Friday, November 11, 2011

Ecce Homo: Why Penn State had to fire a guy who didn't deserve to be fired

Joe Paterno was a good guy. No one denies it. That he made a mistake in not doing more in dealing with coach Sandusky is something even he admits. But there is the feeling that an injustice has been done to him that just doesn't seem to go away.

One thing is clear: none of the people who voted for his dismissal has done so much for so many as he has. He was fired by people who will never be as great as he is.

If the facts of the case were clearer his firing wouldn't seem so problematic. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions, and it's not clear at all that Paterno knew all the things he would have had to know in order to bear the level of culpability the board would have to attribute to him to justify the way they treated him in the end. In fact, when whoever it was from the Penn State board made the call to tell him he was dismissed, he asked what the problem was with serving the remaining several games of the season (He had just announced his retirement at the fast-approaching end of the season). They couldn't tell him why.

But they didn't need to have any reasons to fire Joe Paterno. That was not what this was about.

My theory is that the board felt like they could not afford to do the appropriate thing here, which was to let Joe go at the end of the season, which is almost here. It had to be seen as forcing him out. There was no need for him to go in the ignominious way in which they forced him to go. It wasn't something he deserved. But it was something board needed to do in order to look like it had done something when it was too late to do anything that really mattered.

If you don't want someone else to shoot you, one of the ways to prevent it is to shoot yourself. And that's what Penn State's board decided the university must do. Committing institutional suicide was the safest thing for it to do.

Part of the measure of a man is how he reacts when people treat him as if he were less than he was. Paterno's reaction to his dismissal was to say simply that he prayed for the victims. Even after he was treated as less than he was, he still acted as if it wasn't about him.

And yet it was.

In the end, the problem was that it was Penn State as an institution that was sullied in the whole episode. And Joe Paterno had done so much for the university for so many years that he was the embodiment of the university. It wouldn't have mattered if he had never known about any of it. He would still have had to be fired.

The institution needed a scapegoat to bear the guilt. They found one: the guy who is Penn State. It was their way of washing their hands of the whole affair. John Surma, vice chairman of the board of trustees, was the one who made the announcement. It was quick and clean. They had no Barrabas; all they had was Joe.

I wonder if anyone thought to ask Surma's wife if she had had any strange dreams the night before.

Joe Paterno was not fired for what he did: he was fired for who he was.  He was a great man. And it was his own greatness that made him the guy who had to be gotten rid of.

Now the institution can go on. But it isn't Penn State anymore. It's just another college.

24 comments:

Lee said...

Well, the least they could have done was to fire Joe Pa in person. Over sixty years of mostly distinguished service, and he gets a phone call? We're talking about a state, Pennsylvania, where if there was a Mt. Rushmore, there would only be two faces on it: William Penn's and Joe Paterno's.

But on this one, the dudgeon runs high, and in my view rightly so. Afraid even Joe Pa is going to have to take one for the team this time.

True confession: I attended Penn State from 1972 to 1975. Paterno had already been head coach there for six years before I got there. As a Penn State fan, I don't remember a time before Joe Pa.

Moving on to Sandusky: what I find interesting is the sheer hatred being expressed for him. Check out the comments here:

http://www.amazon.com/Touched-Jerry-Sandusky-Story/dp/1582613575/ref=cm_rdp_product/182-0906336-3049214

(And incidentally, what an unfortunate book title.)

It's interesting to me to see this issue in light of our earlier discussion about absolute vs. relative morals in one of the previous threads.

I don't wish to be crude or rude, but pedophilia, and specifically that of the homosexual kind, has been around for ages and has not been unanimously condemned in all cultures. E.g., it was either Augustus Caesar or Tiberius, I forget which, who used to swim in his swimming pool, with young boys whose job it was to swim after him and nibble his body. He called them, I think, his "minnows." (Read this, I think, in Paul Johnson's History of Christianity.)

But times have changed, and nowadays, judging by the comments on the book thread, Sandusky could expect to be crucified if it were up to vox populi.

Certainly this view isn't unanimous, even now... isn't there an organization named NAMBLA that's trying to get this sort of thing legalized?

Is this issue yet another example of what KyCobb has argued? Namely, that the trend is for more and more "rights", and this is one of those that the Left will hit us with out of the blue, once we imagine we've heard it all and then let our defenses drop momentarily?

Or will the Left always view pederasty much the same way Southern Baptists do? As despicable and vile?

One thing is for sure, you won't find out what they'll argue next year by asking them now.

Given the Left's intellectual framework, I would say they're free to argue either way.

