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Page 268: Deliberating Penn State after the Freeh Report

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Deliberation Guidelines

Topics for Discussion

Deliberation Outcomes


On July 12, 2012, an independent investigative group led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh held a press conferencesummarizing the conclusions reached by a nine-month analysis of “[t]he alleged failure of Pennsylvania State University personnel to respond to, and report to the appropriate authorities, the sexual abuse of children by former football coach Gerald A. Sandusky (‘Sandusky’)” and “[t]he circumstances under which such abuse could occur in University facilities or under the auspices of University programs for youth” (Freeh Report, 8).

Context of and Immediate Response to the Freeh Report

Completed at the behest of the University Board of Trustees, the 267-page Freeh Report provoked a variety of responses: another round of soul-searching for many in the Penn State community who lost their faith in University leaders, a feeling shared by prominent sportswriter Rick Reilly, who apologized for the role he played in helping to craftwhat he called the “hagiography” of former football coach Joe Paterno; further resolve on the part of students and alumni to rectify the damage done to children’s lives and re-unite a divided community, epitomized in the now-annual “Blue Out” football game and the slogans “Restore the Roar” and “We Still Are”; and even outrage by a segment of the population that believed the Freeh Report suffers from a lack of credibility and was designed to appease an outside, mainstream media audience clamoring for penance and guilt, perhaps exemplified by “The Framing of Joe Paterno,” a website that aggregates critique of the Freeh Report and the two most notable consequences of the Freeh Report’s release: the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State University and President Rodney Erickson’s decision to remove the statue of Joe Paterno from outside Beaver Stadium.

Deliberating the Touchstones

At Penn State’s Center for Democratic Deliberation, we believe that the best responses to the University’s state of affairs are both deliberative and rhetorical: arrived at only after careful reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of many possible alternatives; fueled by discussion with those from a variety of perspectives on the complex and multi-faceted issues the University faces; and composed with a purposeful intention to persuade some designated audience(s). Last November, the CDD produced “Deliberation in the Midst of Crisis,” which emphasized a thematic approach to talking about the University’s culture and identity, the real and symbolic actions of leaders and stakeholders, and methods by which to assess and analyze the perspective and reputability of the mass of information and misinformation circulating in the media. Since that point, controversies have tended to land on certain identifiable touchstones (artifacts, customs, narrative accounts, and documents)—e.g., Freeh Report, the Paterno statue, the NCAA sanctions, “The Penn State Way,” the “We Are…” chant, Joe Posnanski’s biography Paterno. These touchstones can and should be profitably analyzed both as artifacts and as ideas.

We have organized this resource according to these emergent touchstones, providing a series of texts and discussion questions to help guide classroom deliberation.

We do not provide these resources with the intention of having students or instructors reach any pre-ordained conclusions about the Freeh Report, the removal of the Paterno statue, or the Penn State Way. Instead, we believe—first and foremost—that taking classroom time to discuss these issues is important for the development of students’ understanding of their own identities and affiliations as they matriculate at Penn State. Students are able to see changes that are being made by administrators at the university, and taking time to discuss these issues in the classroom allows students to begin envisioning ways in which they can reconsider and re-conceptualize their own roles as members of the university community. Moreover, instructors teaching General Writing and Speaking courses (English 15 and 30; CAS 100A; Rhetoric and Civic Life) can connect these topics to the teaching of key concepts such as audience awareness, rhetorical appeals, and effective communication.

Below are two sets of resources. First, we again provide a set of guidelines for deliberation in order to help facilitate productive discussion in the classroom. Second is a set of discussion topics, listed with accompanying links to supporting materials and a set of questions to go with those readings. We recommend that instructors read through the resource and decide for themselves which topics, texts, and questions will be the most effective if they decide to introduce these issues in their classrooms.

If you have questions or suggestions, please contact Dr. Debra Hawhee ( or Dr. Michael Hogan ( E-mail can also be sent to the Center for Democratic Deliberation at

Deliberation Guidelines

We offer a copy of these guidelines for use inside or outside of the classroom. These can be distributed to each member of the class/group, or displayed on a screen for all to see. Consider having participants read these aloud before the discussion begins.

