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The Penn State Scandal From the (Former) Paterno Chair

[ 227 ] October 15, 2012 |

Michael Berube’s piece is, of course, excellent. This point deserves further emphasis:

What we do know is that everyone who had any knowledge of the 1998 investigation should have rung every available alarm, and gone to every appropriate authority, after McQueary reported what he saw in 2001. No one in the Penn State leadership did so, and that—not their responses three years earlier, when the district attorney sounded the all-clear—is what is unforgivable.

So there are two institutional failures here. The first, in 1998, is primarily a failure of our police and child-protection authorities. The second, in 2001, is primarily a failure of university governance. In between the first and the second, we now know that a couple of Penn State janitors, too, were aware of Sandusky’s criminal escapades, but told themselves they would lose their jobs if they reported what they saw. The cover-up in 2001 strongly suggests that their fear of a culture of secrecy at Penn State was well founded.

And that is damning enough—to the reputations of the men who never reported Sandusky to the police, and to the reputation of the university that once prided itself on its athletics integrity. That alone is enough to compel me to resign the chair I had once been so honored to hold.

Conflating 1998 and 2001, as I’ve said before, also plays into the hands of Joe Paterno’s apologists by allowing them to point out that lots of people failed to see that Sandusky was a monster. That’s a fair point before McQueary talked to him, but certainly not afterwards, and this would be true even if Paterno (implausibly) knew nothing about the 1998 investigation.

There are other important points here as well; I shouldn’t have taken Vicky Triponey’s story at face value for example. Anyway, the whole thing is worth reading.

Comments (227)

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  1. actor212 says:

    I took (mild) issue with his refusal to speak to the “football culture”. He said it was irrelevant but if Sandusky had been a baseball coach or a janitor, this is nipped in the bud, full stop.

    It’s only because he’s a coach for the sacred football team that he’s allowed to stay even after 1998′s cursory investigation.

    • tonycpsu says:

      Football culture? You misspelled “money.”

      It’s the expectation of a loss of revenue that creates the incentive for the cover-up, not anything about the game of American tackle football. If baseball programs brought in the kind of money that football and basketball programs do, the result is the same.

      The same goes for if Sandusky had been a tenured professor of an academic department that brought in a lot of money. This isn’t actually a hypothetical, because a very similar sequence of events happened just a few hours away from State College to an economics professor at UPenn’s Wharton school. There are obviously some significant differences between the two stories, and I doubt that Penn’s economics department pulls in the revenue Penn State’s football program does, but there’s nothing about the sport itself that creates the incentives to protect the institution.

      • Hogan says:

        Possibly gratuitous pedantry alert: On behalf of Penn’s economics department (and economists everywhere), let me point out that it’s in the School of Arts and Sciences, not the Wharton School. Ward was a professor of marketing. I don’t know what level of bucks that department draws in, but it may well be competitive with Penn’s football program.

      • anniecat45 says:

        I totally disagree. Sports in general, and football in particular, have an emotional hold on a lot of people, far in excess of the money they bring in, and the people who love it cut the players and football programs an awful lot of slack in a great many areas. Without the aura around Penn State football, none of this could have happened.

        • John Protevi says:

          Yes, this is an excellent point. I’m a big fan of vulgar Marxism — cherchez l’argent if you will — but a big part of the mess that is the NCAA is the emotional bonds that form between program and fans.

          • DrDick says:

            Tell me about it. The fans have all been in an uproar because the new president (in office a bit over a year now) fired the winning football coach and AD because they had fostered a culture which shielded and tolerated sexual assault (and brought down 3 federal and one NCAA investigation on the university).

        • tonycpsu says:

          The dynamic you speak of is certainly present among students, alumni, and fans, but for the university employees directly involved in the cover-up, I think it was 99.9% about protecting the money-making Penn State Football brand, and, by extension, their own jobs.

          Of course being an employee and a fan are not mutually exclusive, and someone who follows the team might have their rooting interest as an additional driver for their decision to look the other way, but I am unconvinced that sports fanaticism amounts to anything more than a rounding error compared to the financial concerns.

          Regarding the notion that “none of this could have happened” without football, please explain to me how a very similar thing happened at UPenn with an economics professor. I mean, I’ve been in and around University City in Philly many times, and I don’t remember seeing a single jersey with the name of an econ professor on the back, or a crowd gathered at Franklin Field to watch a thesis defense.

        • Well sure, but you left out the part where there’s a strong emotional attachment to the former defensive coordinator of the football team. Because, of course, there isn’t any. The idea that outing an assistant coach for criminal activity, let alone something this heinous and shocking, would somehow be an affront to a fan’s love for the program itself is absurd.

      • actor212 says:

        Tony, “football culture” was a quote I pulled from Berube’s article. Perhaps I could have been clearer that I regard revenue State receives from its football program to be the very essence of that culture and the driving force behind much of the ancillary aspects like cheering the team on and wearing the sweatshirt.

        • John Protevi says:

          You’re saying that the revenue that Penn State receives is the essence of and driving force behind the love / obsession / whatever emotional term you want as long as it describes a deep and powerful feeling that is felt by the fans and forms a huge (a disturbingly huge, I might add) part of their identity?

          I’m taking this as an admission that you never been to a tailgate at a big football school and haven’t really been paying attention to what devoted college football fans are all about.

          Or to put it in human terms. I was once at a graduation ceremony here at LSU. They posthumously awarded a BA to the family of a young 22 year old woman killed in a car crash two weeks before the end of her senior year. It was a tremendously moving experience. Her father, from his looks and his accent, was a working guy. All he was able to say to relate to the crowd, to the community that had just honored his daughter, was “Go Tigers.” In other words, sadly, the only emotional link to the school he had was through the community that forms around the football team, and for the life of me I can’t see what that has to do with the revenues the admin collects for sale of T-shirts. Sure, the existence of the T-shirts is part of the community bonding — we all like to wear the colors of our heroes — but the revenue doesn’t drive the emotion, the emotion drives the revenue.

          • CD says:

            Exactly.

            Those of us who form our connections to universities differently may not see this, but it’s real and deeply felt.

          • actor212 says:

            I’m saying that those loyalties are an illusion that is reinforced and encouraged by the money aspect of the game.

            Look, if football was a money-losing proposition for the college, they’d cut it in a heartbeat and damn the fans. Period. They do it with nearly every other sport out there when things get tough.

            • CD says:

              Two of my neighbors fly the flags of (different) area college football teams. Is that an illusion?

            • John Protevi says:

              “Illusion”? Jesus Christ. By that standard, all love is an illusion, if you want to go there.

              But seriously, many, many people love their team, and if you can’t acknowledge that, you’re never going to make any sense about college football. I don’t particularly like the fact that people love their teams, but you can’t deny its reality and hope to do anything but posture ineffectually about these issues.

    • Sean Peters says:

      I took more than mild issue with it. “It is not an opportunity for those of you who hate college football to opine about the evils of college football.” Holy shit, Michael, are you serious? Can anyone for a second think that this would have been allowed to go on in the PSU Art Appreciation Society, Debating Club, or even, say, the wrestling program? And this:

      Meanwhile, we’ve recently learned that down in Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina has for years offered a bogus no-show course for athletes. You know, doing the kind of thing that directly undermines the academic mission of the university. So far the NCAA’s response to that travesty is that the matter is out of their jurisdiction.

      Oh, so the fact that other universities’ football programs are also corrupt, and the corrupt NCAA is turning a blind eye to it… is further evidence that I shouldn’t opine about the evils of college football?

      I respect Michael Berube a lot, but seriously. This article was so dumb I couldn’t even finish it.

  2. Amok92 says:

    I feel bad that Berube’ doesn’t have a Chair thingie anymore, could he get one named after something else that Penn State loves – Natty Light perhaps?

  3. howard says:

    i’m with scott: this is an excellent, thoughtful essay, one that, in contrast with so much of what so many of us do on the internet, was thought about for more than the time it takes to type.

  4. Another fine entry into the “Berube can out-write most anyone, even on extremely upsetting and personal matters, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it” corpus.

    But there are some troubling things in there:

    - As actor212 points out above, the piece’s stance towards “football culture” in a few places. When discussing the appropriateness of the NCAA sanctions, the strongest argument isn’t even alluded to: that what happened happened because the football team was the largest institutional force on that campus, and that Paterno himself had more authority than anyone else. This environment contributed to Paterno’s actions, the actions of his putative superiors, and on down through the janitors who didn’t report their suspicions. That is most definitely a “football problem”, one the NCAA rightly sees as within its jurisdiction. One can take issue with whether its solution to that problem is appropriate, but it at least has to be acknowledged. Not least because the rest of the piece fully acknowledges the institutional power of the football program and its effect on people’s behavior.

    What makes it worse is that Berube responds to concerns about “football culture” by treating people concerned by it as nebbish academics who are conditioned by class (and perhaps race) to view football as distasteful and not the proper purview of young scholars. To the extent that the wrong shorthand term was used, this is understandable and a proper point to make, but the rhetorical effect within the context of the piece is to dismiss people who are concerned about the institutional power of football programs on campus.

    - When discussing the 2001 incident:

    It is inconceivable to me that the man who loved the Aeneid because he considered it the great epic of honor and duty would not have done more when apprised of Sandusky’s behavior than report it up the chain of command.

    I may be misremembering, but wasn’t there fairly conclusive evidence that Paterno actively impeded the 2001 investigation? Or was that some other incident? Either way, referring to Paterno’s behavior as merely “reporting up the chain of command” is a bit of a whitewash.

    - A smaller point, but one that ties into the above: a complaint is made of people who wanted Paterno to retire in 03-04 after a fair amount of losing. Why? Because JoePa had earned the leeway to weather a rough patch? Or because the losing was turned around in subsequent seasons?

    The problem with the complaint is that Paterno was rapidly losing the ability to coach, and was almost entirely a figurehead in subsequent seasons. Defending that state of affairs is to defend the specific institutional set-up whereby JoePa is the most powerful authority one can answer to. In a piece that didn’t have other problems with “football culture”, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But as it is it contributes to the blindness about the institutional dysfunction of Penn State’s football program.

    - The Boas Bowl joke was very funny.

    • Pinko Punko says:

      One Freeh report e-mail from someone else- Curley? Re: some conversation that has not been reporter about its contents. And “inconceivable” by Berube there might be used for a number of reasons. Maybe hyperbole that this even could indeed have happened (it appears to have) or to express the level of shock from someone not necessarily bought in fully to the mythos, but maybe actually closer to the maybe (hypohtetical?) actual non-maufactured reason for the mythos of Joe might really be surprised at how it played out.

      • A point Scott’s made a few times is that even if Paterno didn’t actively impede the investigation, his institutional position makes “reporting things up the chain of command” a fairly ridiculous excuse. If he makes it a priority to find out the truth and deal with the consequences, everyone else will too, and merely “reporting it up the chain” sends an opposite signal.

        I can’t quite follow your points about the word “inconceivable”, but to the extent that I can it doesn’t really answer the point that characterizing Paterno’s actions as “reporting things up the chain of command” is whitewashing his behavior, even if what’s being expressed is incredulity at Paterno allowing things to unfold as they did.

        • Pinko Punko says:

          I guess my point was that I didn’t think Berube was whitewashing anything, and using the word “inconceivable” was not meant to say that it didn’t happen the way it appears to. It seems that common usage of the word these days is to mean that “I cannot conceive of it therefore I do not believe it”- i didn’t take Berube saying “inconceivable” to mean that he did not actually believe that Paterno only, in fact, reported it up the chain, and then did nothing else. I think he used it to say that he was indeed shocked for that to happen, and because not everything about Joe Paterno was actually bullshit or branding or myth, for example, at least in his experience. It seems like Paterno’s failure is enough to earn him great scorn, his whole persona doesn’t have to be entirely artifice or hypocrisy for him to have failed in such a terrible way. I think it all comes down to how things go these days. To be classical about it, every villain in every story these days is Tiberius in Tacitus.

          • Ah, that’s a bit clearer. I still don’t quite see how the sentence “It is inconceivable to me that [JoePa] would not have done more when apprised of Sandusky’s behavior than report it up the chain of command” means anything other than “I can’t believe JoePa only reported the allegations instead of seeing the investigation through.” What Berube’s doing is expressing incredulity that this great man gave the bare minimum of due diligence to serious accusations of a serious crime, instead of doing more to see the investigation through.

            However, Paterno not only did the bare due diligence to the allegations, but put up barriers to the investigation. That Berube ignores that when making this point whitewashes that behavior, I think.

            But that depends on my reading of the original sentence and there is some ambiguity in there, I agree. Also too with Berube’s motivations. Must be tough seeing Cincinnatus portrayed as Caligula. Doesn’t really excuse critiques though.

    • Mrs Tilton says:

      responds to concerns about “football culture” by treating people concerned by it as nebbish academics who … view football as distasteful and not the proper purview of young scholars.

      That’s as may be, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that colleges should take lots of the money they spend on football and basketball and use it for rugby instead.

    • Bob says:

      “It is inconceivable to me that the man who loved the Aeneid because he considered it the great epic of honor and duty would not have done more when apprised of Sandusky’s behavior than report it up the chain of command.”
      Forget the whitewash, do you honestly fail to see how pretentious, and in the end, morally bankrupt that paragraph is? Paterno was as corrupt as anyone in college football for at least the last two decades. Without the Sandusky episode his legacy would still be a horrible one. I’m so glad he likes the classics but how does that argument differ from any right wing asshole hiding behind a claimed love of the Bible to excuse any and all behavior? Berube seems genuinely bewildered that a man who loves the Aeneid could act dishonorably. Is he equally bewildered that George W. Bush, a man loves the Bible, could have started two wars, authorized torture and done everything within his power to hurt the poor?

