Our View | Penn State becomes catalyst: Response to sanctions leads the way

It is significant that NCAA compliance officer and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell praised Penn State for its efforts in a year under severe sanctions.

It is also meaningful that other universities see Penn State’s response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal as a model for addressing problems and taking steps to provide a safe environment for staff, students and visitors to campus.

Penn State has not allowed itself to be crippled by the Louis Freeh findings and the NCAA sanctions.

Rather, university individuals at all levels have chosen to rise up and meet the challenges in a positive manner, recognizing the very real crimes that brought us to this place.

Many major universities have reviewed their rules and procedures in reaction to the Sandusky case and the impact at Penn State, reports show.

And many of those schools have turned to Penn State not to cast scorn, but to seek guidance in improving their own approach to safety and integrity.

“We have in many ways become the university that many others have looked to, or at least were the catalyst, in terms of them examining their own policies,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in an exclusive interview with the Centre Daily Times on Sept. 6, the day Mitchell’s one-year report was issued.

We salute Julie Del Giorno, Penn State’s athletics integrity officer, singled out by Mitchell for playing a key role in efforts to take steps spelled out in the NCAA consent decree and Freeh report.

And we applaud the creation of a youth programs compliance specialist and the hiring of Sandy Weaver to oversee child protection efforts.

Those two positions were noted in Mitchell’s analysis of Penn State’s progress.

Penn State has implemented most of the 119 Freeh recommendations and will have all addressed by year’s end.

Mitchell acknowledged that “parties may continue to argue about the history that led to the Freeh report,” but also noted that “a consensus has developed that the principles at the heart of these reforms are best practices for the governance of any large university.”

Penn State is taking steps to make its facilities more secure. The Intramural Building is being remodeled, with an eye on controlling access. Rec Hall will be next.

The university has negotiated settlements with many of Sandusky’s victims, another necessary step. There will be no reversing of history for these men, who suffered physical and psychological abuse over many years.

Mitchell commended Penn State for training nearly 30,000 workers, students and even volunteers in recognizing and reporting abuse, including face-to-face and online sessions. He also pointed to a crisis management plan adopted by the board of trustees as a significant positive step.

“This was a herculean effort in many ways,” Erickson said of Penn State’s responses across the university system.

We see the same drive to overcome adversity in the Penn State football program and head coach Bill O’Brien. The staff and players are not acting as if the NCAA sanctions don’t exist. Rather, they have adjusted their practices, recruiting and game strategies and succeeded despite the transfer of players and the loss of scholarships brought by the penalties.

And Penn State students have been incredibly resilient. They have supported the football team and other university teams and organizations. They have continued to elevate Penn State’s status among employers. The students have embraced positives in a difficult situation.

As so many at Penn State have shown, such times require focus and action. You can’t keep looking back if you need to move forward.

We understand the frustration many alumni and others with Penn State ties are experiencing. This has been a challenge unlike any seen on a college campus.

To be sure, many difficult moments remain as the NCAA sanctions roll forward. Mitchell’s report gave no indication that the penalties might be reduced.

The trial of three former Penn State administrators is ahead. Lawsuits challenging the NCAA’s actions and the use of the $60 million fine levied against the university are ongoing.

The trustees and other leaders continue to be targeted for criticism.

The cost has been high, both financially and emotionally. But we do see progress happening.

There can be no turning back of the clock to erase the sting of the Sandusky scandal.

And there can be no ignoring of the crimes against young boys that occurred in our midst.

Penn State leaders, students and workers have shown an understanding of these truths at all levels.