PDF of The CDD Deliberation Guidelines

These guidelines are meant to help facilitate a discussion around a topic that might be emotional and possibly contentious. Consequently, there will be times when you do not agree with what is being said, and there might be times when you hear something that makes you frustrated, upset, or angry. These feelings may be hard to cope with, but they help us learn and grow, individually as well as together. These guidelines will help create a productive, open, and friendly environment in the midst of dealing with sensitive topics and differing opinions.

  1. Remember that we are each responsible for enabling a productive, respectful dialogue.
  2. To enable time for everyone to speak, strive to be concise with your thoughts.
  3. Respect all speakers "by being present" and listening actively.
  4. Treat others with the respect that you would like them to treat you with, regardless of your differences.
  5. Do not interrupt others. Let them finish their statements before your begin.
  6. When you hear an argument that you do not agree with, take a few seconds to write down your concerns and process the logic beneath the statement. Always try to understand what is being said before you respond.
  7. Ask questions of the speaker so that he or she can clarify statements made. Ask for clarification instead of making assumptions.
  8. When countering an idea, or making one initially, demonstrate that you are listening to what is being said by others. Try to validate other positions as you assert your own, which aids in dialogue, versus attack.
  9. Under no circumstances should an argument continue out of the classroom when someone does not want it to. Extending these conversations beyond this meeting can be productive, but we must agree to do so respectfully, ethically, and with attention to individuals' requests for confidentiality and discretion.
  10. Remember that exposing yourself to different perspectives helps you to evaluate your own beliefs more clearly and learn new information.
  11. Keep in mind that just because you do not agree with a person's statements, does not mean that you cannot get along with that person.
  12. Feel free to speak with me privately if you feel that the classroom environment has become hostile, biased, or intimidating. I will do my best to fix the problem.

Topics for Discussion

The Freeh Report

Rather than teaching the entirety of The Freeh Report, we advise emphasizing particular sections in order to manage student reading load and focus class discussion. Although instructor interest may vary, in our experience, students have been most interested in the methodology and scope, executive summary, and timeline of events (PDF pp. 1-30) and the Report’s recommendations section (PDF pp. 127-144).

The link to a downloadable PDF copy of The Freeh Report, in addition to the July 12, 2012, press conference is posted below. Errata sheets are also available for the written report and press conference: “The Freeh Report on PSU”

Penn State issued a statement on July 12, 2012, the same day the report was released: “Penn State issues statement on Freeh Report”

Graham Spanier wrote a letter to the Penn State Board of Trustees on July 23, 2012, criticizing the report and its representation of his actions: Graham Spanier, letter to the Board of Trustees

On August 22, 2012, Timothy K. Lewis, Graham Spanier’s lawyer, held a press conference to read his response to the Freeh Report findings on Spanier’s behalf: Timothy K. Lewis, “Press Conference Remarks on Behalf of Dr. Graham B. Spanier”

Jeffrey Toobin published an interview with Graham Spanier in The New Yorker the same day that Spanier’s lawyers released their remarks. In the interview, Spanier responds to many of the Freeh Report findings: Jeffrey Toobin, “Former Penn State President Graham Spanier Speaks”

Listed below are two nearly opposing reactions to the Freeh Report. First, a Reuters report praises the general credibility of the document, followed by the critique of contrarian independent journalist John Ziegler, perhaps the most widely circulated criticism to date:

Reuters, “Penn State investigator Freeh wins praise for tough report”

John Ziegler, “Contrary to What You Have Heard, The Freeh Report has Big Problems”

Penn State graduate Eileen Morgan independently published an analysis of the Freeh Report in which she combines long sections of the report with her responses, questioning the methodology and use of specific evidence. The piece is long, but it models analysis in an interesting way and could help students to question the report as a text: Eileen Morgan, “The Real Facts about Joe Paterno and PSU: Critical Analysis of the Freeh Report on the Jerry Sandusky Scandal”

Penn State undergraduate Juliana Viau also published a response on the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies blog about the unexpected consequences of The Freeh Report on her identity as a Paterno Fellow: Juliana Viau, “What the Freeh Report Means for One Paterno Fellow”