Whereas, to someone with a belief in absolutes, this behavior could not have been right when emperors did it and wrong when football coaches do it now. It was either (my view) wrong then and wrong now, or okay then and okay now.

Susan Perkins Weston said...

Martin, go read the grand jury report. Paterno knew boys were being raped. He knew that the Penn State aura was part of how the rapist recruited his victims. He knew at Nittany Lion facilities were part of the bait.

He doesn't get to say "I did a lot of good for a lot of young men, so it's okay to abandon some boys I know are in danger."

He also doesn't get to say "I get to ignore my duty under federal law to report crime on campus, and at least until after the Nebraska game, everyone else should, too."

Singring said...

'There was no need for him to go in the ignominious way in which they forced him to go. It wasn't something he deserved.'

Apparently, knowing about children being raped and doing nothing to stop it is not a fireable offense in Martin's view.

Protecting children seems to be secondary, while honoring supposed institutions is of primary importance. Of course, I would have expected no other attitude from a Catholic apologist like Martin.

One Brow said...

I have no trouble making a harsh example out of Paterno. At the very least, he knowlingly allowed a pedophile to keep working with kids for several years. I understand that human nature is to protect the institution for which you have devoted your life, and I have no personal animosity toward Paterno. However, he does not deserve to be defended, either.

Singring, that's a very cheap shot over a somewhat gray issue on the difference between firing someone now and at the end of the season.

Singring said...

'Singring, that's a very cheap shot over a somewhat gray issue on the difference between firing someone now and at the end of the season.'

If someone acts in the way Paterno did, you should be fired immediately, end of story. Every day across the world people get fired for far lesser transgressions and I see no reason whatsoever to make some special allowance for someone just because of their stature - deserved as it may be - especially in a case such as this. What kind of example would it set? That you can neglect to counteract child abuse that is occuring in your workplace and then have everyone ignore it for a couple of months until you can get sent off with a pat on the back and a round of applause?

Lee said...

As we see in this thread, people who believe in moral relativism sound indistinguishable from moral absolutists when it comes to condemning something they really hate.

Martin Cothran said...

Susan,

Do you mean the grand jury found Paterno culpable and did not charge him? After all, knowing of child abuse and not reporting it are crimes as far as I understand it.

The initial reports I've read said the grand jury did not find him at fault.

Are you saying that the grand jury did find him at fault and the media reported it incorrectly or that the grand jury did not find him at fault and should have? And if the latter, then if we can fault the grand jury's judgment, how can we trust its facts?

You are saying that the things many people in and outside the media say are gray areas are really black and white issues. Unfortunately, we peons are a little bit at the mercy of the media here on this but it does not make sense, if what you say is true, that the grand jury would not have brought charges.

And if you are correct here, then why didn't the board come out and say this. It would have given them cover for their decision. As it is, they did not even give a reason for their decision.

It might also help if you posted the link for the grand jury report.

Thanks.

Martin Cothran said...

Lee makes a good point here. Singring, do you think pedophilia is intrinsically wrong or not?

Singring said...

'Lee makes a good point here. Singring, do you think pedophilia is intrinsically wrong or not?'

Pedophilia is not an action, its a description of a person's tendencies. When we talk ab out morality, we talk about actions and their intentions. Maybe you intended to ask me if I think that child rape or molestation or abuse is intrinsically wrong?

The answer is that I don't, though I can conceive of few instances where these actions or their facilitation would be right based on a utilitarian moral system.

I certainly don't think that in this case, letting the coach stay on would be the morally right thing to do.

One Brow said...

Every day across the world people get fired for far lesser transgressions and I see no reason whatsoever to make some special allowance for someone just because of their stature - deserved as it may be - especially in a case such as this.

Stature? Before this week, I couldn't have told you who Paterno coached for.

Also, unless Pennsylvania has some very unusual laws, failure to report third-hand knowledge is not a transgression.

As I said, I have no problem with the firing, but I also don't see it as starkly. If Paterno had personally witnessed the event, that would be different.

Anonymous said...

Yet the guy who actually witnessed a child rape still has his job.

Lee said...

> The answer is that I don't, though I can conceive of few instances where these actions or their facilitation would be right based on a utilitarian moral system.

C'mon, that's easy. Somebody has something someone else wants, and that someone else has more power. When Roman emperors wanted sex with boys, they found some boys they liked and had sex with them. End of story. It's even possible the victims didn't see themselves as victims. It's possible their parents didn't even see them as victims, depending on whether they were compensated in some way.

