I was enormously saddened to see that Penn State students rioted after the school, correctly, relieved head coach Joe Paterno and the University’s president of their jobs.
Penn State is at the center of a scandal that has given the school a terrible black eye. The University can’t change the past, but it can try to avoid compounding the problem. When students riot because a football coach, no matter how legendary, was sacked as part of a general housecleaning in the wake of a dreadful child sex-abuse scandal, they display a gross lack of sensitivity to the core issues and to the alleged victims of the abuse — a lack of sensitivity that some might conclude contributed to the environment that allowed the scandalous behavior to occur, and endure, in the first place.
Penn State is a fine school, but it needs to take a close look at itself as an institution. Firing the school’s president and football coach is only a first step. What Penn State needs to determine is whether there are broader cultural forces at work, and if so how to best deal with those forces. Nationwide news coverage of chaotic scenes of students rioting and turning over a TV station news van isn’t a good start in the effort to repair the school’s reputation, and its soul.