Updated: Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 7:19 PM
Take a deep breath for one moment...and pretend that you're Penn State University. Yes -- you're a big dude who lives in the middle of nowhere, who's good at predicting the weather and playing football, now taking up ice hockey, and you like to raise money for cancer...and party! But you've just been through a terrible ordeal -- a child sexual-abuse scandal.
Your well-known assistant football coach has been assaulting young boys for years; evidence emerges that some administrators knew there was a huge problem and did nothing -- presumably to protect the cash-cow football program and your iconic, statue-ized head coach. Eventually, a circle of top officials are indicted for a cover-up, all the way up to your university president, who gets ousted and then gets indicted for perjury, obstruction of justice, child endangerment, failure to report child abuse and conspiracy.
So, Penn State University, you're going to have to fix your reputation. And the best path to that fresh start will be hiring a new president.
a) Do you pluck someone else from the current administration (as was done in 2011 when the scandal first broke)?
b) Think outside the box and not only go outside Happy Valley, but bring in someone with a national reputation as a crusader on child sex-abuse issues, or at least a crusader? Maybe go crazy, and hire a woman president, even?
c) Hire a guy from outside who has a long history with Penn State -- a guy running a university that''s just been embroiled in a controversy over (wait for it) a sexual-abuse allegation against the star of its football team, which just won the national championship.
Here's the incredible thing about c) -- Penn State's hiring two months ago of Eric Barron (1st picture), who was a professor and dean at PSU for two decades and had served as president of Florida State University since 2010. It was reported in February that Barron's handling of the recent case involving Florida State's Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston (2nd picture) -- who led FSU to the national championship last season even as local police were investigating Winston, and clearing him, on rape allegations -- was a positive for Barron to come to scandal-scarred Penn State.
"It's incredibly important that an institution follow due process," Barron said in February.
This morning, the New York Times, and its Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich, published an exhaustive look at what really happened in the Winston case -- and how both the Tallahassee police and -- to the point of this post -- the administration of Florida State mishandled the allegations against Winston, and possibly other sexual-assault cases involving FSU students.
The article makes a mockery out of Barron's February statement about "due process" at his old school, and, quite frankly, it makes a mockery out of the Penn State trustees who thought that hiring Barron -- with the FSU cloud that was hanging over his head, and which today is raining cats and dogs -- would remove the stain of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
It's important -- not only if you care about Penn State or football but if you care about the "rape culture" on college campuses -- to read the New York Times article in its entirety. Some of the most devastating reporting is about how the Tallahassee police allegedly botched the probe by overlooking key evidence against Winston or generally just not investigating at all -- after a 19-year-old FSU freshman with telltale bruises said she'd been raped by a stranger after a night of drinking at a local bar.
But here are the two paragraphs of Bogdanich's piece that raise serious questions about Barron's fitness to lead Penn State:
University administrators, in apparent violation of federal law, did not promptly investigate either the rape accusation or the witness’s admission that he had videotaped part of the encounter.
Records show that Florida State’s athletic department knew about the rape accusation early on, in January 2013, when the assistant athletic director called the police to inquire about the case. Even so, the university did nothing about it, allowing Mr. Winston to play the full season without having to answer any questions. After the championship game, in January 2014, university officials asked Mr. Winston to discuss the case, but he declined on advice of his lawyer.
Now, it's important to be clear. The article does not spell out any specific wrongdoing by Barron, but its raises serious questions about Florida State's culture while he was in charge. Ironically (or not), one of the many embarrassments for Penn State during the Sandusky-Spanier era is that, it, too, is under investigation for violating the same federal law in reporting sex crimes.
The Times also notes a ridiculously incestuous relationship between the Tallahassee cops, including the officer Scott Angulo allegedly "investigating" Winston, football boosters, and president Barron:
Officer Angulo has done private security work for the Seminole Boosters, a nonprofit organization, with nearly $150 million in assets, that is the primary financier of Florida State athletics, according to records and a lawyer for the boosters. It also paid roughly a quarter of the $602,000 salary of the university president, Eric Barron, who was recently named president of Penn State.
Yes, you read that correctly -- football boosters pay a quarter of the salary of Florida State's president. God bless the Sunshine State.
Now, the Times article and USA Today have noted, the federal Department of Education has opened an investigation into whether FSU, under Barron's administration, properly responded to sexual-assault allegations. The Times also quotes the head of a women's shelter who said that FSU tended to bury complaints in its internal review process and that compared to what other universities have done, "I’m not seeing that level of energy here." There are clearly hints that the problems at Florida State run deeper than just its star quarterback:
In January, the mother of a student who said she had been sexually battered at a fraternity the previous April contacted the campus police asking why the university “doesn’t do more to protect women from rape,” records show. The police response was to inform the mother of a self-defense class for students.
So, the bottom line here suggests that the "due process" that Barron boasted about was actually an effort to protect Winston while the team was on the way to winning the national championship. This is Penn State's guy to make you forget about Sandusky?
The people of Pennsylvania, who are paying a chunk of Barron's $800,000 salary (yes, he got a raise...of course he did) and the Penn State community deserve answers, and we all deserve them sooner rather than later. Eric Barron needs to got before the hot lights and answer any and all questions about what he knew about the Jameis Winston case and what he did -- if anything -- about it. He needs to explain what -- again. if anything at all -- he did to improve the culture around combating sexual assaults and rape at FSU, and what he plans to do for Happy Valley.
Penn State's trustees and its top leaders need to do something they been mostly incapable of -- both in the years before Jerry Sandusky was busted and in the two years since, which is look in the mirror and address the deep flaws in its institutional culture. Now it's the 4th quarter and time for what some of the "old boys" of Happy Valley would surely consider a Hail Mary pass: Telling the truth.