One of the major themes emerging from The Freeh Report relates to the credibility of the document and its lead author, former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Here are some sources on Freeh:

Wikipedia, “Louis Freeh” 

Devlin Barrett, “Louis Freeh, Ex-FBI Chief, Taps Old Skills in New Job”
 (note: the link is provided through The Freeh Group website because the content is subscriber-only when accessed through WSJ)

Michael Kelley, “Penn State Investigator Louis Freeh Accused of Heading a Massive Cover-Up As Director of the FBI” 

Questions related to the Freeh Report:

  • When choosing to attend or work for Penn State, you may have created a list of reasons or a set of pros and cons that helped you make the decision. Does reading the opening section of The Freeh Report, especially the executive summary and timeline, alter those sentiments or affiliations in any way?
  • What language is frequently used to describe Louis Freeh’s tenure as FBI Director? What language is frequently used to describe his oversight of the Penn State investigation? Does Louis Freeh’s previous work experience affect the credibility of The Freeh Report?
  • One of the ways in which rhetorical analysis can be conducted is by focusing on the organization of textual arguments. Are there any interesting or unusual choices in terms of the arrangement of the chapters of the document, or in the breadth and coverage of these chapters? What is necessary and helpful information? When is it ordered appropriately? Is anything unnecessary or omitted? What organizational changes might improve the document?
  • The Freeh Report notes at the beginning of the ‘Findings’ section of its ‘Executive Summary’ its “most saddening finding”:

    Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University – President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno – failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their well-being, especially for not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001. (14)

    What evidence is being used to support these findings? If you disagree with these assessments, what types of evidence do you dispute or find insufficient, and why? If you disagree, think hypothetically: What types of evidence would be sufficient to confirm The Freeh Report’s findings?
  • The recommendations section of The Free Report is often maddening, from students’ perspective, because it focuses almost entirely on administrative matters. This can be read as implying all cultural changes need to occur from the “top down,” rather than from the “bottom up.” Are there ways in which students have begun or can continue to instill cultural change at the university in keeping with The Freeh Report’s recommendations? Or are The Freeh Report’s recommendations inadequate or inappropriate to the necessary student response?
  • How has the university reacted to the report and its findings and recommendations? Has the administrative response admitted culpability? Has the response accepted culpability? What is the difference between admitting and accepting blame or responsibility?
  • How have Dr. Spanier and his lawyer, Timothy K. Lewis, responded to the report? How do they frame their criticisms of the report’s findings? How do they establish their own credibility as they argue? What types of evidence do they present in contrast to the Freeh Report? What kind of language does Spanier use to talk about himself? About others involved in the scandal? What kind of language does Lewis use to talk about Spanier?
  • The writer David Foster Wallace profiled Ziegler in a 2005 article titled “Host”. He concluded, on Ziegler’s tenure as a large-market talk-radio host in Los Angeles, that

    [t]he fact of the matter is that it is not John Ziegler's job to be responsible, or nuanced, or to think about whether his on-air comments are productive or dangerous, or cogent, or even defensible. […] [H]e has exactly one on-air job, and that is to be stimulating.

