Thursday, December 8, 2011

Penn State BOT needs a lesson in basic parenting

Most of the time, parents are just making stuff up as we go along, but there is one hard and fast rule we all try to follow--prevent tantrums and meltdowns before they occur. If a child needs a nap at 2:00pm, but you know that you’ll be stuck at Wegmans right around then, bring along a favorite book or a cookie to keep them quiet and happy and shop as fast as you can. The same with meals. If you are at a notoriously slow restaurant and your child missed his mid-afternoon snack, it’s time to pull some Goldfish or gummy worms from the emergency stash in your bag. Most importantly, a parent has to be prepared to anticipate the tantrum in advance and be ready to head it off.

And then we have the Penn State Board of Trustees. I wouldn’t normally use the phrase "like a deer in headlights" to describe a group of highly educated, well established leaders for one of the largest universities in the country, but they were.

Everyone knew back in the spring that a grand jury investigation was taking place thanks to Sara Ganim’s article Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State football staffer, subject of Grand Jury Investigation. That article ran on March 31. The BOT knew then that something, potentially very bad, was coming to Penn State.

Instead, they waited, hoping, maybe, that it would just all go away.
Of course, it didn’t. Instead, the media descended and the BOT and the administration just stood there with their hands in the pockets.

The news about the indictments came out late Friday/Saturday morning. The Board of Trustees didn’t spring into action until Wednesday. WEDNESDAY! The students, by now, had been protesting and chanting for at least two days as rumors started swirling that Joe Paterno might be fired. He announced in the morning that he would retire after the season, which shocked and upset thousands of students.

But word began circulating that the Board was having an emergency meeting that night. By now, the students were charged up. They’d been chanting and peacefully, though noisily, gathering in larger groups as the day went on and classes let out. After hearing conflicting reports all day, everyone learned that the Board would be making an announcement at 10:00pm.

Right here. This is where a lesson in good parenting could’ve made all the difference. The Board knew that the students were anxious and angry, upset about Paterno, and were already roaming in large groups across campus and downtown. By this time, many of them had been drinking. A lot. And these students have demonstrated a proclivity to violence in the past--this is the same population who rioted, for no apparent reason, during Arts Fest several years ago.

Knowing all this, the Board chose to make their announcement, the biggest announcement, perhaps, in the history of Penn State. What they should have done was release a blanket statement saying “The past few days have been difficult on all Penn Staters, but there is work to be done. We will hold a meeting tomorrow morning to announce, in detail, our decisions.” That’s it. How hard would that have been? The next morning, half of the students would have been tucked away in class and not roaming the dimly lit streets of downtown. People don’t riot much in the daytime and, even if they had, the police force would have had more time to prepare.

The students are ultimately to blame for their actions. I hope many of them are identified and prosecuted. The Board, however, needs to realize that their leadership and choices were irresponsible.

What the Board did was the equivalent of a parent letting their child miss a snack and skip their nap and then telling the child, in the midst of a meltdown, that “By the way, your fish died” or “Christmas is cancelled this year.”

An effective parent diffuses the situation before delivering bad news. It gives everyone a chance to regroup and pull themselves together before the proverbial other shoe drops.

If the Board messes up an announcement like that so badly, what else are they screwing up?

I admit, this is a lousy picture. But it was taken around 5:00. Imagine how spirited everyone was by 10:00.

1 comment:

  1. On the other hand, if you had a mature set of students, you could release any news any time of the day without fear that a riot would ensue, understanding that whatever response they'd give would be non-violent and level-headed.

    Too much to expect from college-aged students? I don't know. I don't think so.