Making Sense of “No”
“Did the national media bully the university to make a decision? If so, was it a rash decision?”
That was the response I received from Rodney Erickson. Unlike the majority of questions and answers given at last night’s forum, it was undoubtedly succinct. “No” was also the statement that upset me the most. In the seconds after his answer, I felt miffed. “Really? You don’t care to elaborate on that. Not even a ‘No, because…’” I attended the town hall so that I could hear the administration’s responses to student concerns. However, I felt that this response lacked details and left me where I was before I asked the question. Before I could request an explanation, a moderator had moved on to another audience member.
Later, my annoyance with the panel turned into anger. When a freshman asked about the firing of Joe Paterno, Dr. Erickson beat around the bush and offered the same response as the Board of Trustees: We must look forward. Yes, we must plan for the years ahead, but shouldn’t we have something concrete on which to build our journey? How can we move forward if our foundation does not rest on solid ground?
As the administrators answered more questions about Paterno, the more infuriated I became with their responses. Erickson later acknowledged that “there are a wide range of opinions across the country,” and the university will experience ups and downs as a result. So apparently, the opinions of Americans nationwide do affect the decisions of the Trustees and administrators. Furthermore, Henry Foley, the Dean of the Graduate School, stated that the Trustees were under pressure to make a decision. “Under pressure from whom?” I must ask. If not the national media, then what prompted the Board of Trustees to act in a manner that was in violation of state law?
A half-hour after the conference ended, my tempers died down and I was able think with a cool head. First, I analyzed the wording of my inquiries. I realized that I might have asked a loaded question when I used the term “bully.” The president did not want to say that the university was bullied, only to have someone retort that children were sexually abused. I defend using the phrase “rash decision,” because last night was not the first time that it was used during the scandal. Dr. Jack Selzer, the head of the Paterno Fellows Program, had written that there are no intentions to change the name of the program because, “Rash decisions often turn into bad decisions. We, our alums, and students need to learn a lot more about what what happened.”
Second, I understood that Dr. Erickson could not offer any other response without receiving criticism from the media. Had Dr. Erickson said “yes” or offered a convoluted response like most of his answers, pundits across the United States would have been merciless against him and the university. Media personalities would say the Penn State administration “simply doesn’t get it” and that we need a change in leadership.
Dr. Erickson, thank you for your response of “no.” It shielded us from a level of media scrutiny like the one that descended upon State College last month. However, as long as the administration continues to deflect answers, or provides responses that will satisfy the media, I do not believe that you are committed to a new era of transparency.