    What skills does a talk-radio host need in order to be “stimulating”? Do these skills translate well into effective evidence-based written analysis? After perusing Ziegler’s website to discover more of his body of work, does he have the credibility—based on previous qualifications or his analysis of The Freeh Report—to be considered an “expert” on the subject? What skills are required to interpret the document effectively?
  • Neither the Reuters news brief nor the Ziegler editorial quote directly from The Freeh Report. Additionally, The Freeh Report itself does not follow the same methodological and citation strategies that we typically practice in the college classroom (e.g., MLA or APA style). How would different citation and sourcing methods (for example, expert conclusions in the Reuters article focusing on the strength and weaknesses of certain sections of the document, or The Freeh Report citing interviewees and individuals by name, instead of referencing “a temporary University janitor” [Freeh Report, p. 65] or “some Trustees” [see esp. Freeh Report, pp. 86-88], change how we read The Freeh Report? How would it change those individuals’ ability or willingness to provide interviews? Perhaps more importantly, how would it affect their lives? Are you satisfied with The Freeh Report’s assurance that “the findings contained in this report represent a fair, objective, and comprehensive analysis of facts” (12)?
  • The Freeh Report is a text, but for many audiences, it also represents an idea. By text, we mean to indicate that The Freeh Report as a document is written in such a way that it produces both logical and highly charged emotional responses out of its audiences. By idea, we mean that The Freeh Report entered public discourse even before people had read the document because it symbolized a wide range of abstract values, including ‘closure,’ ‘cover-up,’ ‘accountability,’ ‘blame,’ and ‘moving on.’ For what audience(s) was The Freeh Report written? For what purpose(s) was The Freeh Report written, according to its authors—and according to its audiences? What other ideas or values does The Freeh Report symbolize, and for which audiences? Should The Freeh Report be read primarily as a text or as an idea? Does your idea of what The Freeh Report represents change after reading it? Perhaps even more importantly, what will The Freeh Report mean to Penn State in the months and years and decades ahead? What should it symbolize?

The "Penn State Way"

The following article, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, outlines the organizational and cultural recommendations that the Freeh Report makes for changes at the university. We recommend referring students back to the Freeh Report itself whenever possible, but this piece could help to situate a discussion of the “Penn State Way” in terms of the language of the report.

Beth Mole, “Freeh Report Calls for Overhaul of 'the Penn State Way’”

The following articles were posted in Penn State’s Center for Democratic Deliberation blog. We recommend that you ask your students to read the original blog posts, as well as the comments that follow. The comments demonstrate responsible deliberation and also raise a number of questions and important points that could contribute to discussion.

Debra Hawhee, “Redirecting the Penn State Way”

Christopher Reed, “We are…NOT”

This article, featuring the comments of Penn State alum Patterson Weaver, was posted in the news blog: “Penn State alum: ‘We are more than this tragedy’”


The following list, published in Onward State, was composed by staff writers: 40 Reasons to Still be a Proud Penn Stater

Questions related to the “Penn State Way”:

  • Hawhee writes that “Penn State is of course like any other institution in that it cultivates its own habits and practices.” Is Penn State just like “any other institution”? Perhaps of interest in this discussion of institutional structures is a Huffington post editorial by Matt Jordan, an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Penn State. Jordan notes that

    [t]he Knight Commission revealed that half of all top-tier athletic programs rely on at least $9 million in institutional funding to balance their budgets and in many cases fundraising for athletics actually competes with overall university fundraising.

    Based on her blog post, do you think Hawhee believes the Sandusky scandal could have happened at “any other institution”?  How does she argue that the “Penn State Way” crosses a line, becoming a destructive rather than productive force? Can a set of institutional habits and practices be productive?
  • Hawhee’s post focuses on her experience with the “Penn State Way” as a faculty member, and an anonymous commenter argues that the most senior leaders at the university will have to be the ones to change this set of cultural norms. How do you interpret the phrase “Penn State Way”? What do you think the idea has to do with your role in the university community? What institutional habits and practices do you follow? For what reasons? To what ends? Do you have any opportunity to change the Penn State Way?
  • Reed writes that the “We Are…” chant makes clear that “the fundamental value of this institution is conformity to the group.” For Reed, this sense of belonging inherently devalues difference. How do you view the chant? If you participate in the chant, why, and what do you imagine the purpose to be? What argument do you think it makes? If you were to follow Reed’s suggestion and fill in your own ending to “We are...,” how would you finish the chant?
  • Based on your experiences, what examples can you cite of moments when difference or dissent was respected on campus? Where do you see other opportunities for promoting difference? Can you identify any ways in which your actions can communicate that dissent is welcome and difference is valued?
  • In an attempt to redefine the role of the Penn State community in the wake of the scandal, how does Patterson characterize students and alumni? What types of evidence does he use to make that argument? How does Patterson use the “We are…” chant in framing that evidence?
  • Which aspects of the Penn State student experience does the Onward State list focus on?  What does that communicate about what the author values most about this university? How, then, can you articulate the author’s definition of pride, in general, and Penn State pride, specifically? Is pride important or necessary? Why? How does a sense of pride affect the experience of individuals within a larger community? What does the author imply that this community needs pride to accomplish?
  • The list focuses on reasons to still have pride in this university. Whether or not you were on campus during the months that we learned the details of the Sandusky case and the Freeh Report, do you see any indication that this specific concept of pride has changed at all since the fall of 2011? Have the motivations behind it shifted?
  • How do we experience Penn State pride? What expressions of pride can we see among friends and family, on campus, around town, or online? Examples range widely, from “We are…pissed off” t-shirts to the university’s Faces of Penn State campaign. Are those displays making a larger argument about the nature of this community or the individuals who comprise it? What cultural values are inherently being argued for, by way of these expressions? How do different individuals or groups present their arguments? Are some more effective than others?

