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.

CHART: Penn State History from 1855-1955

While researching my senior thesis this spring, I came across this large-format chart of Penn State’s history in the University Archives. The conservation experts over at Cato Park took care of fixing a minor tear that had been present when we found it, plus restoring and digitizing it for easy access. I also received a to-scale print of the chart thanks to some kind folks in the Engineering Copy Center.

The chart lays out Penn State’s history from the charter for the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania in 1855 to the opening of the HUB and Nuclear Reactor in 1955, including state and federal funding/important legislation, leadership changes, enrollment, and degrees conferred. Penn State’s first century saw the emergence of a modern university through a litany of developments, including:

  • 1857 Old Main constructed; first trustees meeting on school grounds
  • 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act
  • 1870 Alumni Association’s organized
  • 1872 First woman graduated
  • 1886 Free Lance (Daily Collegian) founded
  • 1900 Alma Mater written by Fred Lewis Pattee
  • 1908 Nittany Lion adopted as symbol of Penn State
  • 1920 Homecoming established
  • 1926 Chi Omega established as first national sorority
  • 1941 Lion Shrine built by Heinz Warneke
  • 1948 Land Grant frescoes by Henry Varnum Poor completed; veteran enrollment peaks
  • 1952 Penn State Foundation established

The full 30″ wide and 96″ tall chart can be explored easily using Zoom.it. Check it out (or download the PDF), and let me know if I missed anything that should be added to the list.

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.

NYT Explores New Digital Divide in Digital Literacy


From Julius Genachowski to danah boyd, many of the familiar voices in the “digital divide” debate were interviewed for Matt Richtel’s recent New York Times article New ‘Digital Divide’ Seen in Wasting Time Online. (As an aside, I wonder who got the capitalization of boyd’s name wrong: Richtel or a copyeditor of some sort.)

Richtel’s reporting suggests that the new digital divide is in digital literacy. His conclusion is that the lack of guidance for young people on how to use new technologies productively results in them “wasting time online” with social networks and video games.

But is more guidance really the answer? Sure, young people would benefit from additional training in the mechanics of digital literacy, but by answering that question directly we miss the really important thing here…

Richtel’s entire article is based on the assumption that we know how to productively use these new technologies. I find that very hard to believe, especially when we’re talking about a K-12 educational system which at times seems to be more suited for the production of mediocrity and compliance than an engaged citizenry!

If you haven’t read Stop Stealing Dreams, one of the latest books by Seth Godin, you should download it now… It’s FREE, so what are you waiting?

As I remarked on Twitter right after finishing the book, Godin’s enthusiasm amplifies his arguments. His main point is that the American educational system is currently very much an industrial system, meant to produce the constant stream of factory workers the country needed to fuel its rampant growth. The cross-disciplinary, collaborative, and constantly connected nature of 21st century work (at least the work we hope is produced in this great nation) will require a totally different skillset than the one our current system is geared towards producing.

So the question changes from, Is the lack of guidance the reason why these young people are wasting time online? to, Do we even have the right guidance to give them?

The skills acquired by participating in the public sphere and negotiating the complex relationship between identity and anonymity online, whether through Facebook, XBox Live, or chat/text messages, cannot be dismissed at face value. Let’s be real: More than a billion users can’t be wrong. There’s clearly some value to the new modalities of interaction these social networks represent and it will take much more than additional nagging for the real issues of digital literacy to be resolved.

Before we can say that additional guidance is the answer, we need to figure out what we’re guiding young people to. How should we be using the web in our daily lives? What role does social media play in the real world economy? (A billion users might not be wrong, but a billion dollars for a photo app is.) These are the questions I would like to see the Times pursue as they continue their reporting.

Link

Barnes’s arrangements are as eye-opening, intoxicating and, at times, maddening as ever, maybe more so. They mix major and minor in relentlessly symmetrical patchworks that argue at once for the idea of artistic genius and the pervasiveness of talent. Nearly every room is an exhibition unto itself — a kind of art wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities — where you can spend hours parsing the echoes and divergences among the works in terms of color, composition, theme, surface and light.

via The Barnes Foundation, From Suburb to City – NYTimes.com

I can’t wait to see the new Barnes. 181 Renoir, 69 Cézanne, and tons more. The article suggests that the audio guides aren’t worth it; instead, immersion in the symphony of colors and shapes is suggested. I disagree wholly… Barnes was an academic and his arrangements were done for reasons that, if known, would add even greater texture to the museum experience. And as for the question of whether the exhibits should “move” (author’s verbiage), I say go for it… just so long as any modifications are done in the inquiring spirit of Barnes himself.

If you were to leave a unique and singular museum behind in any field, how would you choose its focus, what would you fill it with, and most importantly, how would you arrange the whole thing? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @davisshaver.