If there were any nagging moral qualms, I can hear the counter-arguments in my head right now. "Well, I'm the emperor and I make big decisions every day for the good of the Empire as a while, and the weight of all that responsibility is such that I need some sort of release. It's not like these boys have better options. They have a much better life with me than they'd have on the street. Here, they're well-fed, given everything they want, and taken care of when they're sick. I even send money to their parents, if they have any. These boys are performing a valuable service to their Emperor, and hence to the Empire."

All of which is predicated upon the Emperor having more rights than the boys.

Singring said...

'When Roman emperors wanted sex with boys, they found some boys they liked and had sex with them. End of story...All of which is predicated upon the Emperor having more rights than the boys.'

What has this got to do with a utilitarian morality? Lee, I must say, I am really quite amazed that I spent several posts carefully explaining my moral reasoning to you a while back and yet here you are going completely off topic again. Whether or not the emperor has power or who is the vicim is irrreleveant - the morality of an action is determined by whether or not the intent was to minimize harm and whether or not it was successful in doing so.

Micheal said...

Martin,
Here is the link to the grand jury report.
http://www.freep.com/assets/freep/pdf/C4181508116.PDF

Pages 7-9 record Paterno's statements about learning about Sandusky's "'disturbing' and 'inappropriate' conduct" (quoted from the report) in 1998 and had several meetings with university administration about the matter.

Lee said...

> What has this got to do with a utilitarian morality?

You said you "could conceive of few instances where these actions or their facilitation would be right based on a utilitarian moral system." Indicating that it might be hard to do.

I showed you it is not hard to do at all. Sorry, thought I was helping.

> Lee, I must say, I am really quite amazed that I spent several posts carefully explaining my moral reasoning to you a while back and yet here you are going completely off topic again.

You are averse to going off topic? How could I have possibly known that before now?

Lee said...

> Pages 7-9 record Paterno's statements about learning about Sandusky's "'disturbing' and 'inappropriate' conduct" (quoted from the report) in 1998 and had several meetings with university administration about the matter.

Sorry, haven't read this yet. But my understanding is that Joe Pa did report him to the Campus Police, which is probably why the grand jury did not indict him.

Singring said...

Lee:

'You said you "could conceive of few instances where these actions or their facilitation would be right based on a utilitarian moral system." Indicating that it might be hard to do.

I showed you it is not hard to do at all. Sorry, thought I was helping.'

You would have helped if your example had in any way illustrated an actual application of utilitarian morality, which unfortunately it did not. You seem to have no idea of the principles of utilitarian morality and/or how to apply them, even though I took great care to explain and even give you an example of the kind of morality I hold a while back.

In your example, the emperor is the moral agent - i.e. the one who is acting (in this case raping children) and whose actions we might therefore judge based on any given moral system.

Now please remember that (as I have stressed above) my utilitarian morality is rooted in the principle that the intent of an action (or inaction, as the case may be) and usually also the result of the action (i.e. as far as the result can be predicted) should result in minimizing the amount of harm in the world - that is, it shoudl minimize the harm caused to the moral agent himself as well as those he is acting towards.

Now let's look at some of the things you said.

First, you said this:

'Somebody has something someone else wants, and that someone else has more power.'

Now, as you now should easily be able to tell, in a utilitarian moral system, who has 'power' or who 'wants' something has nothing to do with whether or not an action is moral or not. So you seem to have fundamentally misunderstood the whole issue before you even made your example. So let's look at that example:

'If there were any nagging moral qualms, I can hear the counter-arguments in my head right now. "Well, I'm the emperor and I make big decisions every day for the good of the Empire as a while, and the weight of all that responsibility is such that I need some sort of release.'

Whether or not the emperor or not needs some kind of 'release' has very little impact on whether or not his actions ar moral in a utilitarian system. It should be immediately obvious that the physical and mental harm caused by him raping one or more children greatly outweighs whatever reduction in harm he experiences by relieving his sexual urges.

'It's not like these boys have better options. They have a much better life with me than they'd have on the street. Here, they're well-fed, given everything they want, and taken care of when they're sick. I even send money to their parents, if they have any. These boys are performing a valuable service to their Emperor, and hence to the Empire."'

Again, Lee, remember that the moral action for the emperor to take on utilitarianism would be to that which results in minimizing harm. It is not about exchanging services in some tit-for-tat scenario, its about how much harm each of these 'services' (i.e. actions) causes and which outweighs the other in this respect.

Now, I don't know about you, but I can instantly think of an action the emperor could take that would cause a great deal less harm than him taking care of those children while also raping them: he could just take care of the children and *not* rape them.