      • I grew up in Iowa City, so I’ve always hated Paterno. You’re preaching to the choir. But Berube’s statement here is “this guy who I knew personally, I am surprised at what he did, he does not seem like the kind of guy to have done these things”, expressed with a little more panache. He isn’t literally claiming that reading this or that book makes one a good person.

        • Bob says:

          If a statement beginning with the words “It is inconceivable to me…” isn’t intended as a literal statement I don’t know that anything counts as a literal statement.

          • “It’s inconceivable to me that someone who read Wuthering Heights would pick their nose.” Catching up on Heathcliff’s monkeyshines does not literally prevent one from digging for gold, so to speak.

            It’s a condensation and summation of Berube’s descriptions of knowing Paterno and his family personally earlier in the piece. It’s rhetoric. It’s fine.

            It’s kind of bizarre to fixate on this one innocuous phrase when there’s lots more of substance to critique elsewhere.

  5. Wido Incognitus says:

    That essay is certainly worth reading. I have never assumed that the Freeh Report was 100% accurate about everything, but I have reacted with great anger at this “We Are Penn State!” belligerence and self-regard that seems not to take seriously that many children were seriously abused and that Paterno at best was naive in expecting that the university leaders would be more pro-active and at worst encouraged a cover-up and imagines the fans of the millionaire coach to be the most seriously victimized. Berube shows the people behind the nonsense.

  6. Stag Party Palin says:

    An excellent essay, but as an English Lit Prof he could cut down the number of “yet”s and “but”s to about one of each. If I were his TA, I’d grind him for that.

  7. mpowell says:

    I actually thought he made a great point about the big time football versus smaller sports. It’s a shame that so many alumni care only about the football program and don’t take pride in the academic institution that they graduated from, but how much does it really corrupt the academic integrity of a campus with 30,000 students to have 100 atheletes in the football program who are not really participating on the academic side? And then compare that to schools where a much larger fraction of the student body are admitted based on lesser academic credentials than their fellow students just to play sports. It is somewhat odd.

  8. A well-written essay doesn’t make it any less hacktacular.

    • GeoX says:

      Care to back that statement up in some way, or is it just so much contentless hot air?

      • Bérubé’s substantive case for why should go easy on Joe Pa’s legacy (and the Penn State “brand”):

        1. Joe Paterno and his family were always nice to me and pretended to take interest in my scholarship. It was awkward for me to write a letter to Paterno’s wife after six weeks of my calculating whether to resign the Paterno Family chair and then determining to do so. (It’s almost as if Bérubé had a sixth sense that another chairship would spontaneously be available for him after his resignation.)

        2. One email among emails (as if these emails were the only evidence) evincing Paterno’s knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes and active participation in the cover-up refer to Paterno as “Coach.” But that one time I talked to Paterno (see Bérubé’s NYT piece), I called Paterno “Joe.”

        3. Everybody at Penn State including me is hazzing a big sad.

        • mpowell says:

          Did you even read the article? Do you think we should excommunicate Paterno’s family from polite society because of something Joe did and almost certainly kept secret from them? Talk about an imbalanced reaction.

          • No, I don’t think that we should excommunicate Paterno’s family from polite society because of something Joe did and almost certainly kept secret from them. Talk about an imbalanced reaction. Did you even read my comment?

            • Leeds man says:

              Did you even read my comment?

              Yes, and you appear to have trouble with the meaning of “substantive”.

            • mpowell says:

              I did and it made no sense to me. Berube says something nice about Paterno’s wife and points out that his family is suffering greatly and he feels sorry for them. You respond like he’s an apologist for Joe Pa. Therefore I can only conclude that you think his family should be shunned.

              There is very little in the article defending JoePa or Penn State’s brand as such. He does, however, remind us of two interesting points: that Penn State is actually a pretty good school and that JoePa made significant efforts to help cause this to happen. This is really a good thing and it is unfortunate that Paterno is really the only example of a football coach caring about this sort of thing.

          • Bob says:

            “More important, the Paterno family has done nothing wrong. Remember that the next time someone casts aspersions on the name “Paterno.” Yes, they are contesting the Freeh report, the NCAA sanctions, and the destruction of Joe Paterno’s legacy. ”
            Do you fail to see the slight of hand in those 3 sentences? The family has done nothing wrong. Other than trying to whitewash the truth. Paterno’s “legacy” IS Sandusky. No one can better bring about “…the destruction of Joe Paterno’s legacy…” than Joe and his family managed on their own.

        • A rare anonymous commenter says:

          You’re distorting what Berube wrote; surely that too is hackish?

          • I am not distorting his case for going easy on Joe Pa’s legacy.

            • I just have to say … I love the fact that Matthew Frederick left a similar comment on my blog. You know, the blog that was shuttered two years ago, and that closed out with a eulogy for a dear friend of mine. For some reason, Mr. Frederick cared so much about this issue that he left a comment on a defunct blog (after getting past the michaelberube.com front page and clicking on the link to the blog archive), in response to a post about a close friend of mine who had died at 53. Mr. Frederick, I salute your dedication.

              • I salute your brand crisis management, Mikey B. How’s the new chair? Did it take you six weeks to decide to resign from the Paterno Family chair because of fear of writing an awkward letter to Mrs. Paterno, or because you hadn’t yet been given assurances that a new endowed chair would magically appear for you?

                How much more a less a year do you get with the new gig? I hope that you asked for more from the Penn State administration now that you’re their go-to guy for PR work in the Times and the Chronicle.

                • Mr. Frederick, I know you care so, so much about the children. Can you explain to me precisely what should be done to me as the former Paterno chair? How precisely should I be punished? Try to be coherent. Thank you.

                • How should you be punished? My goodness! What a question! Do you feel guilty, Professor Berube?

                  Your essay in the Chronicle, as was your piece in the NYT, is basically an exercise in public relations brand crisis management for your employer. Your Chronicle piece does an especially excellent job of laying out every point that a public-relations minded Penn State official would want to be made – the Paternos as they relate to the Penn State brand still means academic excellence, Joe Pa maybe wasn’t so guilty, Div-I College Football is not the problem, the NCAA is arbitrary and capricious (implicitly suggesting that Penn State should sue the NCAA), Penn State academics have been and are awesome thanks to the Penn State football brand, the students are sad and sufficiently contrite.

                  I should think that there has been compensation for your work. I hope that it’s worth it. Perhaps putting that pay check in the bank is a kind of punishment – that gesture every month coupled with the self-doubt as to whether you’re doing the right thing in toeing the company line.

                  Is that coherent enough, Professor?

                • rea says:

                  Is that coherent enough, Professor?

                  No.

                • mpowell says:


                  the NCAA is arbitrary and capricious (implicitly suggesting that Penn State should sue the NCAA), Penn State academics have been and are awesome thanks to the Penn State football brand, the students are sad and sufficiently contrite.

                  Sue? Wow, that’s a stretch. Penn State academics have the football brand to thank for their excellence? Did you read the same article? The students are sad and contrite? Are you aware that anyone else reading that article would conclude that he is strongly critical of the local reaction to the whole affair, especially the rally together and pretend it never happened bit?

                  But I agree, the article that you appear to have read in place of the actual one is another sad apology for the whole inexcusable affair.

                • Halloween Jack says:

                  Did it take you six weeks to decide to resign from the Paterno Family chair because of fear of writing an awkward letter to Mrs. Paterno, or because you hadn’t yet been given assurances that a new endowed chair would magically appear for you?

                  That’s not even a straw man; it’s a small pile of dirt and leaves that you scuffed together with your Keds before kicking it apart in a display of your power and mastery that impresses exactly no one, not even the other toddlers.

                • Of course, Berube’s insinuation that I am Ahab to his white whale, followed by his deploying of a rhetorical question designed to avoid the critique that Berube is basically reiterating Penn State brand rehabilitation talking points are somehow acceptable. Because Berube deployed these two tactics of avoidance, right?

            • witless chum says:

              Did he make a case for going easy on Paterno’s legacy?

              He pointed out what’s obviously true. Joe Paterno cared much, much more about Penn State as an educational institution outside of football than he had to. That was obvious before we learned that Paterno either sheltered or allowed to be sheltered a pedophile. It didn’t stop being true and both things are part of Joe Paterno’s legacy.

              There isn’t a Nick Saban professor of anything nor, I predict, will there be.

              He also humanizes the Paternos through talking about their interactions with him and his son. Well, they were human. We also knew this.

              • GregMc says:

                Hang on there!

                It is simply not fair to imply anthing negative about Saban or the University of Alabama!

                You mean Bear Bryant.

                Roll Tide?

              • CD says:

                Yep.

                I don’t see how you can understand events at Penn State without understanding the genuinely attractive aspects of Paterno and family.

                What’s always hard to process is that the same person can do good and bad things, at the same time. The really hard thing to get the mind around is that it was partly because of Paterno’s good works that he was able screw up so badly.

                -

                I have no problem with MB writing an essay about his own experience and understanding of the scandal. I do think the essay is too defensive to be rhetorically effective. Yes, when you’re wounded and vulnerable hypocrites and opportunists will come after you. But unfair though it may be, pointing out their hypocrisy and opportunism does you no good.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Let’s look at what is erroneously called the “substantive” case:

          Joe Paterno and his family were always nice to me and pretended to take interest in my scholarship.

          This interesting background would be a problem if the essay exculpated the actions of Joe Paterno, but it doesn’t. He says that “his failure to ensure Sandusky was stopped is more than enough to taint his legacy forever.” This conclusion has even more force given this background, not less.


          One email among emails (as if these emails were the only evidence) evincing Paterno’s knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes and active participation in the cover-up refer to Paterno as “Coach.” But that one time I talked to Paterno (see Bérubé’s NYT piece), I called Paterno “Joe.”

          See above, plus it is in fact that this is beside the point since 1998 wasn’t the time when Paterno failed.

          3. Everybody at Penn State including me is hazzing a big sad.

          See point 1.

          So you don’t have a substantive case at all. Good to know.

          • Berube’s piece obviously wants the reader to go easy on Joe Pa’s legacy and the Penn State brand (which are still quite intertwined). The piece is basically one big exercise in apologia in support.

            The piece then meanders about in a pose of deep-thinking thoughtfulness. Coincidentally, this meandering hits every Penn State brand rehabilitation talking point.

            It would be nice to pretend that the style of the prose and its author isn’t geared toward a certain audience as part of strategy to influence that audience. It would be nice to pretend that this essay was written and published in a vacuum instead of written by someone with a lot of cache in the world of the humanities and published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

            It would be nice to pretend because it’s nice to be polite.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              The piece is basically one big exercise in apologia in support.

              I again note that repeating bare assertions does not make them any more true.

              • Bob says:

                Nor does claiming Vicky Triponey had a run in with the college radio station prove anything regarding her assertions about Paterno.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  This is true — but, then, Berube never said that anything she said about Paterno was false, so I’m not sure how that’s relevant.

                • elm says:

                  This is weak tea, Scott. He’s clearly trying to undermine Trimponey’s credibility. And, hey, it worked! You’ve backtracked on your support for that story!

                • Bob says:

                  Here is the entirity of Berube’s statement on Triponey:
                  “And I have watched in amazement as Vicky Triponey, a former vice president for student affairs who became infamous in some circles at Penn State for eliminating the right of students to have a say in what groups are recognized on campus, remade herself as “the Woman Who Stood Up to Paterno” (to cite a CNN.com headline from July 2012). If you never heard of Triponey until she began to take her sweet revenge on Paterno, you don’t know how surreal it is for many of us to see the woman who tried to cut funds from the student radio station—for its criticisms of the university administration, some students charged—being touted as the brave whistle-blower who lost her job for crossing the football coach.”
                  If that isn’t an attempt to discredit Triponey, just wtf is it?

            • mpowell says:

              Shorter MF: “Berube says a lot of accurate, relevant and interesting things and he write well. But since I believe that it is inappropriate to mention any of the good things about Penn State, Joe Paterno or Joe Paterno’s family, this article is a disgusting PR campaign.”

              • Bob says:

                Can we retire the “shorter” now please? You in no, way or form made an argument against what MF has said – and you weren’t even funny. Other than that – right on.

            • Halloween Jack says:

              a lot of cache

              Incidentally, if you’re going to tut-tut someone on grammatical grounds, as you do above…

  9. steve says:

    He’s also a pretty good drummer.

  10. tofer says:

    This just reads like an overlong Paterno fluff piece. Another one of those “The Tragic Tale of Poor Old Joe” apologies that has more explicit contempt for long-ago critics of Paterno than for Paterno himself.

    I don’t know why Vicky Triponey should be dismissed out of hand because some college radio geeks got upset, but that’s literally the entire extent of the complaints against her (other than she talked smack about Old St. Joe).

    All the people laboring under the strain of defending some sliver of Paterno’s legacy keep pointing to how much more righteous he was in running his football program. The essay points to UNC-CH and says (shorter) “Look at how dispicable those people are! Papa Joe never did that.” I don’t know how to respond to this other than say I’d rather the asshole had broken every NCAA recruiting rule than let a child rapist keep raping children for a decade.

    I kind of thought that was the default position. It feels weird and disquieting to have to explicitly say so.

    • But Bérubé is an excellent writer, silly!

    • Tybalt says:

      Even more importantly, the administration backed her up when she took on the radio station. She was sent packing only when she tried to ensure some consequences for a gang of football-playing ruffians who went about the town assaulting people.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      literally the entire extent of the complaints

      Yeah, no. (In addition to the link, the attempts to increase administration control of student organizations is explicitly mentioned by Berube.)

