Howard Fineman on how Paterno and Penn State relentlessly branded the football team as a secular holy order with Paterno as pope:
When you saw Penn State on the football field, you saw team spirit and self-abnegation in action. You saw what coach Joe Paterno wanted you to see, which was his nameless players executing his grand design in religious obedience. The Penn State football team was a secular holy order, and because they looked so clean -- and because Paterno made sure they graduated -- he was seen as the pope of college football.
But it was a facade, and those who knew the story from the inside knew that. The program wasn't clean. Paterno wasn't clean. Penn State wasn't clean.
It was a masterpiece of relentless branding, built on a product that wasn't as advertised. It was a fake.
And as Jo Becker is reporting in the New York Times today, right after he learned that Sandusky was under investigation for sexually assaulting minors, Paterno began re-negotiating his contract with Penn State, though it wasn't up for renewal until the end of the following year. The upshot: he got a golden parachute of some $5.5 million in his total retirement package, and the university "gave the family virtually everything it wanted . . . ."
Would that we could all be so punished and retire with such disgrace, no?
A footnote: as universities have come under the thumb of the corporate world and are run by board members comprised largely of folks from the corporate world, and as those boards appoint presidents and other leaders with no understanding of or commitment to academic integrity and excellence, these kinds of situations have become not uncommon. The last university president with whom I worked turned out, as I discovered to my woe in working for her at my last full-time job, to be prone to decisions that verged on the criminal.
She treated one human being after another, Steve and me included, as if we were so much dirty, used tissue to be thrown away when we sought to remind her that principle comes first, and when it served her best interests, in terms of power and fiscal advancement, to treat other human beings this way.
Something finally happened--and I know quite a bit of the behind-the-scenes story about what happened, though it hasn't been made public--which eventually made it untenable for her board to keep her, though, as with the Paterno story, the board had been bitterly divided, and she had a strong coterie of principles-devoid board supporters whom she'd appointed and who kept her on no matter how many shocking reports they received about her.
Rumors have it--and I have no reason to doubt these rumors--that she, too, walked away with a sweetheart deal, after wrecking the lives of one person after another, and leaving the school with a slew of lawsuits, some of which name her personally as a defendant, precisely for wrecking the lives and reputations of those she fired with no grounds for termination and no due process. Of those she threw away like so much used, dirty tissue . . . .
None of this would have happened--the trail of human lives she destroyed would have been considerably smaller--if the governing board of her university had exercised due diligence, if the United Methodist Church which owns the two universities she wrecked successively had listened to one honest report after another about the damage she was doing, and, above all, if accrediting bodies had listened when they invited reports from the public as they re-accredited the schools she led.
Not only did the Southern Association for Colleges not listen to such reports, its top leaders colluded with this train-wreck of a president in seeking to attack those who blew the whistle on her, and these SACS leaders have announced that they intend to use her as an accrediting expert as they assess other schools in the future! Though she is, to my knowledge, the only university president around (in this case, a retired one) to have ended up getting not one but two schools on AAUP's censure list--the only two schools she ever had the misfortune to lead in her aborted and decidedly unillustrious career as a university president.
Bottom line: there's tremendous corruption in many academic institutions these days, and it has everything to do with how universities have come to model themselves on the corporate world, rather than on the classical academy. Principles have, in many places and to a great extent, flown out the window as $$$ as the bottom line become normative. University presidents whose bottom-line motivation is $$$ for themselves and their inner circle are not at all uncommon nowadays.
The result has been disastrous. And wrap all of this up in pseudo-religious, pseudo-messianic language as Paterno did at Penn State, and throw in the horrendous element of hidden, covered-up abuse of minors, and you have a horror story. The $5.5 million golden parachute for Paterno is beyond obscene.