Penn State Receives Accreditation Warning

Penn State has been reminded that there's a third word in its name: University.

Penn State has been reminded that there’s a third word in its name: University.

AP (“Penn State receives accreditation warning“):

Penn State has been put on notice by an accrediting organization that says the university’s status is “in jeopardy” based on recent developments in the Jerry Sanduskychild sex abuse scandal.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits universities in the Mid-Atlantic region, cited information in the school’s internal investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh and the severe penalties imposed by the NCAA over the school’s handling of molestation allegations against the former assistant football coach, who was convicted in June of 45 child sexual abuse counts.

In an Aug. 8 notice, the commission said that Penn State remains accredited while “on warning” but it wants a monitoring report submitted by the end of next month detailing steps taken to ensure full compliance with governmental requirements, that the university’s mission is being carried out, that the commission will be fully informed and that Penn State is complying with standards on leadership and governance as well as integrity.

The commission also wants the report to address the university’s ability to bear financial obligations stemming from “the investigation and related settlements, etc.” It said “a small team visit” will be made, a standard practice “to verify institutional status and progress.”

Penn State officials on Monday expressed confidence that they would be able to address all concerns expressed by the commission.

University president Rodney Erickson said that the commission “wants us to document that steps we have already taken and are planning to take will ensure our full compliance with its requirements.” He said he was also confident that officials would be able to “fully demonstrate our financial stability.”

I doubt that this will be more than a shot across the bow. The university has fired and replaced the key decision-makers who were part of the scandal and seems to be moving in the right direction. But this is a reminder that, in addition to bringing shame on an athletic program that was once unassailable, that enabling Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of children was a failure of a university’s fundamental duty to safeguard the students entrusted to it.

FILED UNDER: Education, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    was a failure of a university’s fundamental duty to safeguard the students entrusted to it.

    Oh no, it appears the students entrusted to it were to old for Sandusky. He brought in outside children, poor children from broken homes who were quite unlike the average Penn State student.

    We’ll skip over the fact that university students are legally adults and if the university was doing half the job it was suppose to do, they would be mature enough to safeguard themselves.

  2. Al says:

    Personally, I’d love to see Penn State loose its accreditation. The culture of sacrificing everything else that a school has to offer for the sake of the football program extends well beyond Penn. Universities in this country might actually take notice if Penn State suddenly became Penn community college.

  3. This accredidation warning probably has to do with the side issues related to the Clery Act revealed in the Freeh report rather than the Sandusky scandal per se.

  4. @Al:

    Personally, I’d love to see Penn State loose its accreditation.

    You’d love to see hundreds of thousands of normal people financially ruined because a handful of elites thought they were above the law? Do you smile when you think of all the people that lost their jobs and homes because of the financial collapse in 2008 too?

  5. legion says:

    I doubt that this will be more than a shot across the bow.

    It’s a shot across the bow, but it’s an important one. Members of PSU’s board are already pushing back against the NCAA’s sanctions, saying they weren’t properly discussed & agreed to by the full board. That might even be true, but I think this is a not-so-subtle warning that the University should shut up and take its medicine, lest the full treatment be much less pleasant. What Stormy said about the Clery Act is highly relevant; several people are still facing criminal investigations for their parts in covering this up, and if it’s shown that culpability extends beyond the Athletic Dept and into the larger University administration, Penn State could still have darker days yet to face…

  6. @legion:

    Members of PSU’s board are already pushing back against the NCAA’s sanctions, saying they weren’t properly discussed & agreed to by the full board.

    There is actually a legitimate point there. Part of the reason the scandal happened was because the administration got in the habit of not keeping the board of trustees properly informed. Now while it’s sad this only seems to be coming up due to a desire by a few hot heads to fight the NCAA sanctions, I do think the BoT ought to be focussing on better enforcing its own bylaws rather than the previous practice of letting the chairperson and the university president do whatever they felt like, the rules be damned.

  7. mattb says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Part of the reason the scandal happened was because the administration got in the habit of not keeping the board of trustees properly informed.

    And that gets to the larger problem that Penn State and other Uni’s need to address — it’s not simply the case that this was “a few bad apples” (though no doubt that there were rotten apples involved). It’s that an institutional culture developed that supported — if no ultimately encouraged — these sorts of activity.

    That isn’t to say that the entire institution needs to be dissolved. On the other hand it takes a lot more action than simply removing a few select people will fundamentally transform the culture of an organization (especially since many of the people who will replace the folks involved were trained and shaped by the very system their disgraced predecessors helped create.