      • KN says:

        I worked as a DJ at the Penn State student station (WKPS The Lion 90.7 FM) during the time when Triponey was threatening to withhold funding. The station was being led by a bunch of right-wing d-bags with no institutional control (sound familiar?), a deliberately antagonistic relationship with the administration, and questionable financial dealings with sponsors. An unprofessional working environment to say the least. There was (is?) also a competing online-only student station run by (I believe) the Communications department, and the administration questioned whether they needed to support two student-run stations on campus.

        All that said, I’m not sure the administration, led by Triponey, was right to threaten to withhold funding, but it was a more complicated situation than described by Berube.

        Also, the worst un-indicted member of the PSU administration during that period was clearly Eva Pell, who used her power to crush a graduate student unionization effort. She has since landed at the Smithsonian (fantastic!).

  11. Pinko Punko says:

    I think I was saying the whole time that 1998 and 2001 were different and that coverup did not include 1998. Anyhow, I would never criticize Mikey B, except our long running and highly contentious disagreement about cold Italian pizza, etc. I only note that two things could be very easily true- Vicki Triponey could simultaneously be a run-of-the-mill overzealous pro-administration administrator, likely rightly disdained from student perspective and actually someone who got pushed out specifically due to clashes with football. With Spanier, I presume that being a little pushy with student freedom etc wouldn’t really seem that controversial. But yes, as Somerby might say “do pleasing facts that fit our preferred narrative get the scrutiny they deserve”- that isn’t a quote, but you know what I mean.

    • Leeds man says:

      The fucker doesn’t like Anton Karas’ music in The Third Man. That’s pretty damn damning, in my book.

    • I would never criticize Mikey B, even when he decides to take a job that seems to involve writing exercises in apologia in the New York Times and the Chronicle on behalf of the Penn State brand.

      If this piece and the Times piece were written by a Penn State administrator or someone from Penn State’s PR department, I wonder whether the reaction here would be different. But since it’s written by Mikey B, it’s getting a pass from a lot of folks. This is because Mikey B is a good writer, right?

      • Pinko Punko says:

        Of course it is true that a bunch of other people hypocrites doesn’t excuse bullshit, but I think you have to stretch the editorial quite a bit to have it mean that. How is it an apologia to have an opinion that maybe the NCAA is…indescribable? How is it an apologia to hold multiple opinions at one time, like Joe wasn’t the monster that Campos and others made him out to be, yet he WAS also a total failure on this essential issue? How is it an apologia to ask why the Freeh report didn’t go further and was apparently accepted as final word when so much about 1998 didn’t make sense? It doesn’t invent some magic time machine that “if only he had been stopped in 1998, then poor Penn State can be absolved of its crimes”- you can read it that way if you want. But I don’t think you have to read it that way because it is possible to have complicated opinions. Yes, Bérubé could have taken the easy way out, which would have been to say exactly what you wanted him to say. He didn’t.

        I could possibly quibble with bringing up the UNC debacle or the UK thing, but since everyone else has projected a massive amount of baggage onto what is a case of a serial child molester intersecting with 10 other things, why not talk about some of those things? They aren’t going away, this entire thing is a massive shithole, so what are a few more electrons on the internet?

        • I read this piece concerned only with its agenda. What is this piece trying to do? Every point – the Paterno family is nice and cares about academics, Joe Pa maybe wasn’t so guilty after all, the NCAA is arbitrary and capricious, football isn’t really so inherently bad, Penn State is an excellent academic school full of good people who are sad and contrite about child molestation – are public relations talking points for a brand in crisis.

          Bérubé the “well-respected liberal academic” is a most effective mouthpiece, especially when the audience is NYT and Chronicle readers.

          This is PR hack work dressed-up in a professor’s gown.

          • Leeds man says:

            I read this piece concerned only with its agenda.

            Thus speaketh the agenda-less Mr Frederick.

            • But I do have an agenda. Namely, to critique Mikey B’s latest exercise in Penn State PR hack work.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Penn State PR hack work.

                Bare assertions that are clearly contradicted by the text in question don’t actually become more convincing from repetition. The witless nicknaming would actually undermine your argument further, if you had one.

                • The “witless nicknaming” was by Pinko Punko as a term of endearment toward Berube. I didn’t come up with it.

                  Perhaps you should read the entirety of the thread before casting such an aspersion.

                • As to your characterization of my opinion that Berube’s piece as Penn State PR hack work is a “bare assertion”:

                  Please read the actual points made in the Berube piece: the Paterno family cared about academics, Joe Pa may not be as guilty as he seems, Div-I College Football is not problematic for a university, Penn State football makes Penn State academics better than it would be otherwise, the NCAA is arbitrary and capricious (implying that Penn State would be right to sue the NCAA), and the students are sad and contrite unlike the images of rioting we saw last year.

                  Berube checks off practically every point that a Penn State PR official would check off. This piece is fundamentally about rehabilitating Penn State’s brand.

                  If I’m repeating myself, it’s only because nobody has engaged in a critique of my position save for elm. Everyone else, including Lemieux, seems more intent on evading the argument and/or launching ad hominem attacks against me. I’m sorry that I had the temerity to critique the actual substance of Berube’s piece and point out how well it hews to Penn State’s mission of brand rehabilitation. The response here has, for the most part, been odd.

                  I understand commenters’ and blog writers’ desire to defend someone who is their friend. These defenses don’t really defend their friend’s essay all that well.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  If I’m repeating myself, it’s only because nobody has engaged in a critique of my position save for elm.

                  Perhaps you should consider the possibility that nobody engages you because you are the sort of assholish troll who opens up a two-years-dead thread about someone’s eulogy to flog your dead horse.

                • witless chum says:

                  Please read the actual points made in the Berube piece: the Paterno family cared about academics, Joe Pa may not be as guilty as he seems, Div-I College Football is not problematic for a university, Penn State football makes Penn State academics better than it would be otherwise, the NCAA is arbitrary and capricious (implying that Penn State would be right to sue the NCAA), and the students are sad and contrite unlike the images of rioting we saw last year.

                  Where in the whole essay did he suggest the students were sad and contrite? I took the exact opposite impression from Berube, which is that the Penn State community’s annoyance and anger at the NCAA sanctions on the football team is, at best, unseemly and insensitive. He describes the stupid t-shirts and such in what I did not take as approving terms.

                  And you don’t think it’s simply a fact that Penn State became a better academic institution over the last 40 years in large part because the positive PR generated by the football team made more people want to apply there? That’s why college presidents spend lavishly on Div. 1 football programs, they think it’s the best marketing they can buy to drive admissions. And in the case of PSU, they seem to have been right.

                  I went to Michigan State and I very much doubt the fact that MSU went from being mostly an ag school to a Big 10 university was unconnected to the fact that they had a dominant football program from the late 40s to the late 60s that helped attract students.

                  Berube’s point about the “coach” thing isn’t even presented as a defense. He still says this justly taints Paterno’s legacy.

                  Actually, I think he sidesteps engaging whether big time football is a good or bad thing, overall, only noting that it isn’t the only thing that can lead people within institutions to commit coverups. And it isn’t.

                • Tybalt says:

                  “And you don’t think it’s simply a fact that Penn State became a better academic institution over the last 40 years in large part because the positive PR generated by the football team made more people want to apply there?”

                  I for one absolutely do not. I think the positive PR generated by a big minor-pro football makes people want to go there to attend football games and support a football team. If those people were going there to work, I’d concede your point. They ain’t.

                • witless chum says:

                  I for one absolutely do not. I think the positive PR generated by a big minor-pro football makes people want to go there to attend football games and support a football team. If those people were going there to work, I’d concede your point. They ain’t.

                  Even if they’re all shitty students* who don’t try hard, their tuition money spends just as well as anyone’s. The university can use it to upgrade academic facilities and hire more and better professors for the students who are there to be serious students.

                  * I was a pretty shitty student myself, but I went to MSU because I wanted to go to a big, anoymous school after growing up in a small town, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in and my parents went there. The mediocre big time football team didn’t consciously enter into it, though I’d grown up rooting for them.

      • Hogan says:

        I would never criticize Mikey B

        Noted without comment.

      • Stag Party Palin says:

        Right. We disagree with your opinion because we’re all hypnotized by good writing. I guess that’s an argument pro-hominem. In fact, I find his writing filled with self-doubt and equivocation, but it is still persuasive.

        Your three point rebuttal is over-wrought and unconvincing, notwithstanding its forceful style. Second place.

        • Wait … where did I suggest that you didn’t agree with me? Where did I suggest that you were hypnotized by good writing?

          My basic point is that Berube’s piece is a PR hack job on behalf of the Penn State brand. It’s a well-written piece, but that in really doesn’t change the fact that the piece is basically aa substantively flimsy exercise in apologia for the Joe Pa/Penn State brand. If you don’t agree with that point, then fine. However, I have yet to see my basic point contested.

          Why this piece hasn’t been picked apart as a PR hackery job is because the author of the piece is the good Mikey B.

          Nuanced and equivocal bullshit is still bullshit. The reason that this piece does both is that’s the kind of rhetorical performance that NYT and Chronicle readers deem as “thoughtful.”

          Mikey B is carrying water for the Penn State brand. This piece and the NYT piece make that rather apparent to me. I hope that he enjoys that endowed chair that magically appeared for him when he resigned the Paterno chair. I hope that he negotiated a little extra dough from Penn State to cover the PR hack work that he’s now doing for the brand.

          • SEK says:

            Mikey B is carrying water for the Penn State brand. This piece and the NYT piece make that rather apparent to me. I hope that he enjoys that endowed chair that magically appeared for him when he resigned the Paterno chair.

            Wow, you’re neither capable of reading nor recognizing a person’s importance to a discipline. But you’re very angry, and because of that, we’ll provide you with all the pancakes and walruses you desire. Send me an email with your home address and you’ll be in food and chum the day after tomorrow.

            • Pinko introduced the name “Mikey B.”

              • Leeds man says:

                This comment needs a pair of crutches wheelchair.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Pinko introduced the name “Mikey B.”

                I’m not sure why you think the fact that someone else introduced a diminutive as a form of respective affection underwrites your use of it as form of condescending derision.

                Indeed, surely the point of your appropriation to to undermine the respect with which it was originally used?

                I don’t particularly care that you chose to do that (why not?; it’s a rhetorical move; if you found Pinko’s respect and affection repellent this is a straightforward way to beat back against it). What I find bewildering is your refusal to own it and your impression that saying “Pinko said it first” is a defense of any kind.

                • I don’t find “Mikey B” repellant. It’s a term of endearment, right? Am I not allowed to use “Mikey B” because I might be be one to criticize Michael Berube? Is “Mikey B” only for people who never criticize Berube (save for Berube’s critically important opinions on pizza)?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Hmm. I’m not sure if you’re being obtuse or disingenuous and the latter seems to be the likely contender.

                  It was introduced as a term of endearment, yes, but you pretty clearly aren’t using it that way. If you meant to use it that way, then you really needed to make that clearer. It’s hard to see that you meant it that way since it seems continuous with your “tribal” critique.

                  Even in this very comment, you are using the it to mock the person who coined it.

                  Also, I didn’t say anything about whether you were “allowed” to use it. I, in fact, specifically pointed out that it is a pretty standard and reasonably effect rhetorical move. What’s weird is your not owning it even here.

                  (And I didn’t say you found “Mikey B” the name repellent, I wrote, “if you found Pinko’s respect and affection repellent this is a straightforward way to beat back against it”. That remains true. I also do think it’s true that you found Pinko’s respect and affection repellent, but you would know better. Given the conditional, however, you’d have to do more work to ensure that your subsequent use is respectful, not disrespectful. Which you respect is up to you, of course.)

                • Ah … sorry … you got me.

                  Of course, having respect and affection for someone is not repellent. However, declaring that your respect and affection for someone means that you’d never criticize that person is problematic.

                  Do I have respect for Berube? Yes. He’s the like the president of MLA, right? Smart guy. Do I have affection for Berube? His old blog was very nice. I read it at least weekly. His posts about his family life were very nice. He seems to be a nice person who cares for his family. So, yeah … I guess that I do have affection for Berube.

                  So … yeah … he’s “Mikey B” to me. But I suppose that I shouldn’t refer to him as “Mikey B.” It seems from the comments here that “Mikey B” is reserved for those who ignore the hackery of his NYT and Chron pieces out of duty to the club.

                  “Bobo” and “Lord Saletan” are terms of respect and affection, right?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Of course, having respect and affection for someone is not repellent. However, declaring that your respect and affection for someone means that you’d never criticize that person is problematic.

                  So, at the very least, you are using it to twit Pinko. So own that.

                  But, also, let’s see what he wrote,

                  Anyhow, I would never criticize Mikey B, except our long running and highly contentious disagreement about cold Italian pizza, etc.

                  You seem to be reading that literally. But it surely wasn’t meant to convey that Pinko themself really wouldn’t otherwise critique Berube nor does it mean that no one can (indeed, it really doesn’t convey that).

                  Do I have respect for Berube? Yes. He’s the like the president of MLA, right? Smart guy. Do I have affection for Berube? His old blog was very nice. I read it at least weekly. His posts about his family life were very nice. He seems to be a nice person who cares for his family. So, yeah … I guess that I do have affection for Berube.

                  Fair enough. It’s kind of hard to see in this thread, I’m sure you’ll agree. Indeed, your implication that Berube is essentially carrying out and explicit PR job seems rather incompatible with most standard forms of respect or affection or charity even.

                  So … yeah … he’s “Mikey B” to me. But I suppose that I shouldn’t refer to him as “Mikey B.” It seems from the comments here that “Mikey B” is reserved for those who ignore the hackery of his NYT and Chron pieces out of duty to the club.

                  The real reason it rings false is that it is a highly idiosyncratic endearment. So your use seems more mocking than anything else and your coupling it with you contempt for Pinko’s alleged being in the tank reinforces that.

                  Indeed, this very passage exhibits the problem: You don’t acknowledge that people might have problems with your use that don’t stem from being in the tank for Berube.

