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Joe Paterno gets fired, the end of innocence

When Paterno got fired from Penn State, it marked the true end of the innocence that defined much of Happy Valley’s day-to-day existence.

For Paterno to have to leave at the end of the season was a big blow to the whole university-football-alumni-money system.

For Paterno to be summarily fired, by phone and before the end of the season, indicates the depth of the failure and the cost of the coverup now dawning on Penn State’s board of directors.

Such a thing was unimaginable a week ago.

To make such a move is to sacrifice much short-term stability, long-standing tradition, and external confidence in PSU. But the trade-off is that eventually that outside confidence will return, because the board acted decisively and painfully.

Spanier’s firing is a whole other matter.

Spanier was not a fixture of PSU like Paterno had been, and he was not co-identified with the university. Paterno was Penn State, while Spanier was simply working at Penn State. Sure, Spanier was there a long time and he liked to present himself as being as much a fixture as Paterno, but he wasn’t one.

Firing a university president is a sad but important fact of academic life. While it is usually painful, most college presidents (and I have met or worked with at least a dozen in my career) are just as human as you and I, except that they all have gigantic egos for reasons that no one else outside of academia can understand. These folks are no more deserving of adulation than anyone else, and actually probably get fired a lot less than they deserve or  experience. My city’s garbage men perform a more necessary and appreciated service than any college president, so Spanier gets zero sad faces from me on account of his termination.

But Penn State, my shining city on the hill, that is still getting sad faces. And we still do not yet know what happened to get us all to this point. The Sandusky scandal probably goes deep.

Here is an indication of just how broad the scandal is:  A small independent news source in Israel actually wrote a report titled “Football Related Scandal Traumatizes the United States,” http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/149584#.Tr1TyPL4J6Q.

A quick search of other international news outlets indicates that PSU has a far bigger reputation than I would have ever guessed.  And I’m one to think that the world revolves around Penn State and State College.

Resolution had better be done correctly, or we will end up looking even worse.

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