I'm sure you agree that that kind of situation would overall result in less harm - the children would be taken care of and would not get raped.

Therefore, based on a utilitarian morality, the emperor is wrong to rape those children.

It's that simple. I sincerely hope this will help you to correctly represent utilitarian morality (at least the kind I hold) in future exchanges.

Lee said...

Singring,

You said this:

> Whether or not the emperor or not needs some kind of 'release' has very little impact on whether or not his actions ar moral in a utilitarian system.

And earlier you said this:

> ...my utilitarian morality is rooted in the principle that the intent ... and usually also the result of the action ... should result in minimizing the amount of harm in the world...

So if someone believes that a sexually-sated emperor would make better decisions for the Empire, then you can justify the Emperor's use of boy concubines, because better decisions for the Empire = minimizing the amount of harm in the world.

It doesn't even matter whether the the premise is true, so long as the *intent* is there to minimize harm. Your view, not mine.

As I said, that one is easy.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"The institution needed a scapegoat to bear the guilt. They found one: the guy who is Penn State."

As someone who takes issues of higher education seriously, I would've thought you'd consider a football coach being the embodiment of the University to be part of the problem. Is Penn State an institute of higher education, or a football franchise? Maybe the Board of Trustees thinks Penn State becoming another college is a worthy goal.

P.S. If Joe Paterno is the scapegoat, how come the Board of Trustees is firing everyone in the administration involved in this scandal? Looks to me like they are cleaning house.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

If there is any coach in the country who embodies a healthy attitude about athletics in relation to academics it is Paterno.

It's no accident that, while the Penn State football stadium is named after a former governor, the library is named after Paterno.

Singring said...

'It doesn't even matter whether the the premise is true, so long as the *intent* is there to minimize harm.'

No - this is not what I said at all. I said the intent is important - but the result also is as far as it can be predicted.

A man who intended to act morally but who took an action that he should have known would lead to greater harm is morally culpable. For example, a fanatical cult leader might think that killing his entire flock with poison so they can be beamed up on a passing starship might have the intention of minimizing hram, but clearly, the empirical evidence indicates that it did no such thing - it drastically increased harm.

'So if someone believes that a sexually-sated emperor would make better decisions for the Empire, then you can justify the Emperor's use of boy concubines, because better decisions for the Empire = minimizing the amount of harm in the world.'

Firstly: Just 'believing' that a sexually sated emperor would make better decisions for the Empire is not sufficient at all. Such beliefes must be rationally justified.

After all, we sentence people to prison because we have rational reasons based on empirical evidence for doing so.

Now, do you have some kind of evidence, maybe some published studies etc., that show that sexually unsated men make significantly poorer political decisions than men who are sexually satisfied?

I think Martin would like to hear that kind of evidence as well, seeing as he is member of an institution that demands all members of authority to remain celibate and therefore - by definition - sexually unsated.

Secondly: Even if there was good evidence to show that sexually sated men make significantly better political decisions than sexually unsated men (and this is all still assuming that a dictatorship is even an acceptable form of government, by the way), we could still conceive of a more moral action that the emperor could take rather than raping children and staying in power: he could abdicate his position to an emperor who is sexually sated and would make good decisions without raping children.

The state would be in good hands *and* no children would be harmed.

Lee said...

> No - this is not what I said at all. I said the intent is important - but the result also is as far as it can be predicted.

Let's review. You said this:

> "...my utilitarian morality is rooted in the principle that the intent of an action (or inaction, as the case may be) and usually also the result of the action (i.e. as far as the result can be predicted) should result in minimizing the amount of harm in the world..."

I don't see an alternative to the following analysis:

1. Intent is important.
2. Results can be important, but not always. The word "usually" means less often than always.

Now, perhaps you didn't mean what you wrote. Maybe you were close, but on reflection you wish you had written something different. That's fine, and you can always amend what you wrote if it helps your point.

But it seems that here you are chiding me for correctly interpreting what you wrote.

Singring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Singring said...

'1. Intent is important.
2. Results can be important, but not always. The word "usually" means less often than always.'

Exactly, Lee. Results are important *if* they can be predicted by the moral agent and whoever is judging his moral actions - just like I said in my earlier post. If they can't be predicted, they are not important - but this is rarely the case, hence the 'usually'.

In the case of the emperor, both he and we have plenty of good rational basis for predictions about the amount of harm each of his potential courses of action would result in - that's why in your example, the results are important in making a moral judgement.

But since you are now down to debating semantics, I take it you have understood and accept my utilitarian moral judgement in the case of the emperor?