                  “Bobo” and “Lord Saletan” are terms of respect and affection, right?

                  Hmm. I keep treating you as if you aren’t being willfully disingenuous, but this makes it hard.

                • 1. Hmmm … well, if you doubt my sincerity, then I guess that for you “Mikey B” is not a general term of endearment (too idiosyncratic to Pinko Punko). How about: it’s a term for the author of this essay that implies those here at LGM who read his work do so with critical blinders on because of their intimacy with the author? Is that acceptable to you?

                  I don’t mean the term as a way to put any individual down. So, sorry, Pinko Punko. I won’t use it anymore.

                  2. I don’t know whether Berube is carrying out a specific PR job with his NYT and Chronicle pieces. I’m not implying a specific order. Berube nevertheless covers and advocates in the affirmative virtually every Penn State brand rehabilitation point in his Chronicle piece. This is part of Berube’s job now. He’s an employee of Penn State, its brand used to be quite lucrative, and now the brand is in crisis. Berube is the perfect spokesperson to rehabilitate the brand to the humanities academics.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  1. Hmmm … well, if you doubt my sincerity, then I guess that for you “Mikey B” is not a general term of endearment (too idiosyncratic to Pinko Punko).

                  Pretty much.

                  How about: it’s a term for the author of this essay that implies those here at LGM who read his work do so with critical blinders on because of their intimacy with the author?

                  Sorry, isn’t that how you’ve been using it throughout? Isn’t that the point of using it?

                  Is that acceptable to you?

                  The mocking use is “acceptable” to me, in some sense. I think it’s misguided, but I’ve not critiqued it per se. I’ve just critiqued your claiming that since Pinko coined it, roughly, that no one can have issue with your use of it.

                  I don’t mean the term as a way to put any individual down. So, sorry, Pinko Punko. I won’t use it anymore

                  That pulls against the disingenuous interpretation. Which is good! Thanks for the clarification.

                  2. I don’t know whether Berube is carrying out a specific PR job with his NYT and Chronicle pieces. I’m not implying a specific order.

                  I think some of your comments shaded over into that, but heat of conversation, etc. fair enough.

                  Berube nevertheless covers and advocates in the affirmative virtually every Penn State brand rehabilitation point in his Chronicle piece.

                  That’s not so clear to me. For example, he certainly at least suggests at the end that the takedown of the statue is in many ways insufficient.

                  This is part of Berube’s job now. He’s an employee of Penn State, its brand used to be quite lucrative, and now the brand is in crisis. Berube is the perfect spokesperson to rehabilitate the brand to the humanities academics.

                  I think this is too cynical a reading, myself. I mean, I can understand how to get there, but it isn’t forced by the text by any means.

                  First, just because he is an employee does not mean that it’s job to do rehabilitation (esp. not PR rehabilitation). After all, he is also an academic and one concerned with academic freedom. So both formally and in his particular focus, being effectively a PR flack is neither required and, indeed, would be a mistake.

                  Second, just because he says things that a PR flak might also say doesn’t make his piece a brand rehabilitation piece per se. After all, they might be true and appropriate things to say.

                  Third, not all forms of brand rehabilitation or, better, institution rehabilitation, are corrupt or wrong. It would clearly be wrong if it came at the expense of the people who Sandusky raped as children or their truth. But, what should happen? Should Penn State cease to exist? Short of that, what is the path forward?

                  I really don’t know and I’m glad I’m in no way part of that community.

                  I don’t think the essay works, at least partly, because of the second paragraph. It’s a bad transition to the discussion of being inside the compromised community. I think moral choices inside compromised communities are interesting, so I’m interested.

                • Bijan,

                  Thank you for engaging in a discussion on this rather than being snide dismissive, accusing me of having a “chip on my shoulder,” etc.

                  I agree with you that a meritorious point does not necessarily make it not a good “PR” point (and vice versa). So … yes … I can see what you’re getting at there – that Berube’s points are not necessarily fundamentally informed by PR considerations.

                  You think that my reading of the piece is overly cynical.

                  The title of the piece implies some kind of bold, principled resignation of position. The flow of the piece meanders. It meanders and hits a kind of “kitchen-sink” list of points defending the Penn State brand from enemies foreign and domestic, as it were. The piece then ends with a “remember the children” final paragraph.

                  The Penn State brand and its association with Div-I football keeps that school running. Money is going to get extremely tight for the University unless the brand and the football program can turn itself around.

                  It’s not cynical to read Berube’s writing to an audience of fellow academics that Div-I football program is actually not a problem, and see that it’s PR hackery on behalf of the Penn State brand.

                  PR hackery is what’s needed now from spokespeople who are credible certain appropriate audiences. So, Berube in the Chronicle.

                  Berube takes a sincere pose in the piece, but every point is about turning around the Penn State brand. The piece seems to meander because the talking points are, well, scattered.

                  It’s a kitchen-sink defense as part of the PR effort.

                  Either that, or Berube’s a poor writer, or Berube’s piece is actually something that requires a very strained and close exegesis to ascertain Berube’s intent.

                  Occam’s Razor, and whatnot. Right?

            • Tybalt says:

              I am literally flabbergasted by the degree to which Bérubé is able to snap his fingers and have everyone dance to his tune. Does MLA membership come with some sort of chip implant?

              I thought the article was poor-meism of an astoundingly insincere degree. The attempt to play moral equivalence (“insiders whitewashing child rape! outsiders very upset about this! both need to take a good hard look at themselves!”) is utterly pathetic.

              • Leeds man says:

                I am literally flabbergasted by the degree to which Bérubé is able to snap his fingers and have everyone dance to his tune.

                That must be it. How else could folk not read the essay as you do? Hope your flabber recovers from its literal gasting soon.

                • Tybalt says:

                  It’s resting peacefully now.

                • Popeye says:

                  This blog is a constant stream of “Shorter Hacktacular” posts, but Berube writes something and all criticism is met with “you have a chip on your shoulder” and “everyone is entitled to their own reading of the text” and “my delicate blogger feelings are hurt by your incivility.”

                • Leeds man says:

                  @Popeye: There was a lot more than that to the responses. See Tilton, LeMieux and others.

                  On the other side, seems to be “Connect the dots, sheeple!”, and little more.

          • Halloween Jack says:

            My basic point is that Berube’s piece is a PR hack job on behalf of the Penn State brand.

            And the facts that no one else sees it as that, and that you haven’t adequately supported your argument, haven’t kept you from an act of epic threadshitting.

            • Sean Peters says:

              For certain values of “no one”. I personally found the Berube piece somewhere between dumb and offensive in its attempt to soften the edges of Paterno’s disgrace.

              • Halloween Jack says:

                As a reasonable person reasonably might. It’s worth remembering that Penn State, like almost any institution of any considerable size, literally does employ PR hacks, and worth comparing what they do with what Berube actually wrote.

                • I agree that there’s a difference, which is why Penn State’s public relations director didn’t author the piece in the NYT or in the Chronicle. It would not have been received as credible. Penn State needs someone with the intellectual and humanities cred of Berube to do the Penn State “professor testimonial” brand rehab to the NYT and Chronicle readership.

            • I suppose that by “no one,” you mean no one who regularly comments or blogs for LGM.

              It’s as if Berube is a member of a tribe, and the tribe is LGM regular bloggers and commenters. The Berube-authored text as received by the tribe precludes the tribe’s reading of the Berube-authored text informed by the author’s motive, the text’s purpose to persuade a certain audience, its rhetorical strategy based upon this purpose, and how well the strategy accomplishes this purpose.

              Since the piece is written by Berube instead of Brooks or Saletan, Berube’s piece is assessed here as if it was created and presented in a vacuum.

              Outside of the tribe, Berube’s piece is received as a hacktacular attempt to rehabilitate the Penn State brand among an academic community outside of the Penn State “bubble.”

              So … yeah … “no one” in the tribe is convinced. Outside of the tribe, there are plenty who read the piece as I do.

              • Halloween Jack says:

                Stripping your comment of its ridiculous pseudo-sociological pretensions, it boils down to: of course the LGM commentariat is a stuffy club that won’t say anything bad to one of its own, but I, I am vindicated by my invisible internet posse! Sure, you bet, you da man.

                • So,

                  1. It’s never hackery if it’s one of us.

                  and

                  2. If somebody criticizes one of us for hackery then it’s obvious that this person’s opinion is anomalous in the outside universe of our cool kids’ club, and has some kind of chip on her/his shoulder because she/he isn’t in our cool kids’ club.

                  Reflexive tribalism + epistemic closure + Heathers = Halloween Jack’s concept of LGM.

                  Nice.

      • Mrs Tilton says:

        I don’t see an apologia for Paterno here. I read Berube as an advocate not for but against Paterno. His point is that even after striping away the half-facts and non-facts that everybody thinks they know (a significant percentage of Americans think Paterno was raping children?), Paterno’s was a culpable failure; even when seen in the light most favorable to him, Paterno is guilty.

        But, my word, you’ve left a lot of comments here attacking Berube. One wonders why this topic is so fraught with emotion for you. By “this topic” I mean Berube, of course. Possibly you’re also angry about the violation of children, the years-long cover-up etc. But it’s hard to tell, because you don’t really talk about them. You’re all about Berube and his piece and his position.

        The resentment is strong with this one! Did Berube beat you out for some academic job? Or does it simply eat you up inside in a more general way that he has succeeded in an academic career and you have not?

        Wait, the penny drops! You are Jeff Godlstein and I claim my five pounds.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Paterno’s was a culpable failure; even when seen in the light most favorable to him, Paterno is guilty.

          Exactly. Berube is telling is that what is clearly true about Joe Paterno is fully damning; speculating about things about which there’s weaker evidence is counterproductive.

          • Lyanna says:

            I agree that this is what Berube is trying to say. But that’s why I’d have to disagree with virtually everyone here and say that it’s NOT a particularly well-written piece.

            Because what Berube is trying to say isn’t what actually comes across to the casual reader.

            The overall impression Berube gives is indeed wishy-washy and apologetic, though that’s not his actual point. The time spent making his ancillary points (that evidence of the 1998 failures is weak) greatly outweighs the time spent making his primary points (that JoePa is still culpable). So it’s easy to walk away with the impression that the ancillary points ARE the primary points.

            It’s presumptuous to say this of Berube, but I’ll say it anyway: this piece could be better written.

            • We should speculate as to what Berube was trying to express in the essay, because it does not read as what we want him to express.

              OR

              We should treat Berube’s essay as a thoughtful, equivocal “think-piece” that is not supposed to express things plainly.

              BUT NEVER SHOULD

              we treat the piece as a series of Penn State brand rehabilitation talking points aimed at readers of the Chronicle delivered by a well-regarded professor-spokesperson.

              Because Michael Berube is our friend.

              • Lyanna says:

                Dude, he’s not my friend. But I don’t think it’s a series of talking points because he does plainly state that JoePa is culpable no matter how you spin it, and he’s appropriately harsh on the students who wear t-shirts protesting the “unfair” smearing of Penn State football, etc. I wouldn’t want a “defense” or an “apologia” like that if I were Penn State.

  12. fallen says:

    that is a great essay. possibly because he acknowledged nuance and multiple roles in life and avoided overstatement and ringing judgment. but doesnt that make him morally blameworthy?

  13. Jason says:

    This is indeed a thoughtful piece. But it spends more time defending Paterno against the 1998 criticism than it does indicting him for the 2001 failure. Other parts are a bit off as well, such as the uncompelling attempt to undermine Triponey. (Perhaps there are reasons to doubt her claims about her role in the scandal; that she tried to cut funds to the student radio station on some occasion is obviously not such a reason.) And finally, it’s flatly an error to claim that the Paterno family have done “nothing wrong”. Their response to the scandal, however explicable in light of familiar facts of human nature, has been often been appalling (as Berube in effect acknowledges). If that doesn’t seem to count as a “wrong” to one, it’s worth thinking about how those responses must have struck the victims.

    It is tremendously worthwhile to read Berube’s perspective on this matter, of course. But not as a particularly objective voice: rather, as an admirable person with valuable insight into matters inside the “bubble”, but too close to the principals to have a firm grip on how much weight to put on this consideration versus that. The scales are a bit out of balance here.

    • Pinko Punko says:

      I think that this is a very well laid out comment in counterpoint to what was written- and I will uncouthly say, in contrast to some others above.

      • Jason says:

        Thanks, Pinko. I particularly appreciate this from you, given, though I’m sure you don’t remember this, our past disagreements over whether Matthew Yglesias is history’s greatest monster. (I’ll admit he has not been kind to my stance on this matter lately.)

        • Pinko Punko says:

          I have a time machine, therefore I know that I will eventually be justified in my stance, but that we will laugh about old times and make jokes about our garage band playing a xylophone made out of Yggie’s bones bleached with Crest white strips.

      • I guess that this is the last time I criticize an essay by somebody’s main man and pizza bro Mikey B. Sorry.

        • Pinko Punko says:

          You are free to criticize it. I just think you maybe have forgotten that this very website has posted like 50 million posts denouncing Penn State, and that maybe having a charitable reading of someone who you feel like maybe you know or are familiar with their judgement is actually OK. We have established that Michael Bérubé is not perfect, but his essay was about his opinion about this. You can attack the guy’s opinion as a PR exercise, but it is not clear to what end such an exercise would have. It just doesn’t make any sense. If you see it as the same woe is me attitude as the Penn State student rioters, that is your prerogative. Other people don’t see it that way. They all could be wrong. This is of course the internet, where wrong people are.

          • It makes plenty of sense. Berube is an employee of an entity with a brand – “Penn State.” The brand is/was a brand of elite football and academic integrity. The brand made a lot of money. The integrity of the football program has been discovered not to be what was advertised. The brand is in crisis.