The Question of Joe Paterno's Legacy

On Sunday, July 22, 2012, President Rodney Erickson released a statement on the removal of the statue of Joe Paterno from outside Beaver Stadium:

Statement by Penn State President Rodney Erickson related to Joe Paterno statue

Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor at The Atlantic, published a column in The New York Times before the Paterno statue was removed, making a case for leaving the statue in place in an attempt to remind the university community about the issue of child abuse. After the statue was taken down, he published a brief response on The Atlantic website:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Leave the Statue, to Remember”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Paterno Statue Comes Down”

An opinion piece published in Onward State:

Kevin Horne, “Joe Paterno’s Legacy and Moving Forward”

Questions related to Joe Paterno’s legacy:

  • What kind of argument does a statue make about the person that it represents? In deciding to remove the statue, what did the Penn State administration argue about Joe Paterno’s legacy? What kind of argument did they make about the cultural currency of the statue, first of all, and Paterno’s legacy, beyond that? Conversely, what kind of argument does naming a building after someone make about that individual? How does the administration justify leaving Paterno’s name on the library, while taking down the statue? Thinking beyond whether or not you agree or disagree with either of these decisions, what do these actions tell you about the way the administration understands and has chosen to represent Paterno’s legacy?
  • Coates writes that

    [r]emoving the Paterno statue allows Happy Valley to forget its own compliance in a national crime, to expunge its own culpability in its ruthless pursuit of glory. The statue should remain, and beneath it there should be a full explanation of Sandusky’s crimes, Paterno’s role and some warning to all of us who would turn a pastime into a god and elect a mortal man as its avatar.

    The university’s administrators made the decision to take the statue down and Coates revised his position. We recommend that instructors focus on issues that students have yet to resolve and do not turn to this piece in an attempt to rehash decisions that have been settled upon. However, Coates’ argument leads to a larger and still productive question: what efforts should the university make to remember the crimes of Jerry Sandusky and the mistakes of university employees who were involved in the case? Is this kind of remembering, this issue of public historiography (as Coates puts it), important? Why and how should we remember what happened on our campus?
  • Horne grapples with the issue of Joe Paterno’s legacy, a question with which many members of the Penn State community are struggling. He urges his readers to weigh the facts and approach the question sensibly; he writes, “It’s imperative that Penn Staters find a middle ground when trying to explain Paterno’s legacy.” Our question here is not necessarily how will you choose to regard Paterno, but rather, when and why do Penn Staters have to explain his legacy? How does Paterno’s legacy matter to the school today, in the wake of the scandal? What role does his legacy play in the current characterization of the football program or the elements of our university culture that involve football? How, and in what contexts, is it necessary to remember Paterno? How do students see the idea or image of his legacy being used now? Is it being used responsibly? What kinds of arguments depend upon his legacy? What does Paterno’s legacy have to do with you, with your role in this community?

Joe Posnanski’s Paterno

Joe Posnanski’s biography of Joe Paterno, Paterno, was released on August 21, 2012 by Simon & Schuster.

