Graham Spanier suggests his sociology background means he wouldn’t have ignored Penn State scandal

The former president of Penn State, sociologist Graham Spanier, earlier this week argued in a letter to the Penn State board that his background, including his work as a sociologist, means he would would have acted if he had known what was happening with Jerry Sandusky:

Had I known then what we now know about Jerry Sandusky, had I received any information about a sexual act in the shower or elsewhere, or had I had some basis for a higher level of suspicion about Sandusky, I would have strongly and immediately intervened. Never would I stand by for a moment to allow a child predator to hurt children. I am personally outraged that any such abusive acts could have occurred in or around Penn State and have considerable pain that it could perhaps have been ended had we known more sooner…

It is unfathomable and illogical to think that a respected family sociologist and family therapist, someone who personally experienced massive and persistent abuse as a child, someone who devoted a significant portion of his career to the welfare of children and youth, including service on the boards of four such organizations, two as chair of the board, would have knowingly turned a blind eye to any report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children. As I have stated in the clearest possible terms, at no time during my presidency did anyone ever report to me that Jerry Sandusky was observed abusing a child or youth or engaged in a sexual act with a child or youth.

This conclusion should have been abundantly clear to Mr. Freeh and his colleagues who interviewed me for five hours before their report was finished and interrogated scores of employees about me. Yet the report is full of factual errors and jumps to conclusions that are untrue and unwarranted. I have identified many errors in the report that pertain to me, which my attorneys will share confidentially with University legal counsel for your records and consideration. Moreover, I look forward to the opportunity to set the record straight with representatives of the Board of Trustees as you might desire.

I don’t think I’ve ever run into this before: a sociologist using their academic background as a defense for their actions outside of the field of sociology. Alas, sociologists are fallible as well…

Perhaps I simply haven’t run into it or people are waiting to see how this all plays out but I haven’t seen any fellow sociologists defend Spanier yet.

What should have happened earlier today at Penn State

Coming into the Penn State-Nebraska game that took place earlier today, a number of commentators said the game should be played. The current players aren’t responsible for any of the problems and so should not be punished and the football game itself could start the healing process. The ceremonies before the game, including a mid-field prayer with both teams participating, were shown live on ESPN.

Here is what I think should have really been done today at Penn State: the Penn State players and coaches should have come out onto the field like they would for any game. However, when the game was just about to start, all of the players and coaches should stop the action, kneel, and refuse to play. They could then issue a statement that would read something like this:

“Today is not a day for a football game. Our campus has experienced a tragedy and we are embarrassed since this involved a number of men that we thought were leaders and whom we respected. Although we were not personally involved, we realize that life is much bigger than football. The world will keep turning if this game is not played today. We need time to think, reconnect, and build up the trust for which this campus was once well renowned. We will play football again when these important matters have been taken care of.”

Imagine what sort of message this would send. In the midst of tragedy, this would be a statement that the billion-dollar (NCAA-wide) football machine plus its incredibly popular culture wouldn’t run roughshod over lives for a few hours. Football would be put on the backburner, which is arguably the primary issue here anyway.

I wonder what would have happened if the players would have really wanted to do this.

Moral successes or failures among academic disciplines

While some might measure the success of college majors by earnings, I was struck by a different measurement option after reading this information about Penn State’s former president Graham Spanier:

Graham Spanier, one of the most prominent college presidents in America who today is the center of a firestorm, has combined button-down tradition with the sort of moxie that led him to run with the bulls in Spain.

A sociologist and family therapist by training, Mr. Spanier has used his pulpit as Penn State University president to weigh in on national issues from campus drinking and illegal music downloading to eroding public support of higher education.

Here is a little more about Spanier’s academic background according to Wikipedia:

Spanier graduated from Highland Park High School (Highland Park, Illinois), and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Iowa State University where he was honored with the Distinguished Achievement Citation by the ISU Alumni Association in 2004. He earned his Ph.D.. in sociology from Northwestern University where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. While a researcher, he contributed to the publication of ten books and over 100 scholarly journal articles. As a family sociologist, demographer, and marriage and family therapist, he was the founding editor of the Journal of Family Issues. Spanier was also an author of a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior concerning the practice of mate swapping, or “swinging”.

Although I have seen a lot of coverage of this story in this past week, I haven’t heard anything about Spanier’s academic career. As a family sociologist and family therapist, should we expect that Spanier should be held to a higher standard in this matter?

More broadly, what can we expect in terms of moral successes and failures from different academic disciplines? Do certain disciplines contribute more to human flourishing? Do disciplines that deal more directly with human interaction, such as sociology or psychology, have more positive moral outcomes? Could the disciplines even agree on what would be positive and negative moral outcomes?