Column: Penn State faculty members urge others to support Paterno-NCAA lawsuit

August 8, 2013 

The Paterno v. NCAA lawsuit has only one purpose: To seek the truth. We four faculty are Penn State alumni who elected to join the lawsuit for several reasons.

First and foremost, NCAA’s actions unfairly and without due process tried and convicted an entire university community by contending that Penn State had a football-first culture. This is not the university culture that we have worked so long and hard to foster.

Second, onerous penalties against any university — which impose future burdens against innocent students and faculty — should merit a high and exacting burden of proof. However, the NCAA set the evidentiary bar remarkably low when acting solely based on the Freeh report, a badly flawed document drawing speculative conclusions without a solid fact base to support them. Penn State as an institution was placed under a dome of unprecedented multi-year sanctions without the demonstration of a commensurate level of credible evidence through the courts.

Third, the fact remains that those accused of a “conspiracy of silence” will not have a chance to defend themselves until sometime in 2014. Those charged have the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. They also have the right to due process. Obviously, one can question whether this has occurred for those currently facing charges.

Fourth, normal NCAA procedures require careful deliberation only after equally careful fact-gathering. Instead, the NCAA accepted the findings of the Freeh report and apparently compelled the Office of the President to do the same, even before the full board of trustees had an opportunity to consider or even fully review the investigative report.

The trustees had no opportunity to present evidence about Penn State’s overall institutional record, its self-initiated response to the deeply troubling child abuse scandal, or about other outcomes and options that might have been considered. Penn State was denied any hearing, appeal, or process of any kind other than choosing sanctions or the “death penalty,” according to President Rodney Erickson.

Fifth, the Freeh report and NCAA have made sweeping claims about a Penn State culture that went “horribly awry.” To be sure, unthinkable acts were perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky. But the path forward is not to condemn the culture of an entire university community because of its incomplete understanding of Sandusky’s behavior in 2001. With one inaccurate and callous brush stroke, the NCAA sanctions disregard our history, our long record of compliance, and a myriad of cold, hard facts about the university’s top athlete graduation rates and the implementation of many best practices on the part of the faculty, coaches, and administrators to conduct sports the right way.

Finally, the damaging rhetoric used by the NCAA to justify its sanctions has unjustly injured the academic reputation, financial health, and general well-being of Penn State.

We join in the university’s commitment to do what can be done to prevent child abuse. Clearly child abuse is a horrific social problem that hit so very close to home, with many victims who desperately need our (Penn State’s) collective empathy and support.

Since the true character of Sandusky was revealed, the faculty and staff have taken many steps to further protect children and prevent this from this ever happening again. At the same time, it is difficult for us to be silent while observing a rush to judgment, unsupported generalizations about a corrupt culture that are at odds with the facts and the lack of due process owed to the University. The NCAA violated its own rules and procedures in its actions against Penn State.

For these reasons, we joined the litigation that has been filed against the NCAA and expect that the courts of Pennsylvania will provide for due process that will eventually reveal the truth. Our hope is that our sentiment is shared by other faculty and staff at Penn State and that those of the University who support our action to discover the truth make this known by reaching out to us through e-mail (psu4truth@yahoo.com). Veritas!

Peter Bordi is director of the Center for Food Innovation in the School of Hospitality Management. Terry Engelder is a professor of Geosciences in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Spencer Niles was a distinguished professor and department head for Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education in the College of Education. John O’Donnell is an assistant professor in the School of Hospitality Management.

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