Time for PSU to drop the ball
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On Monday, Oct. 24, just 12 days before the Sandusky bombshell slammed into central Pennsylvania, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported the kind of news nobody ever reads -- Penn State now leads the nation in Fulbright scholars.
For the current school year, 14 Fulbright grants were awarded to faculty at University Park alone, which is why Ricky Bates, associate professor of ornamental horticulture in the College of Agricultural Sciences, will this year be lecturing and researching at Maejo University in Thailand for a project entitled "Expanding Economic Opportunities for Rural Poor Farmers."
Which is why Karen Treat Keifer-Boyd, professor of art education in the College of Arts and Architecture, will head to the University of Klagenfurt in Austria for a project entitled, "Arts-Based Social Justice Activism: Insight, Inquiry, Imagination, Embodiment, Rationality."
Which is why 12 other Penn State scholars will visit 10 additional countries in an interdisciplinary blitz of brain power simultaneous to Penn State hosting Fulbright scholars from Pakistan, Tunisia, Armenia, Bangladesh, Morocco and elsewhere.
This is where Penn State must rebuild its poisoned reputation, upon its educational mission, its research mission, and upon its demonstrated devotion to scholarship, not upon the very swamp that poisoned it: the football program.
As the alleged sexual abuse roster mounts and the years of litigation begin stretching to the university's horizon, of what is Penn State proudest today -- its 826 football victories, its 27 bowl wins, its 28 Lambert-Meadowlands trophies, its two national championships, or Sara Ganim, the Harrisburg crime reporter on whom it conferred a journalism degree?
I have a feeling it's not Sarah, the 24-year-old Floridian whose instincts, training and hustle made the Patriot-News the tip of the journalism spear on the biggest college sports story of our lifetimes.
But two weeks into its own sordid muck, Penn State still has it all wrong. Just look anywhere. A Penn State investigation staffed exclusively by insiders, a board of trustees that knew its football staff and faculty were providing grand jury testimony since last December but remained paralyzed in fear for the university's image, and now Friday's comments by acting athletic director Dave Joyner, telling a press conference that interim coach Tom Bradley would be "in the mix" if he wants to apply for the head coaching job.
No, they don't get it.
Is it the 156 years of geographical isolation or the 125 years of building football into a total wag-the-dog deity that turns a place with so much brain power into Clueless State?
The current football administration has to be removed, in toto. That's nothing against Tom Bradley. I know Tom Bradley. I like Tom Bradley. It's very likely that any new coach, regardless of his background, will be no Tom Bradley. But sorry, anyone with even the appearance of anything less than 100 percent plausible deniability on Sandusky's alleged adventures can't be within 100 miles of the place. That's everybody in the program.
There's an easier way and a better way to proceed for Penn State, and that is to get out of the football business. Not for some pointless bowl game. Not for 2012. I mean indefinitely.
Seven years after Amos Alonzo Stagg left the University of Chicago, which would be exactly 72 years before the same Big Ten conference put his name and Joe Paterno's on their spanking new championship trophy and then hurriedly scrubbed Joe's off last week, Chicago dropped football and built itself into an envied international giant of intellectual accomplishment.
The university, even as a charter member of the Big Ten, came to consider its successful football program a nuisance that hampered its academic ambitions.
Yes, that was 1939, and everything has changed, but there's never been a better time than 2011 to get out of college football, a corrupted, nonsensical sport with no real moral vision of itself, or at least none that can prevent a constant conference-hopping TV cash grab at the expense of unpaid athletes, many of them teenagers, most all of them with no professional future.
I'm not sure any serious academic institution can even co-exist at these cross-purposes anymore, but I am sure that Penn State, as it now embarks on a long, desperate mission to restore its dignity against a storm of potentially disgusting revelations still to come, can't go forward in total seriousness if it mindlessly determines that the football show must go on.
For the moment, Penn State should consider adding a world class research facility to study the causes and treatment of child abuse. It should continue to enhance its academic traditions and its newer intellectual jewels, the Shreyer Honors College, its School of International Affairs and the Penn State World Campus.
At some point, way down the road, it may consider re-entry. Thirty years after Chicago dropped football, it waded back in as a club sport and ultimately fielded a varsity Division III team that plays in the University Athletic Association with like-minded institutions Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon, NYU, Emory, Rochester, Case Western and Washington University in St. Louis.
They call 'em the Egghead Eight. And that's a lot better than anything Penn State is going to be called for a long, long time.
First Published November 20, 2011 12:00 am