            Berube hits every point a public relations employee of Penn State would hit if she/he were writing this essay. It seems that part of Berube’s job now, as an employee of Penn State, is to make these PR points to a certain audience who is especially receptive to him – the kind of audience that reads the Chronicle and NYT columns. Berube has a financial/professional interest in writing this piece. (I resigned my Paterno chair! Another endowed chair magically appeared!)

            That’s how I see it. I don’t believe that the piece deserves a charitable reading. For all of the piece’s performance of nuance and equivocation, it hammers every point that a Penn State brand manager would want to be made right now: The Paterno family was nice and cared about academics, Joe Pa might not have been guilty as people think, Div-I football programs are good, the NCAA is arbitrary and capricious (’cause Penn State may wanna appeal), the education is still top-notch, the students are sufficiently upset and contrite, etc.

            I’m attacking the guy’s essay. It’s a valid attack given that its author has a financial and professional interest in writing it a certain way, and that this certain way hews so closely to the very same points that a Penn State PR operative would want to be made.

            I’m sure that Berube is a nice guy. But being a nice guy doesn’t give what that nice guy writes a pass when it is written on behalf of the nice guy’s employer.

            • SEK says:

              I’m attacking the guy’s essay. It’s a valid attack given that its author has a financial and professional interest in writing it a certain way, and that this certain way hews so closely to the very same points that a Penn State PR operative would want to be made.

              You do realize that Bérubé’s entire career is basically predicated on not doing exactly what you’ve accused him of doing, don’t you? Granted, I consider him a friend — and he considers me a bad one — but I respect him precisely because he takes principled stands, and has since he started writing, as a grad student, in the Village Voice in early ’90s. Which was a stupid but principled thing to do. You seem upset because he got another endowed chair as soon as he lost the one no one wanted to touch with a ten-thousand-foot pole, which I can understand, being a bitter and apparently unemployable academic. But don’t take that out on “Mikey B,” if only because referring to him as such demonstrates that “he” is a monster of your own creation.

              • elm says:

                In fairness to matthew (who, though often going way too far, also raises a number of fair criticisms of what I think is a rather weak essay for reasons that Jason and Both Sides point out), it was Pinko that first introduced the “Mikey B” phrase to the thread.

                I take matthew’s repeated use of it since as pointing out that we’re giving someone we like (someone we refer to by a cutesy term of endearment) a pass for a poorly argued but well written essay.

                Again, I think matthew goes too far in saying that Berube is a PR hack, but his piece read to me like someone who is the bubble but wants to believe he isn’t. That’s the only way I can make sense of the bizarre non-sequiters Trimponey and UNC and his dismissal of the idea that a ‘football culture’ had anything to do with the scandal.

                I get that Berube was personally anguised by the decision to drop the chair because it would hurt people he liked, but after reading the essay as a whole, I’m left feeling he never answered the question of why he did drop the “Paterno Family Professorship” given that he seems to think the Paterno family did nothing wrong. The best I can make out is that he thinks he has to because the name has become toxic.

                • It read to me like someone “in the bubble” given the task of apologizing for “the bubble” and repairing the brand that sustains “the bubble.” This is a piece of university public relations work.

                  I appreciate that elm acknowledges my criticism, even though elm doesn’t agree with it and explains why.

                  SEK, meanwhile, alternates between glib ad hominem put-downs and “but Berube is my friend!”

                  The funny thing about the latter SEK response is that it’s part of my criticism of how Berube’s piece has been received here.

                • elm says:

                  I’m always very hesitant to ascribe ulterior motives to people who may be expressing their sincere opinions.

                  When they would post some relative moderate policy viewpoint, Scott and Rob used to get criticized by some of the commenters here for trying to prove they were contrarian and centrist enough to get a pundit job at TNR or Slate or something. It never seemed to occur to these commenters that Scott and Rob were just not as far to the left as the commenters were.

                  Similarly, Berube may sincerely believe that the Paterno legacy is more complicated than is being portrayed (probably true, depending on the portrayal, though I think Berube here doesn’t do enough to acknowledge that the uninformed ‘Paterno was a child molester himself’ and the manichean ‘everything Paterno did must have been evil’ views are not the only critiques of him); that the Paterno family are nice people and any errors they committed were just grief responses (the weakest part of the essay, IMO, but also understandable given that Berube knew and liked these people on a personal level); that acadamics at PSU have improved over the past couple of decades and that Paterno played a role in this (completely true); and that the scandal had nothing to do with ‘football culture’ (almost certainly wrong.)

                  One does not need to be a paid PR flunky to believe the above. One need only be biased in favor of Penn State as a University and to like the Paterno family on a personal level.

              • Yes, I am upset that Berube got another endowed chair. Give me a break.

                Berube wrote a hack piece roughly a year ago for Penn State in the NYT and he wrote another hack piece just now in the Chronicle.

                What Berube did when he was younger doesn’t change the above. Just because Berube didn’t carry water for “the Man” when he was younger doesn’t mean that he’s not carrying water for the Penn State “brand” and Penn State’s administration now.

                I understand that Berube is your friend. That’s nice. That doesn’t have anything to do with whether he’s PR hackin’ for Penn State either.

                • GeoX says:

                  Er, right. You ARE aware that you’re making it really, really obvious that, for whatever reason, you have a massive chip on your shoulder about Bérubé? Criticizing the essay is one thing; others have done it without dragging their personal baggage into it. You, not so much. That’s why no one can take what you write seriously.

                • I’m not sure which is more hacktastic: Berube’s essay or the ad hominem attacks against those who criticize Berube’s piece.

                • Mrs Tilton says:

                  But nobody here is attacking (ad hominem or otherwise) “those who criticize Berube’s piece”. People are attacking you.

                  There are other people criticizing Berube in this thread. Some of them are making an argument similar to yours in substance, to the extent that your argument has substance. And yet if other people here disagree with them, they engage with them politely. You are the only one encountering hostility. Do you understand why?

                  Here, let me help you. People are not hostile to you because you are criticizing Berube. People are hostile to you because you are an unpleasant obsessive and a tremendous dick.

                  Some friendly advice. Your resentment and truculence != integrity. What you think is righteous indignation, normal people perceive (correctly) as mere flaming assholery. If you enter a forum and want people to listen to your compelling argument, you need to try not to be the sort of person whom everybody, regardless of their position, justifiably dislikes and wishes would leave. You also need to have a compelling argument, of course. But one thing at a time.

                • I apologize for raising a valid critique of Berube’s piece that makes so many blog authors and commenters uncomfortable. It wasn’t my intention to make so many people uncomfortable. My intention was only to raise the critique. Still, I apologize for behaving with such poor manners at a forum that is not mine. Obviously, I am a “guest” here. I should have behaved appropriately as a guest. I understand now how a guest should behave: never EVER point out how a long-winded, overwrought and heart-string tugging piece of Penn State apologia so nicely hews with Penn State’s larger brand rehabilitation strategy. Especially don’t point this out when the author of the piece is a friend of LGM blog authors and commenters. Moreover, don’t point out that the author of the piece has a financial and professional interest in writing the piece, and that the piece may be effected by such bias due to her/his financial and professional interest. Such behavior evinces a chip on the shoulder, personal baggage and “assholery.”

                  Again, my apologies.

                • Mrs Tilton says:

                  As many (myself among them) have pointed out, there is no need to apologize for criticizing Berube’s article. You are far from the only one doing so in this thread, and in any event Berube is not somehow exempt from criticism even from those otherwise well-disposed toward him. It is not because you are criticiczing him that so many people here are reacting to you with hostility.

                  But you know that, of course. If nothing else your “apology” is, in its transparent insincerity, appropriate from a man of your seriousness, integrity and intellectual honesty.

              • strategichamlet says:

                Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns.

          • Leeds man says:

            Charlie don’t surf, and Matty F don’t do opinions.

          • e julius drivingstorm says:

            I think I actually read most of those 50 million posts, at least the ones around the time the Freeh report was published. I substantially agree with what Professor Berube writes with one exception: Whether Curley was referring to Joe when he emailed that “Coach is anxious to know where it stands”, or some other coach (Sandusky?), is not as important as the nature of the anxiety if Paterno was indeed the subject. Maybe there was an issue with habeaus corpus concerning the victim. Joe said himself that he thought that the 2001 event was abuse, then he passed it up the line. He believed that those above him were more capable of assessing and handling the matter of his formercoach. One thing is for sure. Even now Sandusky is adamant in his denial.

    • actor212 says:

      And finally, it’s flatly an error to claim that the Paterno family have done “nothing wrong”. Their response to the scandal, however explicable in light of familiar facts of human nature, has been often been appalling (as Berube in effect acknowledges). If that doesn’t seem to count as a “wrong” to one, it’s worth thinking about how those responses must have struck the victims.

      You seem to be conflating Paterno’s family with Paterno himself or even Sandusky.

      I think we’re begging the question as to whether his family ever knew about the allegations second hand (much less first) and what we’d expect them to do. I’m sure they heard rumours: what middle-aged/elderly man hangs around with little kids on a college campus anyway? Rumours were bound to fly, no matter how innocent.

      The thing is, if both Sandusky and Paterno were in denial, that denial would both extend and comfort their families, too. Berube’s point, that the families are as confused as the rest of us but have even more at stake in the matter, is an appropriate observation.

      What specifically did you object to in their reactions? The defense of a father by his son?

    • mpowell says:

      I don’t agree that the comment on Paterno’s family is ‘flatly an error’, but I didn’t agree with Berube either. That’s a tough question.

      In general what I simply cannot agree with is that an article like this has to have an appropriate ‘balance’. There is no need at this point to spend 5 paragraphs castigating Paterno for each sentence you spend talking about some of the good work he did. There has already been enough content produced explaining how horrible everything that happened was and the story came out nearly a year ago. It is perfectly reasonable to write an article discussing some other related issues as long as you are clear that Paterno made a mistake in 2001 that has ruined his legacy. If a person is uninterested in the other related issues, they don’t need to read the article. But to call it a PR campaign as a result does not seem reasonable.

      • Jason says:

        mpowerll, You seem to be addressing me (as I said the “flatly wrong” thing), but I didn’t say, and don’t believe, that the article was PR.

        I agree that “balance” as an abstract requirement on all articles about some topic is a useless criterion. What balance to strike in a given case depends upon the particulars of that case. In this case, in this context, I find the balance somewhat off (though, as I said, I can easily understand how it happened).

        How off? Here is one way. I can bring myself to sympathize with the family members of an enormously powerful and privileged person who has been discovered to have been complicit in a morally reprehensible institutional failure that had devastating repercussions for many innocent victims. I can well imagine that is an unpleasant situation to be in, and if I were friends with them, I would feel particularly bad for them.

        But at the end of the day, they are still enormously powerful and privileged people, their public reactions have often displayed the effects of long-term power and privilege (outrage at criticism, callousness, disproportion), and the family member on whom their power and privilege depends really was complicit in a morally reprehensible institutional failure that devastated the lives of many innocent victims. In light of all this, and in light of all the other facets of these events that might be discussed, many of which Berube could no doubt speak about with great authority and insight, I found the centrality he gave (in his public explanation of his resignation) to defending the claim that the family did “nothing wrong” off-”balance”.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Indeed, the lack of word count balance is part of the point.

        Take the opening paragraph:

        I don’t need to explain why I resigned the Paterno Family Professorship in Literature at Pennsylvania State University, do I? I mean, really. It was the Paterno Family Professorship in Literature. That’s all you need to know.

        That’s the baseline! The situation was so awful that, prima facie, there’s nothing to agonize over. Indeed, the decision is inevitable.

        But then,

        Except that’s not all you need to know. And much of what you think you know is wrong.

        because inevitable as it was, it wasn’t easy.

        This isn’t to say that the decision involves any suffering remotely comparable to the people Sandusky raped as children.

        Similarly, the families of Paterno and Sandusky are suffering, though, again, not in any way remotely comparable to the people people Sandusky raped as children. It would be very wrong, indeed an offense against justice and decency, to prioritize their suffering over the people Sandusky raped and who survived and testified. But it is possible, I think, to acknowledge everything that’s true and to be thoughtful about all the ramifications of the events.

        I personally don’t have a final judgement about the essay. Some parts are clearly rather clever in the Berube way (the opening). (And I don’t mean clever in a mean way: I mean that he’s trying to articulate a difficult but subtle moral point and using language in a fairly ingenuous manner to make it.) Some parts feel rather odd to me. For me, the biggest hole is the lack of discussion of how the resignation of the chair has absolutely no effect on his career.

        For many people in such positions, the resignation runs substantive economic and career costs. The moral courage exhibited is of someone who prioritize doing right over doing well. Whether Berube did right in this matter, he clearly was going to do well. I don’t think that’s a problem per se (there’s no reason Berube should suffer professionally because of something he had no possible influence on), but I would like to have seen it discussed. One might reasonably think that since it was career costless that it’s surprising it took so long. (Him waiting for another arrangement would be one explanation, but I doubt that was a real problem) Maybe it was just bureaucracy or a combination of bureaucracy and not being ready to navigate the personal issues he describes.

        So this is where I’m still quite unsure about the essay.

        • Janastas359 says:

          This is where it fell apart for me. The way he describes the difficulty of resigning his post seems to imply that he’s leaving the school. Instead, it would appear that not much has changed.

          This is one of the things about the Penn state story that, as an academic, I felt was a under reported. Forget for a moment that Paterno aspect of it. Your school employed men in the administration who allowed these horrible things to go on for many years. How in the world can you still work there knowing this? I don’t just mean MB, but any of the faculty or administration staff. You worked, directly or indirectly, for a man who covered up these awful crimes. How can you ever feel like it’s okay to participate in the advancement of your school after that?

