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The Professor Who Resigned the Paterno Chair Explains Why

Don’t know if you’ve heard, but there was a dust-up over at Penn State University about a spot of child rape. Sportswriters and newswriters have covered it to hell and back. One person we haven’t heard much from, other than in one short New York Times op-ed, is Michael Bérubé, the fellow who was holding down the endowed professorship in literature named for the Paternos. He has an excellent essay, “Why I Resigned the Paterno Chair,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education that you should add to your Sandusky-scandal reading list.

Some of the highlights:

— Genuine empathy for the non-Joe Paternos, with particularly warm words for Sue, Joe’s widow. “[J]ust imagine their shock and grief,” Bérubé writes. “Last year their father/husband was an idol, a symbol of integrity in the deeply corrupt and smarmy enterprise of big-time college sports, author of the ‘Grand Experiment’ that sought to bring success with honor to dear old State. … Suddenly he is associated with—and, by some accounts, the mastermind behind—the cover-up of the most horrible scandal in the history of American collegiate athletics.”

— A critique both of the culture of reactionary support for Penn State football (“surprisingly few people here realize how it looks to wear T-shirts that construe Penn State as the victim in all this, as if they are willing to become complicit with the whole mess”) and of the Freeh investigation.

— And as full-throated a defense of Penn State’s football program and Penn State the academic institution as you’re likely to read anywhere. “Penn State’s football program did not corrupt the university’s academic mission,” Bérubé writes. “On the contrary, Penn State became a far stronger institution academically over the course of Paterno’s years here, and partly as a result of his efforts.” By his reckoning, the death penalty for the football program would make no dent in the likelihood that another institution would treat child abuse any differently.

Meanwhile, both North Carolina’s and Kentucky’s athletics programs “undermine the academic mission” of their universities. This is how an educator measures the gravity of a scandal at an academic institution: by its impact on academics. How novel.

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