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November 2, 2012

The Spanier Indictment

In a move that should come as little surprise, former Penn State president Graham Spanier has been indicted for perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and child endangerment. The indictments come in the wake of the Freeh Report's revelations that--after Penn State's former athletic director proposed not reporting to police an allegation against Jerry Sandusky--Spanier had e-mailed administrators to say that "the only downside for us is if the message isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed."

The basics of the grand jury indictment against Spanier mirror the conclusions of the Freeh Report--that senior Penn State administrators, claimed the state's attorney general, participated in a "conspiracy of silence" regarding Sandusky's crimes, "working to actively conceal the truth, with total disregard to the suffering of children." The presentment makes no claims against Paterno, the attorney general said, because Paterno's death marked "the end" of any potential legal ramifications for his behavior.

The grand jury presentment went into greater detail than did the Freeh Report on two matters. First, in justifying the perjury charge, the document claimed that "Spanier has repeatedly misrepresented the level of his knowledge about the investigation." Both at the time and in his media barrage this summer, Spanier portrayed himself as detached and essentially unaware of matters relating to Sandusky, whether in 1998, 2001, or 2011. But the grand jury document indicates that the former president specifically requested updates from the former Penn State counsel, Cynthia Baldwin, about the progress of the grand jury inquiry--and seemed concerned about former coach Joe Paterno hiring his own counsel during the investigation. According to Baldwin, Spanier mused with her about what type of information Paterno could be providing to the grand jury.

Second, Spanier's repeated excuse as to why he didn't keep the trustees informed--that he was bound by grand jury secrecy rules--appears to have been an outright lie. According to the presentment, the grand jury foreman had told Spanier that the president was free to discuss his testimony publicly.

Beyond the specifics of the case, the indictment raises questions about two other entities. First: the NCAA, which leveled draconian (but appropriate) sanctions against Penn State after the Freeh Report's release. Yet while the organization often comes down hard on student-athletes (or, less often, coaches) who violate its rules, nothing in the sanctions applied to Spanier, at one point an influential figure within the NCAA. ESPN's Jay Bilas has been the most outspoken figure on the NCAA's apparent double standard in not sanctioning the college presidents who make up its membership, and he tweeted after the indictment to wonder why the NCAA hadn't held Spanier "accountable" based on the Freeh Report's findings. Spanier, of course, is entitled to a presumption of innocence on the criminal charges. But the NCAA doesn't use such a standard, and routinely punishes student-athletes on the basis of far less damaging information than what was presented about Spanier in the Freeh Report.

Second: the Penn State faculty leadership, especially the University Faculty Senate. In late August, more than two dozen former leaders of the senate issued an open letter sharply criticizing the Freeh Report. "As a document in which evidence, facts, and logical argument are marshaled to support conclusions and recommendations," they wrote, "the Freeh Report fails badly. On a foundation of scant evidence, the report adds layers of conjecture and supposition to create a portrait of fault, complicity, and malfeasance that could well be at odds with the truth." As with many critics of the Freeh Report, these faculty leaders declined to identify any errors in the report, even as they used space in their letter to celebrate their research abilities.--"as scientists and scholars."

Now, however, the state Attorney General has filed charges along lines very similar to those identified in the Freeh Report. Will these scientists and scholars have the courage of their convictions and denounce the indictment as they denounced the Freeh Report? I'm guessing they'll choose silence on this occasion.

Comments (1)

Locomotive Breath:

This would also be the same Penn State that investigated and exonerated Michael Mann.

Finally, may the same justice reach Dick Brodhead very soon.

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