Thursday, August 30, 2012

Obsevations 8.30

With Saturday's game a new era of Penn State football begins, I'm talking about the post Paterno era not the WiFi at Beaver Stadium one. With other things going on, and in an attempt to put the scandal behind me somewhat, I haven't mentioned it much lately. What I am sharing here seemed a good reason to break that silence. Two days ago a group of past Chairs of the Penn State Faculty Senate released a statement concerning the NCAA and its "sweeping assertion that a culture permeating every level of the Penn State community places the football program "in higher esteem than the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency."

For what it's worth some highlights and a link to the complete statement with its 28 signatories.

".... as a document in which evidence, facts, and logical argument are marshaled to support conclusions and recommendations, the Freeh Report fails badly. On a foundation of scant evidence, the report adds layers of conjecture and supposition to create a portrait of fault, complicity, and malfeasance that could well be at odds with the truth. We make no judgment of the culpability of those individuals directly surrounding the Sandusky crimes. We lack sufficient knowledge to do so, and we are content to wait until guilt or innocence is adjudicated by the courts. But as scientists and scholars, we can say with conviction that the Freeh Report fails on its own merits as the indictment of the University that some have taken it to be. Evidence that would compel such an indictment is simply not there.

More central to our concerns are the recent sanctions levied against Penn State by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and, more importantly, the rationale for those actions and their negative impact on the academic well-being of the University. The NCAA did not conduct its own investigation of the Penn State situation, but rather drew its conclusions from the findings of the Freeh Report. The NCAA Consent Decree, which substantially embellishes the initial Freeh findings in both tone and substance, claimed no standard of proof for its conclusions but nonetheless required Penn State to accept the Freeh Group’s assertions as fact. The NCAA actions were not predicated on any rulebook violations by members of the football team, the crimes committed by a former assistant coach, or even the alleged concealment of those crimes by University officials. Rather, the NCAA based its actions on the  sweeping assertion that a culture permeating every level of the Penn State community places  the football program “in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency.” The NCAA further alleges that “the culture exhibited at Penn State is an extraordinary affront to the values all members of the Association have pledged to uphold and calls for extraordinary action,” and it states that the sanctions are intended to change this culture.

As faculty members with a cumulative tenure at Penn State in the hundreds of years, and as former Faculty Senate chairs with intimate knowledge of the University stretching back for decades, these assertions do not describe the culture with which we are so very familiar. None of us has ever been pressured or even asked to change a grade for an athlete, nor have we heard of any cases where that has occurred. We know that there are no phantom courses or bogus majors for athletes at Penn State. Some of us have privately witnessed swift and unyielding administrative actions against small transgressions, actions taken expressly to preserve academic and institutional integrity. We have performed our duties secure in the knowledge that academic funds do not subsidize the athletic program. We have been proud of the excellent academic record of our student-athletes, and of the fact that Penn State has never before had a major NCAA sanction. And we have taken pride in an institutional culture that values honesty, decency, integrity, and fairness.

It is disturbing in the extreme to have that culture’s very existence denied by the NCAA. The NCAA has used its assertion of collective guilt to justify its collective punishment of the entire University community, almost all of whom had absolutely no involvement in or knowledge of the underlying crimes or the administration’s allegedly insufficient response."

Complete statement.

Also this is a good column by Walter Uhler who graduated from Penn State in 1976 with an MPA in Russian Studies. It's a little eye opening about being both a scholar and a football fan.

Observations on the 2012 Election 8.30

I don't even know how to begin to describe the final hour of last night's Republican convention. It began with a speech by Condoleezza Rice who honestly did a very good job of speaking to all Americans whether or not they agree with her. She was followed by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez who seemed to channel both Steve Martin and Clint Eastwood with her 'I was born a poor girl with a .357 magnum in my hand' speech. The night ended with an admittedly very good but totally scary performance by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Condoleezza Rice gave a brilliant speech and what a friend said later is very true, to bad she isn't one of ours. After the speech one of the commentators said that if Pete Wilson had appointed Rice to the Senate seat from California, which he vacated to become Governor of the state, Rice and not Willard might be accepting the nomination for President tonight. Instead Wilson appointed John Seymour who was defeated by Diane Feinstein two years later. Her best; "On a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham. The segregated city of the south where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants, but they have convinced that even if she cannot have it hamburger at Woolworths, she can be the president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state."

Paul Ryan is something different entirely. He also harkens back to a dark time of the American soul. He is good, very good, but also a classic demagogue in the style of Huey Long or George Wallace. I'm in no way comparing Ryan to Hitler but looking at the faces in the audience during his speech I was reminded of the films of Hitler's early speeches at Nuremberg. Ryan is that scary good. When he said "sometimes, even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government," my remote literally hit the wall yet I couldn't stop watching.

After two nights of very little actual ideas I come away with two predominate thoughts about the Republican Party. Noblesse oblige, a French term which implies that people of noble birth, or wealthy in our case, are obligated by that birth to be honorable and generous. The Repubes think they are being just that but all one most do is look at the smug face of Paul Ryan to realize they are actually being the polar opposite. That fact plays along with my second term which is manifest destiny. For the most part the speakers and their audience honestly believe all the rhetoric. They believe the country is in ruins, that Obama is the devil incarnate, and most of all they believe they are right and destined to save this country from itself while leading it into a second American 'century of greatness.'

As I said, scary good. More later.