On Aug. 28, 2012, a group of past chairs of the Penn State Faculty Senate issued a statement regarding the Freeh Report, the NCAA's harsh sanctions against Penn State, and how both the report and sanctions would impact the university going forward.
The statement from the faculty strongly defended the university and alleged that the NCAA acted improperly with its punishments against Penn State. The statement also questioned the validity of the Freeh Report.
The full statement from the faculty group read as follows:
As the world now knows, horrible crimes against vulnerable young boys were committed by a prominent member of the Penn State community. We, an ad hoc group of past chairs of the University Faculty Senate, share the widespread concern for the victims, are outraged and deeply saddened that this happened in our community, and support efforts to redress the wrongs and remedy their root causes. We also are concerned that the broader circumstances around the Sandusky crimes have become distorted in the current hyperbolic media environment to the detriment of the entire Penn State community.
Much of this has been fueled by the investigation of the Freeh Group and their report. Their investigation appears to have been reasonably thorough, given that it could not subpoena testimony. However, 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. These assertions, from the middle of page four of the Consent Decree, are the sole predicate for the NCAA sanctions, yet the NCAA cites no document that proves their truth, as the Freeh Report certainly does not do so.
Not only are these assertions about the Penn State culture unproven, but we declare them to be false. 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. The damaging rhetoric used by the NCAA to justify its sanctions has unjustly injured the academic reputation, financial health, and general well‐being of the University.
These outcomes are in contradiction to the stated ideals of the NCAA, ideals for which Penn State has been an exemplar among universities. Further, in reaching beyond its authority of regulating intercollegiate athletics and by sanctioning Penn State for non‐athletic matters, the NCAA has significantly eroded Penn State's institutional autonomy and established a dangerous precedent. The NCAA Consent Decree "requires" the University to adopt all of the recommendations in the Freeh Report, recommendations with implications that permeate almost all aspects of institutional activity. Under normal circumstances, the merits of the report's recommendations would have been carefully evaluated by the Administration, the Board, and the Faculty Senate and adopted or ignored as appropriate. Instead, what were suggested by the Freeh Group as possible corrective actions now are required by the NCAA.
In our view, many of these seem to make good sense, but others misjudge the nature of academic institutions and may well be counterproductive. In any event, policy changes such as these should be made with careful deliberation and not by precipitous and heavy‐handed fiat. We do not dismiss the need to examine and improve the way Penn State operates. The shock of the crimes that occurred here clearly underlines the need for greater vigilance and stronger policies. However, the sweeping and unsupported generalizations by the Freeh Group and the NCAA do not provide a satisfactory basis for productive change. The NCAA has departed from its own procedures in administering these sanctions, which are unprecedented in their rationale and severity. The sanctions are deeply unjust to the University and unfair to its students, and they should be regretted by all who care about the integrity of academic sports programs for which the NCAA is supposed to be the guardian.