The Middle School Philly

The guys at The School Philly today proved, once again, why they might be more accurately named The Middle School Philly (credit to that moniker goes to Dennis Shea).

The following is an excerpt from their post riffing on this Onward State article:

There is nothing scarier at Penn State than squirrels, seriously. No sarcasm in that statement at all. There is basically no crime at Penn State. You can walk around at 4am, in the heart of downtown, alone, and be happy as can be. Girls walk around drunk and half-naked, four nights/mornings a week, and you hear about like two incidents a year. Like the girls are begging for it, basically daring the State College “criminals” to try something.

As Onward State managing editor Kevin Horne noted on Twitter, there have been six sexual assaults in State College since the beginning of fall semester. It is absolutely astonishing that college students of any gender would think that suggesting girls “are begging for it” is either appropriate, or at all accurate.

Update 10/9: The Daily Collegian editorialized on the issue today, addressing a statement from one TSP editor on the organization’s radio show who said that the lines were “clearly a joke.” Excerpted:

Here’s the thing, though — sexual assault isn’t a joke. It’s not irreverent. It’s not facetious. It’s not sarcastic.

It’s a serious issue.

And until we get past the point where we think it’s marginally OK to suggest that someone would be “begging” someone to “try something,” it’s going to continue to make it difficult for people to feel comfortable speaking out about assault when they need to.

Concerns for Governance at Penn State

In the headrush of public opinion weighing down on them, the National Collegiate Athletic Association acted in an extraordinarily fast and highly unusual manner to levy some of the most significant sanctions in the organization’s history.

The NCAA Penn State consent decree, signed under duress by President Rodney Erickson, states that the university must adopt all of the recommendations that were presented in Chapter 10 of the Freeh Report…  These recommendations (there are more than a hundred) are extremely detailed and specific to Penn State. Not even Louis Freeh thought that was how this document should be used (‘The following recommendations are intended to assist [the University] in improving how they govern’, Chapter 10).

Unfortunately, it seems safe to assume that neither the NCAA nor President Erickson really considered the full implications of that binding stipulation alone, let alone the numerous other collective admissions of guilt strewn throughout the document.

Let’s get one thing straight here: The apparent cover-up of accusations against Jerry Sandusky was a conspiracy that involved at least four men, with many more people also seemingly culpable… Cynthia Baldwin, Jack Raykovitz, and John Seascock are just a few of the people whose roles still seem inexplicable despite it being nearly a year since this scandal began. Yet somehow the NCAA found it in themselves to punish the student-athletes through scholarship reductions, the students through a loss of morale, and the community through the very real economic implications of a stunted football program. Not even waiting for the trials of Gary Schultz and Tim Curley to be over and prior to the actual sentencing of Jerry Sandusky, the NCAA levied enormous damage on truly innocent bystanders without even specifying any actual violations against Penn State!

The Board of Trustees will hold its first public meeting on the consent decree this Sunday evening. The decision to ratify the document may seem rote at this point, but on the contrary, the meeting could have huge ramifications.

If you haven’t read Don Van Natta Jr’s tick-tock account of the secret negotiations between the NCAA and President Erickson, you should take a few minutes to do so now.

Why did President Erickson operate in such a clandestine manner? Van Natta tells us that Peetz and the executive committee of the Board of Trustees were worried about a leak, but that is no reason to drop operating protocol. A nine-page document with such long-term impacts on the university, dependent on an unprecedented self-analysis conducted by a former FBI agent with a gift for narrative embellishment, seems to deserve the fullest possible deliberation by the people elected and nominated to run the university. No one on the outside can be sure how the decision was made — whether Erickson or Peetz or Gene Marsh was the one to push for not discussing this extraordinary measure with the full Board of Trustees in any capacity — but no matter its origins the shady nature of the whole ordeal has raised the same concerns of governance that have underpinned the Penn State aspects of this Jerry Sandusky scandal since the very beginning.

