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April Arnold

Enforcing Ethics in Higher Education: Learning from the Penn State Sandusky Scandal

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On June 22, 2012, a jury convicted former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky guilty on 45 counts of child molestation and assault, ranging from endangering the welfare of children to criminal intent to commit indecent assault. Sandusky and his wife Dottie had been married over 40 years with six adopted children when the verdict was handed down. Prior to the child abuse investigation, he had been a well-respected member of the community, running a nonprofit called The Second Mile for 8-12 year-old underprivileged boys. Sandusky began working at Penn State with legendary football coach Joe Paterno in 1969, forming a bond with the team and the community, while also winning Assistant Coach of the Year twice. The scandal had completely consumed State College, PA. So, how did Penn State get to where they are now? What decisions led them to this low point in their history?

This paper analyzes the actions of the administration at Penn State through the lens of ethical business theories and best practices to discover how they ended up in this position and how other universities can learn from their mistakes. The paper will utilize contemporary ethical research from Harvard Business Review articles; reactions from the community collected through the radio show, This American Life; and the deontological theory on duties, obligations and principles, to analyze decisions made by the administration and rationalizations used to cover illicit activities. My research will show how the organizational culture and sense of community can contribute to the unethical decisions, if not aligned properly. Additionally, my paper reviews how a leader has the authority and responsibility to create and maintain an ethical culture throughout their institution.

The paper concludes that Jerry Sandusky and the administrators that helped cover up the scandal show how morphed community can get when a system of checks and balance isn’t in place to oversee the programs properly. It outlines several recommendations other institutions of higher learning can utilize to avoid similar ethical breaches. As leaders in our community, we need to set an example that any allegation is taken seriously, no matter how small and inconsequential the issue may seem. Universities must learn to work closely with authorities on investigations and be open with them about any potential crimes. This reminds everyone at the university the real interests of the institution are best served with honest conduct. To make sure that crimes are reported swiftly, universities need to have easy-to-use reporting tools, as well as regularly scheduled audits on how their systems are being managed and maintained. 


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