Thomas Jefferson once said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
It is with the goal of greater wisdom that the nine alumni-elected members of Penn State’s board of trustees have sought to determine the actual facts surrounding the Sandusky scandal and its impact on Penn State.
As events unfolded in 2011 and 2012, the board of trustees engaged the services of former FBI director Louis Freeh to conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding this sad chapter in our school’s history — so that steps could be taken to prevent anything remotely similar from ever happening again.
Alas, Freeh’s report left many in the Penn State community with far more questions than answers.
Accordingly, many have called for a careful look at the materials that underpin Freeh’s report — to determine, once and for all, if his investigation truly supports his findings or if instead, the report is merely a hastily-prepared, incomplete, mass-market, media “product.” The report has been criticized by numerous experts for its questionable accuracy and unsupported conclusions. Former U.S. attorney general and Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh concluded the Freeh report was “seriously flawed.”
In November, we were informed that the full set of background documents and materials would be made available to trustees for review. However, on Dec. 19, President Barron published an op-ed in the Centre Daily Times, explaining his intention to protect the “individual anonymity” of those interviewed by Freeh.
To that end, President Barron has asked attorneys to “redact” or “withhold” information that would reveal interviewee identity. It is understandable that President Barron believes individual confidentiality is important. We, too, are sensitive to the subject, but believe that getting to the complete truth outweighs the importance of individual confidentiality.
On the surface, such confidentiality appears well-intentioned. Yet if interviewee identity is withheld, no one can accurately assess the quality of the testimony and we can never know how Freeh weighed such testimony. For anyone to conduct a credible, in-depth review of Freeh’s findings, unfettered and uncensored access to all the materials Freeh used is necessary. The very reputation of our university is on the line.
Any action taken to redact or change information is an action that compromises transparency. For example, the position or title held by an interviewee is highly relevant to give context to his or her statements or opinions. Certain persons’ positions would preclude firsthand accounts, whereas others are in a position to provide credible testimony — but without names and positions, who’s to know?
Further, it is critical that we understand the nature and quality of the questioning of interviewees.
Several witnesses have said they were harassed and pressured to make statements contrary to their own viewpoints. By definition, redaction will necessarily alter the context of the questioning and the interviewee’s answers.
It has been suggested that Freeh interviewed as many as 430 people in conducting his investigation. However, very few individual interviews are actually contained in the report. What was Freeh’s purpose in not including the information obtained from the majority of the interviews?
We believe there may be great value in seeing all of the materials, from all of the individuals Freeh interviewed. Only then will we have a clear picture of what Freeh decided to include in the report, and what he chose to leave out.
The Freeh report is at the center of damage, the NCAA sanctions and endless public criticism suffered by the Penn State community over the past several years. Our highest principles as trustees compel us to search for complete understanding of the most destructive and tragic chapter in the history of our university. Only then can we arrive at the truth and let the healing begin.