I try not to talk about work too much on this blog, largely due to the fact that I like my job and I’d like to keep it. My name is not very “Google-able” but I always operate under the assumption that some search committee some day might try to find it and try to conduct myself appropriately, at least in terms of my professional side. There have, after all, been more than one post on this blog that have involved my boobs or the fact that I get the nervous poops so, you know, welcome future search committee! I have big boobs, need a good sports bra and shouldn’t eat too much fiber before I race.
So, while I don’t/won’t talk about the specifics of my job I can say that I am an administrator at a college. I have worked in higher education for over a decade now and I can’t remember an occasion where a scandal at one institution has prompted such a strong reaction at almost every institution I have contacts at. The mixture of horror and institutional self-questioning that has happened in the midst of the ongoing unfolding of the Penn State scandal is fascinating to me.
Obviously I can’t talk about what is happening at Penn State without first expressing my absolute devastation for what has happened to the victims, of which I am sure there are many, many more than we currently know about. I will never understand how any adult, any human being, could walk into a locker room and see a child being raped and not immediately contact the police and try to stop the attack from happening. It is unconscionable to me and my heart breaks for that little boy and all of the other ones. I used to work at a school that is similar to Penn State in some ways (large, athletic powerhouse in a revenue generating sport that was helmed by a long-time and beloved coach who was revered at the institution) and I find myself wondering if this could have happened there. Could it happen at any school? Could it happen at mine?
(For the record, I don’t think it could at my current institution, for a whole host of reasons, not being a Div. I athletic program being one of them)
As an administrator, I’ve been watching the Penn State news unfold with great curiosity about what is happening behind the scenes. This is a situation that will, no doubt, end up costing Penn State millions and millions (potentially hundreds f millions, depending on what kinds of settlement deals they will certainly have to offer the victims and families who have significant grounds to sue the institution for negligence). There will be lawsuits and more firings and national scorn for the actions of this man and those that helped cover up his actions. This will be a defining moment for both the school and for the people who will now be tasked with cleaning up this mess. The board of trustees took some good and, in my mind, absolutely unavoidable steps last night but the work of resolving this scandal hasn’t even really begun yet. I suspect that we have not yet hit bottom in terms of the horror of this case.
As a boss, I find myself in talks with other administrators about what we, a school in no way connected to Penn State, do next. Does everyone know the policies for our school and our state about mandatory reporting. I have some staff that are mandatory reporters and some that are not but have I created an environment where everyone knows that I have the expectation that they would report abuse, regardless of whether they “have to” or not? Can or how do we talk about people’s moral obligations in the context of their work life? It seems like it should be obvious: you see someone being abused, you say something, you do something, you don’t wait. But that appears to not have happened here and I suspect many colleges, especially those with high-profile athletic programs are now wondering how do you create a campus culture that says no one is above the law, no one is protected if they inflict harm.
I hope that other colleges and universities are having those conversations. I hope we’ve seen the worst of this scandal but I doubt we have. I hope for peace and safety for the victims and their families. I hope that I am the kind of boss that my staff will always know that they will be safe when they do the right thing and report any abuse or impropriety they become aware of. I hope no other school finds itself in a Penn State moment.