In a letter and video sent in the middle of the night, President Barron and the rest of Penn State’s leadership asked the Penn State community to act with civility when discussing differences of opinion in issues related to the university’s handling of the Sandusky scandal.
“There are honest disagreements on fundamental issues related to whether our institution acted appropriately, how our institution handled a crisis, and whether the sanctions that resulted are appropriate,” Barron writes. “Reasonable people can be found on all sides of these issues…The question is whether a lack of civility in discussing these issues will create a deeper divide, one that alters the remarkable bond that exists between all those who are a part of the Penn State community.”
It is widely believed that integrity monitor George Mitchell’s second annual report to the NCAA on Penn State’s compliance will be released today, which many expect to affect Penn State’s football sanctions and could explain the letter’s timing. Mitchell’s first report was released a year ago tomorrow and resulted in the softening of the scholarship reductions.
Barron praises honest discourse on the many issues that stemmed from the Sandusky scandal, but decries the lack of civility shown by parts of the Penn State community in their discussions. For instance, the Board of Trustees displayed great disunity at an August meeting during which discussion on ending compliance with the NCAA’s consent decree caused incivility, but Barron doesn’t do any direct finger-pointing in his letter.
This letter could have been sent for a litany of reasons, and its timing with the Mitchell Report could be totally coincidental. If not, one could surmise Old Main is preempting either a positive or negative Mitchell Report depending on your interpretation, so I’ll stop speculating. Whatever the case, today will be interesting.
Here’s the letter in full, excluding the signatures from all of Penn State’s leadership, followed by Barron’s video:
A Message From The Leadership At Penn State
September 5, 2014
For decades, few universities could match the considerate manner in which Penn Staters treated both friend and opponent. In particular, to see someone wearing a Penn State T-shirt while traveling was a guarantee of a common bond and warm conversation no matter how distant the location. Today, that rather remarkable bond is under stress.
Unfortunately, there are many examples in every university where differences of opinion lead to incivility. For Penn State, one issue is of particular concern. There are honest disagreements on fundamental issues related to whether our institution acted appropriately, how our institution handled a crisis, and whether the sanctions that resulted are appropriate. Reasonable people can be found on all sides of these issues. The reasons for this disagreement are clear. Much is still left to interpretation and the issues have considerable emotional significance to us all. We are likely never to have the full story. We are equally likely never to reach consensus.
The question is whether a lack of civility in discussing these issues will create a deeper divide, one that alters the remarkable bond that exists between all those who are a part of the Penn State community. Consider just a few examples that you may have also come across – the alumnus who says he lost his best friend over his opinion of the Freeh report; the alumni trustee candidate that faced dozens of unkind comments; the long time donor of time and treasure who no longer feels welcome.
Debate and disagreement are critical constructs in the role of universities in testing ideas and promoting progress on complex issues. But, the leaders of your University at every level, from the administration, faculty, staff and students, are unanimous in deploring the erosion of civility associated with our discourse. Reasonable people disagree, but we can disagree without sacrificing respect. The First Amendment guarantees our right to speak as we wish, but we are stronger if we can argue and debate without degrading others.
Today, civility is an issue that arises in many areas of campus debate. Some may argue that the lack of civility is a national issue, promoted by a growing community involved in posting anonymous comments on blogs or by acrimonious national politics. We cannot afford to follow their lead, not if we are to serve our students as role models, not if we expect to continue to attract the outstanding volunteers who serve our University in so many ways, and not if we wish to have Penn Staters take our University to new levels of excellence.
Respect is a core value at Penn State University. We ask you to consciously choose civility and to support those whose words and actions serve to promote respectful disagreement and thereby strengthen our community.