Last summer, I wrote a post about the Freeh Report, the investigative report commissioned by the Board of Trustees of Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The report painted a damning portrait of the leadership of the university and the steps those leaders took to conceal the child abuse perpetrated by Sandusky. I wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education when the report was released, outlining my disappointment with what had transpired.
This past week, word came out of Harrisburg of the indictment of former Penn State President Graham Spanier, on eight charges, including five felonies. The felony charges include obstruction of justice, perjury, and conspiracy, all related to Spanier’s part in the active covering up of Sandusky’s abuse of children that was allegedly reported to Spanier in 1998 and 2001.
It is important to remember that a grand jury indictment is the prosecution’s presentation of the evidence against a charged individual, and that Spanier will have an opportunity to present his defense in court. Nevertheless, the fact that Spanier was charged with these crimes is quite unusual, with few college presidents facing these kinds of criminal charges. There have been cases of presidents charged with financial crimes such as embezzlement, but even cases like those are few and far between. And Spanier was one of the nation’s most well-known presidents, so his indictment is all the more stunning.
Penn State is working hard to make amends and recover from the awful crimes that were committed by Jerry Sandusky, many of which took place on Penn State’s campus. It still faces many civil lawsuits from Sandusky’s victims, suits that may take many years to be resolved. The indictment of Spanier is just one more notable event in what has become an incredibly sad moment in the history of American higher education.