Our hearts remain heavy, and we are deeply ashamed."
Penn State University trustee Kenneth Frazier made this statement last week upon the release of the highly critical Freeh report. It is the most profound and necessary thing anyone could have said.
Commissioned by the board of trustees, former FBI director Louis Freeh led an investigation into the culture of Penn State and the crimes committed there. His team concluded that four university officials enabled and concealed Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children and that they could do so because the board failed to exercise proper oversight.
"Our hearts remain heavy, and we are deeply ashamed."
Sorrow and shame. Sorrow for hurts inflicted, crimes committed and lives broken. Shame that those who could have prevented at least some of this tragedy did not.
It had to be said. More significantly, it needs to be heard and felt, for a good long while.
Sorrow and shame are good things, when appropriate, and they are certainly appropriate here. There's no pressing need to "move on" and "let the healing begin." In fact, expressing too quickly the desire to heal may indicate a failure to comprehend how truly grave the wound is and how truly concerned you ought to be about it.
But if you do not have the high-profile role of Mr. Frazier, who chaired the board's investigation task force, and therefore lack a public platform like his, how do you express your sorrow and concern?
Some of us who have no similar attachment to the universities we attended have always been bemused by the strong identification so many Penn State alumni feel with their school -- "We are Penn State" -- and the fierceness of their loyalty. To outsiders it seemed at times less like a school than a religion, and un-ironic use of "Happy Valley," the campus nickname, seemed a little cult-y.
And then, suddenly, "happy" valley most definitely wasn't. When the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke last November, some observers were soon speculating -- rather tastelessly -- that two areas likely to be affected were fundraising and sports recruiting.
In fact, a Reuters article on this topic said the board of trustees had just fired coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier "to start the healing process." (No, those actions would be "the disciplinary process," designed to nurture sorrow and shame.)
The same article quoted a letter from fundraising campaign chairman Peter Tombros: "This is not a moment to reconsider our commitment to the university."
It wasn't? If not that moment, then when? Unless he's asserting that one's commitment to an institution should never be reconsidered, I can't think of a better time to do so than the moment when the institution in question is revealed to be seriously unhealthy.
But while Mr. Freeh's investigators were doing their work, supporters gave Penn State its second-best fundraising year ever. The biggest year was 2010, but $88 million of that year's $274 million total was a gift from alumnus Terry Pegula for the hockey program. Without such a one-time gift, donations this year still passed the $208 million mark.
What does this signify? Penn State has more than a half-million alumni. That's an unwieldy bunch to join together in delivering any particular message, but more than 75,500 -- a slight increase -- chose to give in the fiscal year just ended. In particular, there was an increase in giving to the football boosters club.
Is the message "My school, right or wrong"?
If an institution I supported were revealed to have fostered a corrupt environment where children were harmed and their abuser unrestrained for fear of bad public relations, I would withdraw my support, possibly forever, certainly until the institution had "cleaned house."
And I would withhold my support until I was sure the institution had been profoundly changed for the better. Alumni have virtually no other way to hold university leaders' feet to the fire.
Of course, some of last year's donations came well before Mr. Sandusky was indicted and before Mr. Paterno and Mr. Spanier were fired. All of them came before the Freeh report was released. What will donors do now?
University officials are busy establishing new procedures to create a different environment -- one where everyone is held accountable, no matter his or her title. People who lived through this sad time should remember that we fail to see all kinds of things in the shadows when we're dazzled by a winner.
Penn State's fundraising campaign, which still has $400 million and a couple of years to go, is called "For the Future." For Penn State's future to be morally healthy, Mr. Frazier has pointed the way: Expressing sorrow and shame is a good and sober way to start.
Ruth Ann Dailey: email@example.com.