How pervasive is the 'Penn State culture' in college athletics?
By Karin Klein
July 12, 2012
By this point, it comes as no surprise that an exhaustive inquiry into the sexual abuse scandal involving Penn State University and former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky found that it wasn't just a matter of people high and low in the hierarchy who didn't do the right thing. The failure to end the long-term molestations resulted from a university culture in which athletics reigned supreme, football coaches were revered and even feared, and the foremost concern among top officials wasn't to protect children or do the just thing but to protect the university.
I don't doubt any of this, but I can't help wondering whether Penn State was some kind of anomaly in the world of universities with major team-athletics programs. If we looked with equal intensity at the top 50 or so universities in this group, would we find similar disproportionate power among key coaches, similar fear among the people who work for them and a similar culture of protecting the institution above all else?
This isn't to let Penn State off the hook in any way, or to imply that sexual abuse of children is a problem in the world of higher education; the question is whether universities have overlooked longstanding cultures that have the potential to hide a wide range of problems. Have we bowed too much to the mighty athletic program?