Time to Step Back: The Future of Penn State

August 2, 2012

Brian C. Mitchell
Huffington Post

The future of an iconic American institution as an educational enterprise is hanging in the balance. In divining that future, certain admissions must be made.


Much has been¬†written lately about Penn State. The crimes committed are horrific and egregious, the administration was arrogant, insular and imperial, and some of the alumni are apologists. A beloved university that defines who they are and what they have become in life has humiliated others. There is no sufficient explanation for the crime, the way it was handled, or the impact that it will have on Penn State’s athletic reputation. The media feeding frenzy will undoubtedly continue as the case and its aftermath play out in the court of public opinion on the global stage. There is no escaping what will happen nor in many respects should there be. In short, it is what it is.

The reputation of Penn State, a once distinguished global university, sits at the center of the maelstrom. Certain admissions must be made. There must be an acknowledgment that there were victims who come first. Second, the once-storied football program has become an albatross around the neck of Penn State, at least for the moment. The NCAA has already placed the program into mid-term receivership. And finally, the reputation of the university has been badly sullied. There is no marketing and communications strategy that can restore what only time can fix. If this analysis is correct, then the game to watch over the long term is how Penn State repairs itself, focuses its energy, and banks its future on the quality of its academic programs.

Three steps must occur if Penn State is to become a better place.

  1. The first is that there must be pragmatic and incisive leaders in touch with constituencies of faculty, students, staff, parents, alumni, donors, friends, and — yes — detractors. The new leaders must intuitively “get it” and understand how to translate by language and deed the best intentions of the university to remain strong academically. They must separate the reputation of the university from that of its football debacle. These leaders must reemphasize and, where necessary, rebuild the reputation of Penn State as an academic powerhouse, economic engine, and innovative global thought partner…
  2. The second step is to reform the policies, procedures, protocol and membership of the university’s board of trustees… The board at Penn State must fix the technical problem in board structure but then turn quickly to the larger issue of who they are as a university community and who they wish to become…
  3. Finally, as Penn State moves forward, the new leadership will make mistakes and not everyone will be happy. That’s ok… The lines of communication must be opened wide, however, to support best practices in shared governance among the board, administration and faculty. Decisions must be informed, clear, crisp, decisive and broadly communicated…

While we watch with horror, anger and dismay the descriptions of the past and the finger pointing that has now begun — and remember that the victims come first — we can still root for Penn State, its future, and the continuation of its iconic role in American life – just less likely at Beaver Stadium.


To read the full article, you may view it here on Huffington Post.