Penn State trustees during January 2012 interviews

The recent death of long-time Penn State football coach Joe Paterno spurred an outpouring of public grief that has, temporarily, overshadowed the tragic and tawdry circumstances of his firing last fall. 

Just four days before his death, the New York Times published an article about the university's controversial decision to fire Paterno without warning, via a phone call. The article is based on an extensive interview with board members who wanted to set the record straight and defend their decision.

To me, the most significant part of the interview is the trustees' description of how they were caught unaware by the scandal. They were not informed of the serious charges against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky until the media broke the story. The university president papered over its importance. And when the board wrote a press release to express sympathy with the victims, the president altered its wording before releasing it to the media.

The article is a fascinating look at a scandal from the board's perspective. It's worth reading in full, but also worth remembering that it's a work of image-shaping. "The board decided to share its story because it grew weary of hearing criticism," explains the article, "which included calls from alumni who started a group known as Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship in an effort to replace the current board members."

Read the article here (New York Times login required) or here (reprinted in the Boston Globe; no login required).


About the image: Clockwise from top left, Joel N. Myers, Paul V. Suhey, Kenneth C. Frazier, Mark H. Dambly, Anne Riley and Ira M. Lubert during interviews of members of Penn State University's board of trustees. Photo by Matt Rainey for The New York Times.