  8. Al says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Do you smile when you think of all the people that lost their jobs and homes because of the financial collapse in 2008 too?

    Yes, except when I think about the collapse of the mustache wax industry. Then a single tear forms in my eye because I have nothing to twirl.

  9. @mattb:

    On the other hand it takes a lot more action than simply removing a few select people will fundamentally transform the culture of an organization (especially since many of the people who will replace the folks involved were trained and shaped by the very system their disgraced predecessors helped create.

    I agree; as an alumni I’ve been very upset that the school seems to be trying to do the minimum and then just move on rather than engaging in serious reform. But the other hand, there’s also people who want to glibbly call for things that would destroy the lives of huge numbers of people because it fits in some little revenge fantasy of theirs. And while I understand the rage that leads to such fantasies, we need to separate our emotional reactions from policy decisions. Dissolving the school isn’t going to hurt the Board of Trustees. Most of them are independently wealthy and will just end up on some other non-profit board. The only people that’s going to hurt is the huge body of students who paid tens of thousands of dollars for a now worthless degree.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @legion: @mattb: In fairness, it was just a small handful of Trustees that filed a suit; the group as a whole has subsequently issued a statement endorsing the plea deal. But, yes, the new president should have gone to the Trustees to get buy-in before acting unilaterally on something so momentous.

  11. @James Joyner:

    The big concern is that two of three people elected to the board since the scandal broke were in that small handful. The question is whether that election was a one time thing, or the beginning of a trend of tea-party-esque candidates getting elected who seem more interested in grandstanding in the press than doing the work of the board. There was supposed to be a formal vote on the sanctions Sunday, which was blocked by Lubrano. He knows that the sanctions are going to pass whenever the vote does occur, he just wants to hold that off as long as possible so he can keep talking about how unfair the sanctions are in the press.

  12. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, yes, the new president should have gone to the Trustees to get buy-in before acting unilaterally on something so momentous.

    But that type of unilateral action in the name of “protecting the insitution” (or “protecting the program”) — either to take the plea in this case or to surpress investigations into various sexual abuse allegations — is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be stopped. And it seems that this is to varying degrees a pretty ingrained aspect of SOP at Penn State.

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Completely agree with your larger point. The goal here should not be to burn Penn State to the ground and salt the earth. But the question becomes, when these problems appear to have become completely integrated into the very fabric of the university, what external steps need to be taken to force change? Can this be done without the threat of force?

  13. Al says:

    @mattb:

    But the question becomes, when these problems appear to have become completely integrated into the very fabric of the university, what external steps need to be taken to force change?

    That makes the assumption that this is entirely a PSU problem and I honestly don’t think that it is. I witnessed football players from my university put a man in the hospital because he look at one of their girlfriends wrong. The university gave the players a slap on the wrist, the man a ridiculously small settlement and it was all swept under the rug because, hey their star player had a good shot at getting the Heisman that year.

    I guarantee you that crimes are committed and covered up regularly by universities to protect their programs and the only difference is that they’re not the magnitude of the crimes that Sandusky committed. At this point I don’t think anything short of tearing down PSU is going to get any other university’s attention.

  14. @mattb:

    But the question becomes, when these problems appear to have become completely integrated into the very fabric of the university, what external steps need to be taken to force change?

    Which is frankly a question the state legislature should be asking, but they’re hamstrung by the fact they only provide about 15% of Penn State’s budget, and it’s hard to claim much authority over the operations of a school you provide only token funding for.

  15. mattb says:

    @Al:

    That makes the assumption that this is entirely a PSU problem and I honestly don’t think that it is.

    Didn’t mean to suggest it was. This is a problem across countless college campuses — both those with and without major sports programs.

  16. Carson says:

    @Al: I assume that the town or county where this university is has a police department and that Pennsylvania has an SBI and other law enforcement. At VT, you had a person roaming around killing students. Has the accreditation agency or company looked into that? How many people were dismissed? How about the safety and security standards there? Do you want VT torn down?
    What has NCAA done to address the PSU mistakes at all of the universities and schools? If you are going to start tearing down schools, where do you stop? How about abuse and assault of women students at many universities and colleges? The best message is: report, investigate, arrest, try, and lock up. Each school should have a process for this and a procedure that has built in accountability.

  17. @Carson:

    Again, the accredidation board isn’t looking at Penn State because of the Sandusky scandal. They’re look at Penn State because it’s under investigation by the Department of Education for failing to implement the Clery Act more than two decades after it was passed, which could result in the school being banned from receiving federal student aid.