The recent child molestation scandal at Pennsylvania State University and its fallout prompt reflection on the set of circumstances that allowed these atrocities to continue unabated for years. Jerry Sandusky, retired assistant football coach and alleged perpetrator, remained free to commit unspeakable acts on children in large part due to a bureaucracy at Penn State that was more committed to the defense of the football team's image — and ergo, a massive revenue stream — than to the defense of the public.
An examination of the skewed incentives faced by school administrators and university police in responding to allegations against Sandusky demonstrates that a policy of handling criminal accusations against faculty, staff or students in-house represents a ticking time bomb that fundamentally jeopardizes the integrity of the institution. A conflict of interest in which an official's salary is pitted against his or her obligation to the law creates an unacceptable danger to the public. But this is exactly what transpired at Penn State.
Indeed, Sandusky's conduct was reported to university police by the mother of one of the victims in 1998. But the director of university police deliberately ordered a halt to the investigation of Sandusky without criminal charges, despite the discovery of at least one other victim.
And Sandusky was allegedly caught in the act by Penn State personnel twice, first by janitor James Calhoun in 2000, then by graduate assistant Mike McQueary in 2002. Though Calhoun and McQueary both reported the incidents to supervisors — including head football coach Joe Paterno '50 — Sandusky was not reported to external law enforcement.
What could have prompted so many officials to ignore Sandusky's repugnant crimes? The profit motive is highly salient: According to Forbes, the Penn State football franchise stands to lose at least $10 million in annual revenue, 20 percent of its 2009 profit margin, over the Sandusky scandal. That, and the fact that the university police fall under the aegis of Penn State's finance and business division — yes, law enforcement is handled by the same people responsible for ensuring that Penn State makes money — make clear the causes for the delay in bringing Sandusky to justice.
While the parallels between the Sandusky case and child molestation cases in the Catholic Church are obvious, there is a less apparent, but still very pressing, parallel to be drawn. Penn State is not the only institution with a tendency to funnel criminal proceedings into its own bureaucracy instead of calling the police — government police, not the ones whose bosses are university administrators.
At Brown, this practice has been demonstrated with several recent sexual assault allegations involving students. While these incidents lack the potential for cataclysmic scandal of the Sandusky case, one case in particular — that of William McCormick and his anonymous accuser — highlights the damage that profit motives can inflict on the cause of criminal justice.
When allegations of rape were brought to the University administration against McCormick in 2006, administrators summarily expelled him from campus without anything resembling due process. According to McCormick — as a recent Herald editorial points out, McCormick's narrative is the only one that has been made public by anyone involved ("The full truth," Nov. 9) — the University deferred to its profit motive because the alleged victim's father is an influential University donor.
By McCormick's assertion, the father of the alleged victim used his wealth to deprive McCormick of his rights as an accused defendant, going so far as to tamper with the process and with witnesses. Unfortunately, because the case was taken up by the University — an arbiter with an obvious conflict of interest — justice may never be possible in this case in any real sense. If McCormick's allegations are true, then the witnesses have already been compromised to the point of possible inadmissibility in court.
Moreover, if one goes back, one can find numerous other instances of Brown mishandling similar cases, with similar aspersions upon the validity of the administration as a mediator. A 2010 Herald article ("Brown faces dilemma with assault allegations," April 29, 2010) details several of these instances. One case is that of Adam Lack, a former Brown student who was pushed off campus in a manner similar to McCormick, but who eventually compelled the University to admit that its ad hoc system of criminal justice had failed.
The bungling of criminal investigations by private actors facing private incentives is a repeating process, both at Brown and at Penn State. For the latter, this process culminated in the catastrophic failure to punish among the most horrifying of crimes until it was far too late. This should be a wake-up call for Brown to defer immediately the role it has assumed as a de facto court of law to state authorities, so that unlike the frightened civilians in the Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name, students can say without trepidation that "it can't happen here."
Hunter Fast '12 thinks that the Editorial Page Board's "investigatory panel" should be a grand jury that is not nominated by the very people it seeks to investigate.