By DAVID S. MACKEY
Boston Business Journal
The recently released Freeh Report reflects institutional and individual failures at Penn State throughout the organization. But one Penn State department escapes blame, at least for the failure to report Sandusky’s apparent rape of a child in a university locker room in February 2001: the university’s Office of General Counsel.
How so? Remarkably, at the time of the event in question, the university had no Office of General Counsel. In fact, it had “no centralized office, officer or committee to oversee institutional compliance with laws, regulations, policies and procedures.”
Penn State utterly marginalized compliance, and this remarkable organizational void undoubtedly played a significant role in enabling Sandusky’s predatory behavior.
On Friday, Feb. 9, 2001, a graduate assistant witnessed Sandusky assaulting a child in a Penn State locker room. By the following Monday it had been reported to head football coach Joe Paterno, to the athletic director and the senior vice president and, ultimately, to the university president.
Because Penn State didn’t have a general counsel, a university senior vice president called outside legal counsel. Outside counsel’s bill reflects a telephone call, some legal research, and then another telephone call: 2.9 hours in all. Outside counsel, based on advice from his own lawyer, has now refused to discuss the legal work that took place that Sunday.
But two things seem clear: There was no report to any law enforcement or child protection agency, and no record of any follow-up from outside counsel to Penn State to ensure the matter had been properly reported and that the child had been identified and treated.
In 2010 Penn State hired its first general counsel. She has since retired. But filling the general counsel slot didn’t change the culture.
In November 2011, once criminal charges were brought and the magnitude of the scandal had become apparent, one trustee suggested the university retain an outside group of professionals to conduct an investigation. In an astonishing email, which seems to reflect all too well management’s attitude toward its board’s oversight function, the general counsel wrote to the president: “If we do this, we will never get rid of this group in some shape or form. The board will then think that they should have such a group.”
The lesson, once again, for any corporate board and senior management team: Take compliance seriously, place responsibility for it close by (maybe in the office next door), and ensure that whoever is responsible has the ear of the board and the institutional prestige to be heard.
Myke’s comment: Again, it is the failure of the University Board of Trustees and the President, Vice President, and Athletic Director’s failure–not Joe Paterno’s (and/or the failure of a “football crazed” community!)