          • In the banking industry, branch managers and v.p.s appear in television commercials talking about how good their employer is for certain communities. Often, these certain communities are the communities most suspicious of or antagonistic to the bank’s brand.

            The branch managers and v.p.s in the commercials quite often are someone who at least “looks” like someone from the targeted market demographic. This makes the branch manager or v.p.’s testimonial all the more credible.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            How in the world can you still work there knowing this? I don’t just mean MB, but any of the faculty or administration staff. You worked, directly or indirectly, for a man who covered up these awful crimes. How can you ever feel like it’s okay to participate in the advancement of your school after that?

            This is a legitimate question, though I think it’s a bit naive. People’s whole lives are intertwined with this institution in ways that are extremely non-trivial to unwind. It’s unclear what the good that would result. And it’s very unclear that you’d get any mass action that would make individual action worth while.

            It also seems to grant extraordinary power to the wrongdoers. While a shocking number of people were involved (really, you’d think a president of a university would know better!), it’s hardly the kind of institutionally systemic problem that, say, the Catholic Church exhibited. The connection between your typical faculty member and anyone involved is extremely remote. (Can no one take a position there now?)

            Berube himself is in a rather different position, of course, given his chair and his relationships.

        • Lyanna says:

          The point about the lack of career consequences is good.

          But I would also say that the issue of “balance” matters. Not, as you and mpowell seem to be ironically suggesting, “word count balance” (because yes, part of the point is that there’s almost nothing to say in the face of such vileness), but balance of emphasis, of condemnation, of weight.

          I don’t get that from this piece. I get a strong sense of both-sides-do-it, of moral equivalence, of wanting to dial back the moral outrage, and I don’t think that’s just my perception. I think it’s there, in the piece. Certainly wanting to dial back the moral outrage is.

          That, combined with the the flailing around looking for was that critics of football and/or Paterno are Wrong Wrong Wrong, just…does not come off well. At all. It comes off rather like those t-shirts sported by the students come off.

          I don’t think Berube intended any of this, mind you. I think this piece just wasn’t effectively written.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Grr. Long comment lost.

            Hi Lyanna.

            Just two quick points instead of the river of text I lovingly prepared for you.

            1) I didn’t mean “word count balance” ironically. I thought that was the core of the complaint. I do think that there’s more moral balance in the essay that, e.g., the word count would straightforwardly indicate, hence my opposition of the two.

            2) I don’t have the same reaction you did, to wit:

            I don’t get that from this piece. I get a strong sense of both-sides-do-it, of moral equivalence, of wanting to dial back the moral outrage, and I don’t think that’s just my perception. I think it’s there, in the piece. Certainly wanting to dial back the moral outrage is.

            I’m still leaning to reading it as talking about the moral challenges of being inside the compromised community. I don’t think it was fully successful (see Bioix’s comment and some of my other ones), in part because it was elliptical, perhaps defensive, and failed to really engage the issue of professional risk. It also wandered a bit.

            But I think there are some nice bits, esp. toward the end. And I thought the nuanced point about grief was worth making, though it could have been better, more fully, expressed and acknowledged that such grief can mix with baser motives to yield profoundly bad behavior.

            • Lyanna says:

              There are some nice bits, yes, and maybe he was trying to do what you say. But if so, as you say, he wasn’t wholly successful.

              Thanks for highlighting Biox’s comment. I think he/she nails it.

    • Lyanna says:

      Agreed completely.

  14. Popeye says:

    I am sorry, but Berube’s piece is indeed apologia. Yes, he is resigning the Paterno chair, and a good 5 percent of his essay is dedicated to acknowledging that the popular outcry on this issue is justified. The other 95 percent is spent discussing the hypocrisy of the NCAA, the hypocrisy of sports journalists, the presence of athletes at elite liberal arts colleges, how Joe Paterno wasn’t as bad as Hitler, how Paterno’s family was nice to the author, how Penn State is a better school than it’s reputation suggests, how students at Penn State don’t realize how they appear to outsiders, and how it was crazy how this was such a big news story. But if you want to point out the strange balance of the essay, you clearly have a chip on your shoulder. I mean, look at the article’s title!

    In other news, when Paul Ryan says that Mitt Romney was generous to an unfortunate family in his church, he’s not trying to distract from the fact that the Republicans have economic policies that are disastrous for all but the very wealthy. He is just providing some much needed balance in a complicated world distorted by biased media and hypocritical liberal elites.

    • Leeds man says:

      I must have missed the five percent of Ryan’s anecdote which acknowledged the need for policies which would have helped the family.

      “strange balance”? What should it have been?

      • Popeye says:

        I think elm put it well above. Why did Berube resign the Paterno chair? “The best I can make out is that he thinks he has to because the name has become toxic.” This is supposedly a wonderfully well-written piece that obscures the answer to this question. Berube explains why he had to resign the chair in the 22nd and 23rd paragraphs of a 35-paragraph essay. (Approximately.)

        Since you’re playing the analogy police, maybe it’s better if I compare this to a 10-page article about global warming where the second paragraph says that “most of what you think you know is wrong” and most of the writing is about how Fat Al Gore flies on airplanes (but there’s a brief statement that global warming is obviously real and man-made on page 5, duh).

        This might be my favorite line from Berube’s piece: She replied that I was trying to deflect attention from Penn State by bringing up irrelevant side issues. How was I to know that my favorite journalist’s daughter plays rugby for an elite liberal-arts college? It’s a little disappointing to see this type of sophistry from a man branded as one of America’s Most Dangerous Professors, and it’s a bit disappointing to see this blog take a break from its steady diet of “Shorter Hacktacular” posts to praise this bit of writing. It’s too bad that Lord Saletan and David Brooks never bothered to invite Scott to a cocktail party.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Berube explains why he had to resign the chair in the 22nd and 23rd paragraphs of a 35-paragraph essay. (Approximately.)

          I’m not sure which paragraphs you mean, exactly.

          Again, I think part of the point is really that there is no explanation needed. Resigning is the only possible course. But what is in many senses an easy decision also comes with its own difficulties. Not just the way it affects the web of relationships Berube exists in (the damage to which, of course, pales beside the damage to those raped; but to pale is not to disappear), but in how it is also somehow inadequate:

          We are still stumbling, still trying to figure out how to proceed: Erasing the name seems too easy a fix, a simple scrubbing and denial, and yet keeping it seems to say that everything is just fine and nothing has changed in Happy Valley. I have made my decision, but the question of how to remember Joe Paterno is far from settled.

          But also the strangeness of having to think of these things at all:

          As the world (even unto Antarctica) now knows, one of Gary Schultz’s 1998 notes reads: “Is this the opening of pandora’s box?” and “Other children?” Yes, Mr. Schultz, there were other children. Yes, it was Pandora’s box. We all wish you had followed up on those questions, and that taking such a step somehow would have prevented Sandusky from gaining access to any more young boys. It’s their lives that should have been everyone’s first concern. Surely, in that light, the fate of the Paterno chair recedes into unimportance.

          So, I think the essay is a bit trickier to grasp than you acknowledge.

    • I read to the bottom of this thread to see if it would get on track and away from personal attacks. This comment seems to be about as close as we’ll get to that. Professor B. seems to be suggesting that the commentary surrounding the Penn State scandal has been unbalanced, and at this point he may well be right: it is hard to know how to properly calibrate the scale of moral outrage. That said, as I read his argument it seems as though there is some question-begging going on. Joe Paterno turned a blind eye to reports of child rape, and others did too, apparently because Joe Paterno’s status as the coach of the football team invested him with power that warped the ordinary lines of authority at Penn State. If Joe Paterno had merely been a major donor to Penn State, would what happened have happened? I don’t think so. From that conclusion can we say that the influence of football on the culture at Penn State was disproportionate? Yes, that seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

      I’ll go along with the argument that there are two scandals– the scandal arising from the shower incident is enough for me. I’ll stipulate that a lot of the criticism Paterno came under arises from long-standing feuds and old grudges, but I can’t agree that he didn’t deserve criticism for what he failed to do once the shower incident was reported to him. (Mike McQueary, hilariously now a whistle-blower plaintiff, deserves a warm spot in hell too.)

      All that said, I fail to see what difference it makes that this scandal was not about recruitment, or academic fraud. It seems irrelevant to me that the NCAA is a corrupt and debased institution. To argue that “[If] Jerry Sandusky had been a wrestling or gymnastics coach, journalists would [not]be calling for the closure of small-time college sports programs across the board,” and that, therefore this was not a scandal about college football is a breathtaking slight of hand, but that’s all it is.

      Look, think of it this way. A university employee witnesses a crime. He doesn’t do anything about the crime (or, if we want to be charitable, he glares at the perpetrator), and then, the next day, he reports the crime to the football coach. Then the football coach reports what he was told to — I forget, the Athletic Director? A place where this happens is a place where the football coach has perceived authority that is grotesquely out of proportion.

      • Sherm says:

        Mike McQueary, hilariously now a whistle-blower plaintiff, deserves a warm spot in hell too

        McQueary is the only University employee with contemporaneous knowledge of the 2001 incident who fully fulfilled his legal responsibilities and/or did not attempt to thwart others from doing so. Its not really fair to fault him for the moral and legal failures of his superiors. As I have said before, once his superiors failed to act on the information he relayed to them, he was placed in the difficult position of having to be a whistleblower in Happy Valley. How do you think that would have worked out for him?

        • Sherm says:

          I would also like to add that state reporting statutes which permit reporting to superiors are clearly inadequate. All persons should have a duty to report to the authorities to make cover-ups like this more difficult.

        • People who witness crimes and fail to report said crimes to the cops get no tears from me. McQueary behaved disgracefully.

          • Sherm says:

            I agree. Yet his behavior was exemplary in comparison to his superiors, who deserve much more scorn.

            And I find nothing hilarious about his whistleblower suit. His superiors destroyed his career by breaching their statutory duty to report the information he relayed to them.

            • Actually witnessing a child rape and doing nothing about it seems to me worse than the cover-up that his superiors engaged in, but let’s say for the sake of argument that they are equally bad. That’s still a long way from ‘exemplary’. Beyond that, McQueary’s lawsuit impresses me as an attempt to make himself a victim, which is pretty horrible when you consider that he actually knows what a victim looks like. I guess ‘hilarious’ was the wrong word. Perhaps I meant “morally bankrupt”. As for destroying his career, let’s consider for a moment what his professional obligations consisted of. As a member of the coaching staff at an educational institution he was charged with, inter alia, the promoting the health and safety of the students who were under his supervision, as well as with the larger task of “being an educator”. (That’s what the students are told when they are recruited, aren’t they? That the coaching staff is concerned for their education? That’s what we are told by the guys in blazers on television, isn’t it?) So yeah, McQueary’s career is ruined, but that’s not because Joe Paterno failed him– it’s because he witnessed a horrible crime being committed by someone who had access to the students that he had responsibility for, in a place where he had authority, and failed to do anything about it himself. Everyone else in the chain passed the buck– McQueary could have put an end to it all then and there. I cannot imagine how anyone other than a moral monster could have failed to act in the way that McQueary did. So yeah, his career was destroyed. Good.

              • Sherm says:

                He was only a grad assistant at the time, and the law merely required him to report the incident to a superior, and he reported it to all of his superiors — first to Paterno and then to Curley and Schultz. It is undisputed that his conduct fulfilled his legal obligations. If the same could be said for the conduct of his superiors, McQueary’s actions would be viewed differently. And its not that his bosses “failed him”, its that they failed to abide by the State’s reporting statute which required them to report the incident to the authorities. Once they violated the State’s reporting law, McQueary had to be more than just a witness to a criminal act committed by a legendary ex-coach, but also a whistleblower against the beloved JoePa and Penn State University. Being a whistleblower under those circumstances takes a lot of courage which I am not prepared to fault McQueary for lacking.

                • I guess my problem is that if I witnessed what McQueary witnessed I’d call a cop. It would never occur to me to call a football coach.

                  And if I went home and told my dad what I saw, I promise you my dad’s first words would be, “Did you call the police?” (He doesn’t say ‘cop’).

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  I guess my problem is that if I witnessed what McQueary witnessed I’d call a cop. It would never occur to me to call a football coach.

                  Yup. McQueary bears responsibility for Sandusky, plainly. I’m harder on Paterno because he was more powerful, but no way McQueary did the right thing. I mean, if doing the bare minimum to fulfill your legal responsibilities is sufficient, Paterno gets a pass too.

                • Sherm says:

                  I mean, if doing the bare minimum to fulfill your legal responsibilities is sufficient, Paterno gets a pass too.

                  Except that the e-mails show that Paterno convinced his alleged superiors not to report the incident, as you have written about extensively, and perjured himself in front of the grand jury. So, he didn’t do the bare minimum.

                  Did McQueary do everything his should have? Of course not. Is McQueary free of responsibility? Of course not. But to focus on McQueary, in my opinion, is to obfuscate from the cover-up engaged by his superiors, and that’s why I defend him.

  15. Pinko Punko says:

    Just to note, in my original comment, where I affectionately refer to Prof. B as “Mikey B” I also note that Scott’s aside about Triponey does not necessarily make any of her story invalid, also suggesting that Berube’s response to her- not a bizarre non sequitur as mentioned above- but a recounting of some of the academic reaction to her comments- implying that there may have also been other reasons she could have been embattled other than the narrative that she was forced out for crossing Paterno. Berube is quite elliptical in his style and he doesn’t tie the threads together. The core of many accepted narratives may be true- Paterno f*cking blew it- but all the filigree and embroidering may not be. Again, for the classicists, not every cast villain is Tiberius in Tacitus. Maybe Berube would be mordantly chuckling as someone who has thought deeply about post-modernism- at the response to his essay here. Have we in fact all constructed our own version? We would deny it- we all think our versions are the ones we read. Internet, forward!