The Amazon link to the book with its vital information:, Paterno

Posnanski published an article in USA Today on August 17, 2012, which anticipates reaction to Paterno and attempts to summarize the author’s feelings about his subject: Joe Posnanski, “Paterno offered a complex challenge”

In July 2012, The New York Times noted the book’s complicated publication schedule: Julie Bosman, “In Paterno, Bad Timing for a Book”

Early reviews of Paterno are also available from The New York Times and The Atlantic:

Dwight Garner, “The Flawed Hero of Penn State Sports”

Allen Barra, “Paterno: A Relentless, Failed Defense of Penn State’s Disgraced Coach”

Questions related to Joe Posnanski’s Paterno:

  • To what types of readers are biographies designed to appeal? What are the criteria that constitute a “good” biography, at least according to those readers? Based on Posnanski’s explanation of his challenges and early reviews of the book, has Posnanski likely achieved those criteria?
  • To what types of readers are book reviews designed to appeal? What are the criteria that constitute a “good” review? What key elements are similar in Garner’s and Barra’s reviews? In what ways are the reviews different? Should reviewers consider the difficulties and contingencies of Posnanski’s context, as elaborated in Bosman’s article?
  • Based on the evidence provided, should Posnanski and Simon & Schuster have released Paterno in its published form? What ethical, social, and financial forces did they consider as they made decisions throughout the publishing process, and which criteria appear to have been most heavily valued? If you were given the book as a gift, how would you interpret the message? Would you read the biography? Would you display it on your bookshelf?

NCAA Sanctions and the Future of Penn State Football

On July 23, 2012, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced sanctions imposed on Penn State:

NCAA President Mark Emmert Announces Penn State Sanctions

The following are a number of statements from individuals involved in Penn State athletics, including players, coaches, and administrators:

PSU coach O’Brien: Team will stay together

Statement From Penn State Student-Athletes

Statements from acting athletic director, head football coach

Varsity coaches issue statements on NCAA penalties

The articles listed below offer a range of opinions about the NCAA sanctions. Sophia A. McClennen’s post from the Penn State Center for Democratic Deliberation blog questions the appropriateness of the penalties. Dave Zirin’s article from The Nation comes down hard on the sanctions and the role of the NCAA. Roxanne Jones, a Penn State alum, supports the sanctions in a opinion piece.

Sophia A. McClennen, “Does the Sanction Fit the Crime?”

Dave Zirin, “Why the NCAA’s Sanctions on Penn State Are Just Dead Wrong”

Roxanne Jones, “Penn State alum: We deserved NCAA penalty”l

Questions related to the NCAA sanctions:

  • How does Emmert situate his announcement of the sanctions? How does he argue for the necessity of each of the major sanctions and the announcement that the NCAA holds the right to impose further sanctions in the future?  What kind of language does he use to explain their rationale? What underlying warrants or cultural values do the sanctions uphold?
  • What kinds of evidence did Emmert and the NCAA use to make this decision? How did they use information from the Freeh Report? Did they use that information critically and responsibly? How does their use of that information give us insight into the power that the Freeh Report holds as a text and as an idea?
  • The sanctions have been accepted by the university and arguing to change them is a likely unproductive venture at this moment. However, do the sanctions solve the issues that they set out to? What, if anything, has been left out? Are there problems that the sanctions leave unresolved? What else needs to be done? What can you, as a member of this community, do to make those changes? Do you play any part in making decisions about the role of athletics at Penn State University in the future?
  • What kinds of arguments are current athletes and coaches making about their roles and responsibilities after the NCAA sanctions? Do these sanctions and penalties change the way that the Penn State community regards these individuals? What kinds of pressures are being placed upon these individuals? By themselves? By the community? By the media? How have their responses differed from the responses of other individuals at Penn State?
  • McClennen defines the difference between retributive and restorative justice. Do you agree that the sanctions function as a measure of retributive justice? Is retributive justice an appropriate response in this case? How can a focus on restorative justice change the conversation, as McClennen seems to suggest it might? What might restorative justice look like?


Deliberation Outcomes

On October 25, 2012, The New York Times published a piece on Jonathan Marks' Fall 2012 undergraduate course on Ethical Leadership, "Penn State Students Explore Sandusky Abuse Scandal." Marks, an Associate Professor of Bioethics, Humanities, and Law, integrated aspects of the Sandusky case, the removal of the Paterno statue, and the responsibilities and priorities of community stakeholders into discussions of ethical frameworks and moral heuristics.