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Monday, November 21, 2011

Strategic CSR - Penn State

Of all the articles that have been written about the Penn State tragedy, the two best that I read appeared together on the op-ed page of The New York Times last Tuesday.

The article in the first url below by David Brooks is titled ‘Let’s All Feel Superior’ and highlights the hypocrisy of those who claim they would have done so much more to prevent the abuse if they had been in the same position as those who have featured so prominently in the Penn State case:

Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption. Over the course of history — during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods — the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see.

Brooks concludes:

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How could they have let this happen?” The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. … But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.


As much as we would like to think that, put on the spot, we would do the right — and perhaps even heroic — thing, research has shown that that usually isn’t true.

The article in the second url below by Joe Nocera is titled ‘Penn State’s Long Road Back’ and charts a course for the university to recover “its moral bearings”:

[Last] Saturday’s game was just another example: The message it sent was that football comes first. A university with its priorities straight would have forfeited. But Penn State clearly just couldn’t bring itself to do that.

Nocera outlines five steps the university can take to reprioritize the values that drive Penn State. The surprise lies not in the proposals themselves (which all seem reasonable suggestions), but that Nocera can contemplate any President of a large U.S. university enacting them:

First, it should announce that it will not participate in a postseason bowl game this year. … Second, it must discipline the rioters. A university cannot allow its students to rampage so destructively — and so amorally — without consequences. Third, it must promise not to use its status as a state institution to shield itself from the inevitable civil lawsuits that will be brought by those who were allegedly abused by Jerry Sandusky. … Fourth, Penn State should establish a compensation fund [for the victims]. … Finally, Penn State should announce that it will cancel the 2012 football season.

Cancel football? But, what would a major university in this country do without a football season?

As for the students and the fans, who can scarcely imagine life without Penn State football,  well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? In words and deeds, they have shown that their priorities are askew. It’s the job of the university to reset those priorities and teach new ones.