Title: An Implication From the Penn State Scandal that Major Media Missed
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussed the highest paid university president in 2011: President Graham B Spanier. While the name might not be familiar, his institution was in the headlines at the time: Penn State. That's right, Mr. Spanier was president for many years of the most grotesque (known) scandal in higher education, the Sandusky Affair.
Mr. Spanier stands to face many criminal charges for his part in ignoring the many specific complaints that Penn State administration received over a decade regarding, well, most unpleasant behavior going on in the showers. Thus, he was "let go" from Penn State, receiving a golden parachute package of nearly 3 million dollars (insert "Dr. Evil" laugh here).
He'll also get to keep his $600,000 a year professorship in the department of human development and family studies, after a 1 year fully paid sabbatical. For such a vast sum of money, this must be a pretty important position. That said, I've been in institutions of higher education for nearly 30 years now, and I've never even heard of such a position before (much less a whole department).
It's quite possible Mr. Spanier didn't know what was going on in the showers, so maybe he's entitled to such a huge severance package, but there's a larger issue that nobody in the media has managed to figure out. Allow me to connect some dots now:
One detail not fully addressed in the sordid Sandusky affair concerns the years and years where he was allowed to engage in his “inappropriate” behavior despite witnesses reporting it to administration on multiple occasions: none have asked how this happened. The answer is simple: stopping this activity is not in the administrator's job description. Administrators have two key goals, which trump all other considerations: retention and growth. Retention means keeping students in the system as much as possible, and a professor having low (with administration defining “low”) retention will generally not keep his job. As the easiest way to lose a student is to fail a student, “Failure is not an option” has taken on new meaning in higher education. Growth generally means growth of the student base, as more students means a larger institution, and a larger institution means more administrative pay; thus are standards annihilated nowadays, as standards cut into growth.
So, it was no grand conspiracy that administrators would cover up even the most grotesque of behavior on campus. The scandal, if revealed, could easily drive students away, reducing both retention and growth. It was no conspiracy…administrators were merely doing their job, nothing more.
But here’s the thing missed in this debacle: administrators are not physically attached to a single school. There’s a bit of a revolving door in higher education, an administrative career is marked by going to an institution, improving retention and growth, and then being hired/promoted to another institution. Job descriptions for open positions almost invariably describe how candidates must have demonstrated success , growth and retention, in previous positions.
There’s nothing special about the administration of Penn State any more than the administration of NYU, SLU, or UCLA. This behavior would’ve been covered up anywhere else.
The administrators at Penn State were not some good ol’ boys with the same last name or with 20 years of experience working together, they’re a collection of administrators that have all moved up through the system the same way via numerous institutions, through improving retention and growth, sacrificing everything else about education for these goals and these goals alone. Thus, like an ancient Greek phalanx, each administrator knew what to do without there necessarily being any specific order given from above: retention and growth are paramount, sodomization of prepubescent boys in the showers on campus is nothing next to those goals.
Now we come to the seed I must plant: if a simple random sample of administrators has so little concern for integrity and human decency that implicitly condoning the sodomizing of children does not cause even one administrator to resign in disgust over the course of years, is it possible that their void of integrity fails the cause of education in other ways?
Think about that,