    • The threads aren’t tied together in the essay because the rhetorical strategy of the essay is not to tie the threads together. The rhetorical strategy is to create a pose of meandering thoughtfulness in order to create for the reader a tone of sincerity on the part of the author. This tone of sincerity seeks to create credibility for the author.

      The author’s performative “thoughtful wanderings” coincidentally bring him to iterate seemingly every current talking point in favor of the Penn State brand. The talking points are dressed-up in a “sincerity” that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

      This is an excellent rhetorical strategy given the reputation of the essay’s author as an intelligent, thoughtful humanities big-wig and the audience of this essay due to its publishing in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

      I agree with Lemieux. This essay is excellent. Well done, Berube. Well done, Penn State.

  16. rea says:

    Does Paterno’ failure mean that everything he did in his life is discredited? Does Penn State’s failure mean that it is worthless as an academic institution? Does the existance of Sandusky mean that college football is inherently evil?

    Some people on this thread seem to have lost their grip on sense . . .

    • Janastas359 says:

      And yet, the nature of the events that occurred are inextricable from the points you made.

      “Does Paterno’ failure mean that everything he did in his life is discredited?”

      No, and yet it appears that much of the coverup was committed in order to protect Paterno’s legacy, leaving legitimate questions about whether the legacy was worth the crime.

      “Does Penn State’s failure mean that it is worthless as an academic institution?”

      No, and yet the reason Penn state became a respected academic institution is in large part due to the success of the football program. Again, tied into the above.

      “Does the existance of Sandusky mean that college football is inherently evil?”

      No, and yet it is the latest evidence that we have that college football isn’t the clean cut game of young scholars that it is made out to be.

      What frustrates me is this notion that because all of these good things happened, we should put the terrible events of the last decade aside, or think of their importance as minimal. And yet, without the Paterno legacy, it is likely that these events would never have gone as far as they did. As many have said before, one has a hard time imagining this scenario playing out if it happened in the debate club, or the school newspaper. The question that most apologists don’t want to grapple with: some horrible crimes were committed in order to preserve the Penn state legacy of accomplishment. Were these crimes justified, then?

  17. Western Dave says:

    From about half-way inside the bubble (Philly), the Berube column is a breath of fresh-air compared to what we’ve been subjected to. Pro Penn State folks are ballistic on the Freeh report. Only somebody outside the local context could understand how much this differs from party line. If it sounds like what pro-Penn State PR flacks should be saying,I can live with it because it’s certainly not what pro-Penn State PR flacks are saying. And a close reading notes that Jay Paterno gets a shout-out, Scott does not. Of all the kids, Scott is the worst and the biggest denier. That has some significance to local audiences.

    I’m not a Penn State employee; I have had interactions with the Paterno family (although never Joe himself). When a colleague of mine, a Penn State alumn and football fan, got cancer, the Paterno family got Joe to send him a handwritten encouraging letter which helped him immensely through operations and chemo. Joe also called him to check on him and wish him well. All that was asked of them, btw, was if Joe could send an autographed picture. He did that too.

    I’ve written here before about my own failure as an authority figure regarding a student of mine who was being abused by a parent. (At a summer program I had a student with a series of mystery illnesses and doctors and I both thought something was “wrong” though the closest we ever go to saying it aloud was “she’s keeping secrets.” Thought it could have been abuse or struggling with sexual identity.) The good folks here helped me work through this pointing out that I did what I could (which unintentionally made it worse in the short run) and that is significantly different from what happened at Penn State both in 1998 and 2001.

    I can be horrified by Paterno’s general sexism (remember his apologia for rape?) and attempts to cover up for Sandusky even as I appreciate his positive contributions to the Penn State community and keeping my friend alive. You know why? Because he was human and so am I.

  18. Walt says:

    I’m a big fan of Berube from his old blog, but he had be out of his fucking mind to write that piece. His second paragraph already shows how wrong he’s going to go: “Except that’s not all you need to know. And much of what you think you know is wrong.”

    No, really there’s nothing else we need to know, and the things we know are in fact right. The fact that Allen Barra thinks now is the time to argue that Penn State didn’t deserve the national championship in 1969, or that Berube is annoyed that people keep calling Penn State a cow college don’t materially change the fact that Paterno participated in a cover-up of child molestation, and that when he was justly fired for it, a significant fraction of the student body was so morally deranged that they rioted.

    And to relitigate the Freeh report? Berube sure didn’t know why Sandusky was fired, so why would he know why Triponey was forced out? I don’t think much of Freeh, so I’m sure the report is flaws in all kinds of ways, but the trustees had no choice but to go along with it since Penn State had clearly demonstrated that no one on campus could be trusted to evaluate the matter. They’re in no position to argue over the details.

  19. Bart says:

    His piece cries out for an executive summary.

    Isn’t he too close to the family to be disinterested?

  20. Bloix says:

    Bill Altreuler, you wrote: “I fail to see what difference it makes that this scandal was not about recruitment, or academic fraud.”

    I found the NCAA’s punishment of Penn State to be bizarre. Fourteen years’ worth of victories invalidated, although all the games were fairly played, not one player did anything wrong and not one coach did anything that affected the outcome of any of those games. Why were the players penalized by having their career wins wiped out of the record books?

    A $60 million fine against the school? To be paid for out of current students’ tuition and from tax dollars. That money will come from cuts in financial aid and from the chemistry department lab budget.

    I don’t get it.

    • I don’t understand erasing the records of past games– it seems pointless. Indeed, it would have made more sense to me to keep those games on the books, so that every time anybody referred to Joe Paterno as the winningest coach of all time people would remember what else happened on his watch. I’d have kept the statue up for the same reason. The money? I guess the money was what it was all about, in the end. It was the thing that kept it all undercover, because money is what clouded everyone’s moral judgment. Money isn’t enough, of course. It never is, but if the penalty didn’t sting, who’d care?

  21. Corpus Christy says:

    Something I didn’t understand about the essay:

    I have read countless denunciations of the man’s desire to coach into his 80s, written by people who are convinced that Paterno covered up Sandusky’s crimes simply because he wanted the record for most career wins-and who are apparently unaware that Paterno feared that when he stopped coaching he would die. (You know what? He was right.)

    It might be true that Paterno covered up crimes so that he could set the record. That fact, if it is one, doesn’t really conflict with Paterno’s desire to coach until he died, does it? Both could be true. In fact, one fact might bolster the other.

    I don’t think it’s true that Paterno did this, and it was silly of post-mortem pundits to speculate without evidence, but Prof Berube’s logic doesn’t quite scan here. Why are the denouncers “apparently unaware” ?

    • Janastas359 says:

      Yeah, this rings false whenever I hear it. The fact that Paterno died after he stopped coaching is not evidence that he died BECAUSE he stopped coaching. I don’t know if Paterno really believe this but the anecdote has always struck me as disingenuous.

      • Sherm says:

        The fact that Paterno died after he stopped coaching is not evidence that he died BECAUSE he stopped coaching. I don’t know if Paterno really believe this but the anecdote has always struck me as disingenuous.

        What’s so disingenuous about that? Its really no different than presuming that your child got autism from a vaccine because your child first exhibited signs of autism sometime after receiving the vaccine.

      • Corpus Christy says:

        Well, Berube’s gratuitous “He was right” wasn’t really my gripe. Rather, when he brought up the critics who implied that Papa J covered up Sandusky’s crimes because he wanted the win record, he called them “apparently unaware” of Paterno’s desire to coach forever. Non seqitur.

    • Bloix says:

      Michael is saying that the detractors put Paterno’s desire to keep coaching down to overheening pride, when if fact it was due to a terror of death. “He was right” is of course ironic – Paterno didn’t expect the circumstances that would lead to his resignation and death when he decided not to retire a decade ago. Keep in mind that Michael is a professor of literature and this is a classically tragic situation.

  22. Bloix says:

    More:
    Michael (I can’t help the first name – for years I was a devoted reader of his blog) – is not merely a prominent professor at Penn State. He’s the current president of the MLA, which means that what he says and does in connection with the scandal is of real importance to the readers of the CHE. Whatever he decided – to remain in the chair or to resign from it – was unavoidably newsworthy and he had a moral obligation to explain his position regardless of what he did.

    With that said, I don’t think the essay accomplishes what it sets out to do.

    Michael opens by saying that if we (including his colleagues, friends, and longstanding readership, to whom this essay is most likely addressed) — if we have to ask why he resigned the chair we’re too dumb to get it. This is unhelpful even to a sympathetic reader like myself. I know why I would feel the need to resign, but I am (in his words) an outsider and I am trying not to project my feelings onto him. For example, I would feel that the Paterno name would be a distraction from every book, paper, talk, and class, and therefore I would have to rid myself of it. But Michael never says anything like that.

    Later he tries again:

    “The cover-up in 2001 strongly suggests that their fear of a culture of secrecy at Penn State was well founded.

    And that is damning enough—to the reputations of the men who never reported Sandusky to the police, and to the reputation of the university that once prided itself on its athletics integrity. That alone is enough to compel me to resign the chair I had once been so honored to hold.”

    Read literally, this doesn’t make sense. Michael has no responsibility for the men who didn’t report Sandusky, and he’s not dissociating himself from the university whose reputation has been damaged. (I’m not implying that he should do so. There are institutions that are so compromised that a person shouldn’t be associated with them. Penn State is not remotely in that category.)

    What Michael might be saying is that he no longer wants to be associated with the Paterno name because maintenance of the associaeion will unavoidably be seen as an endorsement of the culture of secrecy that Paterno was personally a part of, and that Michael decries. Which does sense, given his limited defense of Paterno: he doesn’t view Paterno as personally involved in crimes, but he does view him as complicit in the culture that permitted the cover-up.

    But I have to read between the lines to pull this meaning out, perhaps because Michael’s loyalty to the Paterno family is too strong to permit him to say what he means more forthrightly. And throughout the essay, his loyalty to the family appears to be causing him to ask us, the reader, to supply meaning where he is unwilling to say more clearly what he means.

    For example, there are many places where Michael uses heavy sarcasm that actually conceals what he might be trying to say. Michael always uses sarcasm to great (often comic) effect, but here he seems to be using it to avoid committing to a position.

    He says, “Wasn’t I a fool not to realize that Joe Paterno was in fact a preening hypocrite, styling himself as a force for integrity and rectitude while secretly presiding over what would become a scandal?”

    Whose voice is this? Who is being parodied here? Who is the imagined adversary? And what does Michael actually think about it: was Paterno a preening hypocrite? Was Michael himself a fool? Although the question is phrased in a way that the answers apparently must be “no,” Michael never quite says so.

    He does it again when he writes: “Yes, of course, Something Had to Be Done about Penn State.” In the same breath, he agrees that some sort of outside action had to be taken, and then parodies those who had the authority to take that action as clueless do-gooders.

    In the end, he says, “It’s [the children's] lives that should have been everyone’s first concern. Surely, in that light, the fate of the Paterno chair recedes into unimportance.” This is sentimentality enlisted in the cause of obfuscation. There’s nothing that Michael or any of us readers can do for the children, but all of us face situations of conflicting loyalties in our own lives. Michael can choose to explain how he made his choice in any way he wishes, but he should not belittle the importance of making a choice.

    Michael is a great essayist who uses his experience to create work that the rest of can use to understand our lives. Some day he’ll write something valuable about Penn State and Paterno. But not yet.

    • Mrs Tilton says:

      Thanks, Bloix; that is a good and perceptive critique of the Berube piece.

      There are some other good critiques upthread as well. Matthew Frederick would do well to study them.

      That’s assuming Matthew really does want to learn how to read insightfully and argue effectively. He hasn’t given reason to think he wants anything more than to attract attention to himself. At which he has succeeded! Negative attention, to be sure; negative attention, in a small forum, for a day or two. But if that sort of thing enriches his life as much as it seems to, I wish him all the joy it can provide.

      • Sherm says:

        Thanks, Bloix; that is a good and perceptive critique of the Berube piece.

        Agreed. And I haven’t attempted to critique it myself because I know that I am too disgusted with the numerous apologists to fairly critique something which is rather vague and ambiguous.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        I agree — fair criticism I largely agree with.

      • John Protevi says:

        Yeah, by going to the motives of the people here — the “he’s a hack, he’s carrying water …” and “y’all are tribalist hypocrites” lines — MF invites scrutiny of his own motives, his own brand management: “There’s a new sheriff in town, boys, and his name in Matthew Frederick” or “I’m Matthew Frederick, bitchez,” and of course, “Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to visit my blog.”

        Says the guy linking to his own blog. Point being, really carrying through on the “neo-liberalism as universal acid” bit — i.e., there’s nothing that can’t be explained by brand management, including (hell, especially) self-brand-management) then you have to go all the way to “scratch an altruist, watch a hypocrite bleed.” So MF can’t complain when we scratch his Diogenes in the marketplace self-branding, now can he?

        • I don’t think that it’s right for me to make public criticisms of others anonymously. You know my name. You know an internet address.

          I’m not employed by, nor is my career dependent upon an entity that has a multi-million dollar revenue stream dependent on a brand identity. What a silly accusation it is that somehow I’m “projecting” when I examine the text of Berube’s Chronicle of Higher Education in light of its motives and purpose for the institution for which Berube works and the institution’s ever-precious brand.

          Strained exegesis of the text is one way to apologize for the apologia, I suppose.

          On the other hand, one can read the text in light of its author and audience, assess what its practical effect is on the reader, and determine what clear points that it makes on whose and/or what’s behalf.

          • John Protevi says:

            What is so hard to understand here? You’re analyzing Bérubé’s piece in terms of management of the “Penn State” brand, and I’m saying that we can thus analyze your performance here in terms of you managing the “Matthew Frederick” brand.

