overall culture and finding agreement on what changes are even
needed might be trickier than identifying administrative adjustments that need to be made, such as doing a better job complying with federal crime reporting requirements.
On the academic side, a number of professors said neither they nor other faculty they know have ever been on the receiving end of pressure from coaches to change student-athletes grades or give them an easy pass in classes. Administratively, a review five years ago by a faculty committee of the universitys judicial affairs process for students who get in trouble made recommendations that in part said athletes and nonathletes should be treated the same.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson said he doesnt think the university has only one culture.
Penn State will do a better job of integrating football and athletics into certain aspects of the university, but we really have a very positive culture among our student athletes, Erickson said in an email. They take their education seriously and graduate at rates that are among the highest in the country and are the envy of our peer institutions.
We also have a very positive academic culture where our faculty and staff are strongly committed to ensuring our students are successful, he said. In turn, our students have nurtured a wonderful culture of accomplishment and engagement in their learning and community service. ... Penn State is made up of many wonderful cultures that have contributed to shaping the great university we know.
The September 2007 report on Judicial Affairs, obtained by the Centre Daily Times, recommended changes which then- President Graham Spanier implemented. They include in general leaving it to directors, advisers or coaches to decide whether students under disciplinary probation should be allowed to participate in sports and clubs rather than putting that in the hands of Student Affairs, which oversees the Office of Student Conduct.
Involvement in student activities is for the most part a healthy influence on student behavior, and removing such involvement as a way of getting a students attention to correct misbehavior is likely to be counterproductive, the report reads.
Triponey, who left Penn State in 2007 after four years in the job, has been featured in several news stories following the Sandusky scandal, condemning interference from Joe Paterno in disciplinary matters involving football players and agreeing with the idea of a cultural problem. But her stance on who should decide whether athletes in trouble can participate in extracurricular programs the person in her former position or the club or sport leader runs counter to the 2007 report, a product of an independent faculty committee.
Triponey declined to comment for this article.
Robert Secor, vice provost emeritus for academic affairs, led that committee, which looked at how Athletics interfaced with Judicial Affairs. The review included interviews with almost 40 people, among them staff from the disciplinary system and athletics, coaches, students, faculty and officials at major universities with well-regarded disciplinary programs.
The committee came to the conclusion early on that students in athletics should not be treated any differently than other students. That wasnt an issue, but something they wanted to make clear.
Secor added that, on the other hand, student-athletes shouldnt be subject to sanctions that students in other extracurriculars arent.
So, judicial affairs would not be able to say, This student will not be able to play in the first football game of the season, any more than it would say, This student cannot play in the chess club this season.
Those decisions should be up to the program head. So, if the head of the glee club doesnt think a student who was disciplined for a code violation should travel with the club because of the students behavior, that is up to the club leader.
Secor said he didnt encounter resistance or negative feedback once the report was released.
That happened in fall 2007. Earlier that year, a group of football players was charged and several convicted for an off-campus apartment fight.
Triponey, now vice president for student affairs at the College of New Jersey, points to a sanction then known as a deferred expulsion, and the interference she would get from Paterno when football players were in trouble. Students in deferred expulsion could go to class, but not participate in extracurriculars.
Thats what the coach was really pretty angry with us about, that we should not be able to say they could not go to practice or play in a game, Triponey is quoted as saying in The Philadelphia Inquirer in July. I think we would even sometimes stretch it and say they could go work out so they could stay fit.
The reports recommendations for student discipline did away with the deferred expulsion seen as an athletic sanction and instead offered a sanctions system that goes from a warning to expulsion, with steps including probation and suspension in between.
On the academic side, Secor said he was at Penn State for 35 years, and when a student-athlete in his class was having a difficult time, he would sometimes get a call from a coach asking what could be done to help the student do well in the class, such as tutoring. The pressure was on the student, not him.
He was one of the former Faculty Senate leaders who recently endorsed a statement blasting the Freeh report and the NCAA sanctions that are based on it.
Other faculty also said theyve never been pressured by the universitys athletic side.
Victor Brunsden, a professor at Penn State Altoona and chairman of the Faculty Senate committee on faculty affairs, said he found some of the conclusions of the Freeh report and the NCAA about a football culture to be puzzling.
He said Penn State has had a successful program that those at the university are justifiably proud of, but that hasnt meant sacrificing academics.
If there is a football culture, what are the signs of it and where? Brunsden said. What do you mean by that? Does it mean were very proud of our football team? OK. Guilty. You got me. Are we willing to give good grades to our players just simply because of the team? Not that Im aware of.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter@AnneDanahy.