Simply put, the pattern of making decisions through the select cabal composed of Erickson, Edelman (here are their talking points), LaTorre, counsel, and the Executive Committee must end immediately. The kowtowing we saw to the NCAA, an organization that deserves none, caused extraordinary damage to a university already suffering. The cabal’s choice to exclude a significant number of trustees from the decision-making process has alienated earnest alumni representatives like Joel Myers and Ryan McCombie. Know that this upcoming session to “ratify” the consent decree was not long in the works… Even the board leadership’s choice to hold the meeting in the ether reveals the cabal’s motivating desire to minimize dissent around their controversial actions. In a legal gray area as to whether the Internet constitutes a place enough for Sunshine Law purposes, the ambiguity and meandering aurality of a conference call will wash out the emotions that might otherwise surface at a meeting broadcast in living color.

If you know someone on the Board of Trustees, send them this column. Let them know that their work on behalf of Penn State is appreciated. Tell them that you think it’s time President Erickson took the training wheels off, and let them conduct their business in the open, slow-moving and messy as the process might be. Until we fix our culture of secrecy, Penn State will be stuck in a rut dug deep by many years of lackadaisical oversight. Tell them to recall the Solomonic words of Louis Brandeis (“sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”) and push for a more open Penn State.

Ramadan Kareem

Midway through a week of tough news, Ramadan began in the Muslim world. A month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan is a period of alternating fasting and feast for Muslims, with their time divided between Quranic meditations and fantastic iftars. These iftars are definitely an enjoyable way to break the day-long fast and spend time with family/friends. They are also often an opportunity to enjoy some Ramadan entertainment.

My personal favorite Ramadan entertainment when I lived in Jordan was watching Bab al-Hara, a Syrian-produced soap opera that showed life in the Levant at the dawn of modernity. A few times during that Ramadan I hung out with the Egyptian migrant workers who lived/worked on King’s Academy campus, and we watched the show together while tugging on a nargeelah filled with zaghloul-flavored tobacco (too harsh for my taste). Definitely a unique experience. You can see me with one of my Egyptian friends from King’s Academy below.

To celebrate Ramadan, I think I’ll be making a visit to my friend Hitham at Pita Cabana. Pita Cabana’s schwarma and falafel are just about the best you’ll find in the States. Originally from Irbid, Jordan (just south of the Syrian border), Hitham actually runs a couple great restaurants in downtown State College — the second, Joie de Crepe, just opened recently.

But I wanted to leave you all with something, too. First is a link to Google’s Ramadan resource. Looks like they’ll be putting up some neat content over the coming weeks. The second is a video of my favorite Arab musician, Abdel Halim-Hafez. The region’s most famous crooner, Abdel Halim Hafez was also known as Egypt’s dark-skinned nightingale. In this video production of Ahwak (translation: “I love you”), you’ll see why his fame grew so great. Do you have a favorite Arabesque musician? Umm Kulthum, maybe? Let me know in the comments.

For The Kids, Not For The Glory

“For The Glory.” Those words ring hollow now given our increased understanding of how the most powerful men at Penn State put their and the institution’s reputations above the welfare of children. Today the phrase seems an ugly epithet, one with a painful history still unfolding.

Currently Penn Staters across the country, legion in their blue and white, face friends and coworkers, trying to explain this place that we still love. I’m not sure we can yet, though. The moral compass that defined Penn State for so long has been shattered and we have been tasked with reassembling the pieces.

Penn State cannot exist for its own good. Perhaps once ‘For the Glory’ could be taken as an appropriate guide for how we should act, but not anymore.

Back in November, a number of Penn State administrators reached out to the student body with words of encouragement about the still-nascent scandal. Hank Foley, Vice President for Research, offered these thoughts, with one passage in particular sticking out to me:

At THON the motto is “For the Kids,” or FTK. For me it will be “for the kids” from now on and all the time. This is how it must be now. When I hear “We Are” my reply will be “For the Kids.” As I looked out my office window yesterday at our students on the lawn in rank and file in front of Old Main, not in protest, but amassed to mark 100 days before THON, it looked to me like a vigil and I thought, yes, for the kids, indeed.

The words are simple, but their meaning is not. For The Kids describes much more than how Penn State students view THON. It is a direction for making decisions, an imperative to consider the future and not just our own glory. It is a reminder of where our university failed, a memorial to the kids whose childhoods were irrevocably damaged due to the action and inaction of our leaders.

Like Hank said, Penn State must be “for the kids” from now on and all the time. This is how it must be now.