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Suffer and permit

November 9, 2011, 7:07 am

I know everyone has to have a take on the story of the multiple child rapes, and the cover ups, occurring for years on the Penn State campus, but so far, the higher education venues have been lacking. Inside Higher Ed’s focus on handling the media crisis is just plain weak, and I am usually an IHE fan. Even the Chronicle has looked for more oblique stories: “how is the campus handling thisthe student protestthe board statement…” This is a truly disgusting story of people on a campus ignoring repeated evidence, sometimes happening RIGHT IN FRONT OF EMPLOYEES. Only Chronicle bloggers get the story, like Michele Goodwin of Brainstorm directly takes on the campus administration’s priorities in dealing with this matter or Chronicle editorial writer Molly Yanity’s critique of the initial failure of ESPN and other sports writers to see the gravity of the story.

If you read the grand jury report (and I honestly encourage you not to read it, as the details are disgusting and sad), you will find that these crimes were committed by Sandusky and witnessed by (a) a graduate student (who was 28 at the time, by the way, when he witnessed the former coach having anal sex with a 10 year old boy), (b) an adult man working for the janitorial staff (who saw Sandusky forcing oral sex on another little boy), and (c) a wrestling coach who observed inappropriate touching by Sandusky with another young boy. To quote Ms. Yanity, “A coach is reported to have raped a young boy in the showers of the Penn State football locker room, and no one called the police.” This wasn’t guessing, feeling uncomfortable about seeing an adult male being overly affectionate or touchy with a young boy… this was clear evidence of abuse. What possible excuse could any of the people involved, at every level of the university, have for not reporting this to the proper authorities?

Honestly, my partner’s first reaction was, if they saw the abuse happening, why didn’t they enter the room and make it stop? If you saw Sandusky beating the child with a belt or punching them, wouldn’t you expect these adult men to step in and interrupt the abuse? Why is sexual violence different? What did the children in these situations think, when they saw adults turn away from their sexual violation? Perhaps they thought that it was acceptable. Perhaps they blamed themselves for not stopping it.

I understand that the people who saw the incidents were likely shocked and upset by what they saw in that moment. The graduate student “went to his office… distraught” and called his father. The man who had been a member of the janitorial staff was so upset by what he saw that other staff to whom he reported it were worried that he would “have a heart attack.” He was “shaking and crying,” “distraught,” and said that it was worse than anything he had seen in the Korean War. I don’t think we can always intervene in the moment, especially when we are shocked and traumatized by what we see. Yet, both reported it to their superiors, though ultimately nothing substantive was done by the campus administration about either assault.

I have said for years that when it comes to sexual assault on campus, academic administrators need to get police involved as soon as possible. It isn’t our job to make a decision about what happened, if anyone did anything wrong, and who is believable. That is true whether the alleged victim of sexual assault is a college student or a child. Social workers in child welfare are trained to do investigations, as are the police. That is their job. And when it comes to the welfare of children and youth under 18, it is the law that people in educational institutions MUST report abuse. If JoPa or any of the indicted administrators had consulted their university counsel, they would have known that was the case. I can only assume that they tried to minimize what happened, even to themselves, and covered their collective assess, while children were being repeatedly raped and assaulted. This kind of administrative response makes me ashamed to be an academic administrator. But I think it follows that a campus that cannot deal with sexual violence against adults isn’t prepared to handle sexual violence against children.

There is no excuse for the behavior of the university administration regarding this matter. They must go. And we all need to take steps to make sure all employees know that sexual assault of any kind is not acceptable on any college campus, and it must be reported to the police.

There is a concept in labor law called Suffer or Permit, which has to do with overtime and what counts as work. The law means that “time spent doing work not requested by the employer, but still allowed, is generally hours worked.” One could argue that by permitting Coach Sandusky, while he was employed by the university and after his retirement, to use university facilities and events to abuse young boys, they were facilitating this abuse and the anguish of these children as part of the Coach Sandusky’s employment. Talk about suffer or permit… only the children were the ones who were actually suffering.

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