Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dr. Vicky Triponey, A Heroine at Penn State

Wall Street Journal Report Confirms What Everyone Knew; Big Time Collegiate Student-Athletes Are Treated Differently Than Student-Students

The guilt or innocence of the individuals charged both with crimes and with inappropriate, unethical and reprehensible behavior in the Penn State scandal cannot be judged at this time.  As strongly as one wants to condemn everyone associated with the horrible accusations, we just cannot do so until the justice system has run its course.

This does not mean we cannot comment on persons who were relevant to the situation but are not charged or suspected of behaving improperly.  In a superb piece of investigative reporting, the Wall Street Journal has an in-depth story on Dr. Vicky Triponey, a person who until now has been totally unknown.

Students at Penn State are subject to a code of conduct administered by the office of judicial affairs—an arm of the student-affairs department. The office can open investigations of any incident on or off campus. It can order a range of punishments, including, if it sees fit, expulsion.

When Dr. Triponey arrived from the University of Connecticut in 2003 to become vice president of student affairs, she was charged with overseeing the department that enforced the code.

So how does this have anything to do with Penn State athletics.  Well Ms. Triponey assumed that all students were to be treated equally and the same (coming from a non-college football factory school Ms. Triponey’s na├»ve position can be forgiven). This lead to confrontation with legendary coach Joe Paterno, whom she thought  had a different viewpoint.

Dr. Triponey also wrote that Mr. Paterno believed that the school's code of conduct should not apply to any incidents that take place off campus—that those should be handled by police—and they shouldn't be allowed to affect anyone's status as a student.

"Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public when a football player is found responsible for committing a serious violation of the law and/or our student code," she wrote, "despite any moral or legal obligation to do so."

Dr. Triponey ended her note by asking Mr. Curley and Mr. Spanier if these were accurate impressions of Mr. Paterno's views—and whether they shared them.

Mr. Curley and Mr. Spanier are or course two administrative officials at Penn State charged with crimes in connection with the allegations.  But their response to Ms. Triponey, years before any of the current issues became known is telling

Mr. Curley's response, also reviewed by the Journal, was sent three days later and was copied to Mr. Spanier. "I think your summary is accurate," it said.

So we know have at least one possible answer to the question of why Mr. Paterno and the Penn State athletic coaches did not do anything upon given information about the conduct of Mr. Sandusky, the person charged with the hideous crimes in this case.  They didn’t feel they had to "despite any moral or legal obligation to do so." 

The sorry end to this saga is that Ms. Triponey left Penn State, and she was replaced by a much more compliant person

After Dr. Triponey's departure, the university hired Bob Secor, a former vice provost at the school, to head a committee to examine the judicial-review process. Mr. Secor says that Mr. Paterno told him that he didn't think other people should be able to decide whether a football player should be able to play or not. "And we agreed with that," he says.

On Oct. 1, 2007, Mr. Spanier accepted the committee's recommended changes. Under the new rules, the judicial-review process would have only a limited ability to end a student's participation in activities—including football.

And from that time forward it became official what everyone knew was unofficial, that the football program at Penn State was supreme over any and all other aspects of the University.  While nothing can dwarf the individual tragedy if the charges are proven,  at an institutional and societal level, that may be the biggest tragedy of all.

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