            And of course you have a brand; it’s what used to be called a reputation. If you haven’t monetized it yet by running ads on your blog, then that’s not our fault; it’s yours for not following through on the neo-liberal brand management logic you clearly lay out.

            The point is that “neo-liberal self-brand management” is not something that only evil corporations do; it’s a way of seeing human interaction that once it’s unleashed, then there’s nothing that can hide from it, not blog interactions, not dating, not going to the gym, not taking yoga classes, nothing (that’s the “universal acid” business).

            And of course in writing this I’m promoting the “John Protevi” brand, by showing off how I understand that once you open the “brand management” line of thought, you can’t exempt yourself from it.

            So this has nothing to do with accusations of “projection,” which is some old-fashioned Freudianism. This is just your analysis turned back on itself. Which is something no non-hypocrite can ever complain of, is it?

            • If it’s a fair analysis, then one should apply it fairly:

              “Me” or “Penn State.”

              Which brand brings in the revenue to operate a major university?

              Which brand’s name is mud at LGM and which brand’s name is mud nation-wide?

              Which brand is associated with a previously lucrative (and critical to the funding the University’s operations) and now scandalized Div-I football program?

              For which brand’s owner does Berube work?

              • Malaclypse says:

                Please keep fucking this walrus. Endless recycling of the same tiresome point is not tiresome at all. Once you post it 2,472 times, people will be convinced. But not until then.

                • Ah. You’re probably right. This would have been a much more jovial comment section had that “Heh” Guy or maybe Ann Althouse had been the Paterno Family Chair and had written this kind of piece.

                  Instead, it’s only hacktacular to me at LGM. That’s no fun at all.

              • John Protevi says:

                Two things:

                1. I’m not saying you’re doing a good job at managing your brand; I’m just saying that it’s not ad hominem when we comment on how you’re coming across — IMO, as a very smart, very quick, indeed excellent snarkmeister AND a young gun looking to make a name for himself by taking down Bérubé in the lion’s den of his friends’ blog, etc. who has let his passion get the best of him and who has thereby, and rather unfortunately, let other people do the critical job better than him.

                2. Malaclypse is the accountant here, but Penn State’s annual operating budget is 4.3 billion dollars (http://www.budget.psu.edu/openbudget/), while the athletic department had 2011 revenues of 116 million, with expenses of 84 million for a net revenue of 31 million. So I can’t see how football is “critical” to Penn State’s budget. Which takes the wind out of the sails of your Bérubé-as-hack line, as in the big picture of Penn State finances, the football team is a mild breeze indeed, not the might storm you think it is.

                • Thanks for the figures. Of course, there is the money brought in from alumni giving and such that is probably related to athletics but not actually showing up as athletic department revenue – devenue due to the “goodwill” that Div-I football brings. That’s probably hard to figure, though – inherently a speculative exercise. But I bet that it’s a bigger sum than one may think.

                  I do often let my passion get the best of me. But it was probably good to let “other people do the better critical job” than me.

                  I’m stickin’ to my guns that Berube’s piece is hacktacular. The latest “detect when or whether Berube is being sarcastic” exegesis seems ripe for a myriad of absurd outcomes.

                • John Protevi says:

                  I’m not sure you can brush off the damage the numbers issue does to your interpretation — or your reputation — so easily. Above at 6:41 (before you knew the real numbers), you wrote confidently, as a means of explaining Bérubé’s hackishness:

                  The Penn State brand and its association with Div-I football keeps that school running. Money is going to get extremely tight for the University unless the brand and the football program can turn itself around.

                  This is crucial to your point: You’re saying that Bérubé is fulfilling his job duties by performing brand rehab for an organization which depends on its football team to “keep its school running.” But it doesn’t so depend, as a 30 million dollar profit doesn’t mean squat to a 4.3 million dollar annual budget — again, Mal can correct me if I’m wrong on the accounting. So are you saying that Bérubé was under the same mistaken impression as you as to the importance of football to the PSU budget? So it’s a double shame, that he hackified himself because he is as ignorant of university finances as you are?

                  Look, a couple of things need to be said here. 1. Yes, MB is my friend. 2. Bloix and others have presented good critiques of the essay that have been accepted by the commenters — and by Scott — here (thus blunting your accusations of hypocrisy). 3. You could have performed a good service by presenting a good critique of the essay; instead you went for the kill right away, what with the “hackactular” here and the “hypocritcial” there, and then mounted a scorched-earth snark campaign (expertly done, I might add) when people pointed out that that kind of worst-possible-motive-ascribing wasn’t necessary. Which is a shame, because you really are sharp and insightful, though you really should have done your homework better on the “Penn State is in a financial crisis” line.

                • Yes, the figures you cite are devastating to my argument as I’ve constructed it. That’s the argument that brought, so I gotta dance with it.

                  Thank you for thinking that I was capable of formulating and going with a better critique of the essay.

                  That said, why in hell was my argument not countered with something akin to these figures 24 hours ago?

                  Instead over the past 24 hours, Berube played a hit-and-run ad hominem and change the question game, blog authors and commenters trotted out the walrus-and-pancakes talisman, “you have a chip on your shoulder!”, “Berube is my friend and a cool dude so STFU!”, “You’re just wrong because I said so!”, et cetera.

                  I think that all of three commenters (including you) actually engaged or eventually engaged in some good-faith counterpoint. If you read those exchanges, I’m eventually, grudgingly willing to concede when I’m wrong. Fair is fair.

                  So … thanks. I would have STFU like 23 hours ago if my argument had been met with this. Instead I was snark-baited (how can I resist not dishing it right back?), disparaged in the third person (it would be wrong not to respond!), et cetera.

                  Thanks again for the kind words. Thank you even more for not being summarily dismissive.

    • Pinko Punko says:

      This is a great comment, not that Bloix needs the validation. Michael is very elliptical. I think sometimes it is thought-provoking. Here, I think one would have hoped it would have been less complex, or perhaps more clearly purposeful. If he wanted to get across the muddledness and the many issues, I think that is clear. I personally think he should have written it with a clearer thesis, but it wasn’t a position paper either. There are lots of things to talk about. I think it has some value.

    • Lyanna says:

      Great comment.

  23. Eli Rabett says:

    Berube never comes to grips with the ethics issues raised by Middle States, that is where the rubber is really going to meet the road at Penn State.

    The report is due Sept. 30. Oh wait, maybe there is a problem.

  24. SEK says:

    I thought we were at war with Crooked Timber. Now we’re treaty-bound to defend it? I’m so confused.

    Holbo’s never getting his shoes back, is he?

  25. xaaronx says:

    This is apparently from Berube’s Facebook page:

    “I believed that as of mid-July, I had to resign the chair as a precondition of speaking out about the Sandusky scandal. I didn’t think so before the release of the Freeh Report, which is why I went ahead and wrote my NYTimes op-ed last year as the Paterno chair. But after the release of the Freeh Report, and especially Freeh’s press conference, I felt that any attempt on my part to criticize that document, or the NCAA sanctions that followed, or the whole bizarre media circus that somehow transformed the Sandusky scandal into the Paterno scandal would be worse than self-defeating if I tried to comment *as* the Paterno chair. Not only would my comments be dismissed as self-serving; they would be read as the apologetics of a bought-and-paid-for toady. (I see that my essay is being read that way by some people anyway! Just imagine if I hadn’t resigned the chair….)”

    Now if only Berube had stated his reasoning this clearly in the actual published essay, I think a lot of this criticism would have been sidestepped.

    Source: Making Light

  26. Just totally, completely, dumbfoundedly gobsmacked that anyone would think that Penn State admin and alumni would be happy that I wrote that essay. I assure you that they are not, and I will not forward you their emails.

    And now I am officially afraid of Matthew Frederick. For reals.

    • You need not be afraid of me, “officially” or otherwise. Your friends did a fine job of dissecting and destroying my weak critique of your essay. There is nothing other than the critique. I’m not certain as to what else you are implying with regard to being “officially afraid.” I assure you that whatever it is you are implying, you need not be afraid of it because it is nonexistent.

  27. Bijan Parsia says:

    The threading got to deep. This is in response to this comment by “Matty F”.

    Thank you for engaging in a discussion on this rather than being snide dismissive, accusing me of having a “chip on my shoulder,” etc.

    No worries. I have thoughts about your commenting tactics, but let’s put those aside.

    I agree with you that a meritorious point does not necessarily make it not a good “PR” point (and vice versa). So … yes … I can see what you’re getting at there – that Berube’s points are not necessarily fundamentally informed by PR considerations.

    I think that’s a key starting point. It may be that, contrary to what seems to be his clear intent, it does end up an apologia for Penn State. But I think that’s harder to establish. Indeed, I don’t think it’s the case.

    You think that my reading of the piece is overly cynical.

    I do think it’s wrong, and my diagnoses is that you’re being overly cynical toward it.

    (Just separating the two points here.)

    The title of the piece implies some kind of bold, principled resignation of position.

    I didn’t read it that way, since I’d been wondering for a while what Berube was going to do wrt his chair. That reading is pretty strongly undercut by the first paragraph.

    The flow of the piece meanders.

    Well, maybe. I don’t think it’s as tight as it could be, but there’s a logic to it. The pieces do connect.

    It meanders and hits a kind of “kitchen-sink” list of points defending the Penn State brand from enemies foreign and domestic, as it were.

    This seems rather too cynical. In light of the Facebook comment, it seems clear that Berube resigned in order to be able to speak freely about the situation which includes defending, or apparently defending, some aspects of Penn State. But there’s plenty criticizing it as well.

    If you think than any discussion of the situation by someone involved that isn’t systematically condemning is corrupt, then the essay is corrupt. But you seem to agree above that that’s not true. So I think you need more detail than the “kitchen sink” line to make the criticism work.

    The piece then ends with a “remember the children” final paragraph.

    Isn’t that necessarily cynical? :)

    The Penn State brand and its association with Div-I football keeps that school running. Money is going to get extremely tight for the University unless the brand and the football program can turn itself around.

    John dealt with this below, but also, in the essay, Berube denies and refutes such a view, e.g.,

    Yes, the money involved in college football and basketball is stunning—all the more so when you realize that the vast majority of so-called revenue-producing programs are financial sinkholes, draining money away from the educational missions of their universities.

    Now, in order to make your argument work, Berube has to be an explicit, lying hack. And it’s hard to see that this is part of the standard defensive Penn State talking points.

    It’s not cynical to read Berube’s writing to an audience of fellow academics that Div-I football program is actually not a problem, and see that it’s PR hackery on behalf of the Penn State brand.

    Hmm:

    My point is that Penn State’s football program did not corrupt the university’s academic mission. On the contrary, Penn State became a far stronger institution academically over the course of Paterno’s years here, and partly as a result of his efforts. My colleagues in English and across the campus did everything we could to enhance the university’s national academic reputation over the past decade or two, just as Paterno himself threw his cultural capital into expanding the library because, as he often said, “You can’t have a great university without a great library.” If we are proud of what we’ve accomplished, it’s because we did it at a place tucked into the rural Alleghenies that most outsiders associate only with football.

    These are Paterno’s personal efforts, not the program revenue. Also:

    In its time of trial, Penn State could use more alumni who feel about the library the way Joe Paterno did—and who can take pride in the fact that regardless of whether the football team ever gets back to a bowl game, so many of Penn State’s doctoral programs are in the top 10 nationwide. The day thousands of alumni cheer “We are Penn State” in celebration of the fact that the anthropology department is No. 1 nationally (having defeated Duke in the prestigious Boas Bowl) will be the day we know we’ve changed the culture in Happy Valley.

    I don’t see how any of this fits with your reading.

    PR hackery is what’s needed now from spokespeople who are credible certain appropriate audiences. So, Berube in the Chronicle.

    This is the cynicism. Such PR hackery may be what’s needed, but it doesn’t follow that that’s why Berube wrote this or that what he wrote is PR hackery.

    Berube takes a sincere pose in the piece, but every point is about turning around the Penn State brand. The piece seems to meander because the talking points are, well, scattered.

    Again, I disagree. It’s a reflective piece and so each section moves from the former in a path, but that’s part of the inherent structure of such reflection.

    If we count each drop cap as a section we have:

    I: The introduction, why he resigned, why it was trickier than it might seem. It’s a preamble.

    O: Bubble insight and some critique of the Freeh report and the Penn State wagon circling. The upshot is that both have error (though the wagon circling is worse). In the end, the Penn State community is still condemned…but the police come in for a bit more blame in 1998.

    A: There’s a segue from, “In spite of the criticisms of the report, the situation is obviously so bad that I have to resign the chair” to “Why are you holding that chair in the first place?” That seems to be a natural segue esp. for CHE.

    T: This one is a bit complicated but coherent. The sanctions have triggered a stupid and evil backlash. And they get into the heart of the issue of how to understand Penn State as a whole and the relationship between sports and the institution.

    I: Brings it back to the action and indeed all distancing actions. Which seems appropriate.

    So:

    It’s a kitchen-sink defense as part of the PR effort.

    I don’t think that’s a fair or correct reading.

    Either that, or Berube’s a poor writer, or Berube’s piece is actually something that requires a very strained and close exegesis to ascertain Berube’s intent.

    I didn’t feel any strain.

    Occam’s Razor, and whatnot. Right?

    Only if your first take is correct. But I don’t see it that way. I think you’ve ignored ample textual evidence that it isn’t a clear and pure defence (that PR hackery typically demands). So you have to read all the critical stuff as part of a false mea culpa designed to inoculate Berube from hackery charges. And you don’t quite do that! (The save the children line gets at it a little bit, but the description of the meandering as hitting the kitchen sink of PR talking points as talking points requires ignoring much of the text.)

    Couple this with your error on the significance of football revenue to academics at Penn State (esp. in Berube’s eyes) and I don’t see that your criticism is remotely correct.

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