Spanier

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, center, walks with his attorney Sam Silver, center left, from the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, March 24. Spanier was convicted of one charge of child endangerment for failing to report to police or child welfare authorities that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had been seen sexually assaulting a child in a university locker room shower in 2001.

THE ISSUE

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier was convicted of one count of child endangerment March 24 for his failure to report to police or child welfare officials that Jerry Sandusky had been seen in 2001 sexually assaulting a boy in a football locker room shower. In an email to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Penn State trustee Albert Lord expressed his anger over the verdict: “Running out of sympathy for 35 yr old, so-called victims with 7 digit net worth. Do not understand why they were so prominent in trial.” Spanier’s trial had been preceded by the guilty pleas of former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz on one count each of child endangerment. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually assaulting 10 boys. Penn State has paid nearly $100 million in settlements to Sandusky’s victims.

The best response to Lord’s appalling statement came from a Penn State alumnus named Ethan Kirby, who tweeted that he wouldn’t donate any money to Penn State until Lord was off the board of trustees.

Kirby concluded simply: “May no act of ours (bring) shame.”

That line comes from Penn State’s alma mater. It reads more fully: “May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.”

Ira Lubert, the chairman of Penn State’s board of trustees, said in a statement to The Chronicle of Higher Education that Lord’s comments “do not represent the opinions of the board or the university.”

Lord’s comments may be the personal ramblings of an out-of-touch former Sallie Mae CEO who made a fortune in the student loan business, but they still tarnish the board. And everyone associated with Penn State.

The university’s reputation cratered after it became known that Spanier and other Penn State leaders — including the late Joe Paterno — failed to halt Sandusky’s abuses when they had the chance.

Lord’s statement threatened to deepen the crater.

And his non-apology apology, reported Monday by the Daily Collegian, didn’t help.

He said his remark had been “made in anger,” and was “not intended for the record.” (Again, he made it via email; he didn’t simply blurt it out.)

He acknowledged that it was “too flippant and caustic,” and was directed specifically at “so-called victims,” and “not intended to offend real victims.”

In his view, Spanier’s trial had focused almost entirely “on the horrors undergone by those children,” and not on whether Spanier truly had been told “anything sinister” about Sandusky.

Lord said that from the Spanier verdict “emerged a ‘new’ Penn State — a Penn State determined to consign four honest and honorable men to its politically correct trash heap.”

Where even to begin?

For beginners, it’s not Lord’s job to judge who Sandusky’s “real victims” are.

And prosecutors in the Spanier trial were right to focus on Sandusky’s victims. An investigator told the jurors that four of the eight young men who testified during Sandusky’s trial were abused after the 2001 incident reported to Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier. Might they have been spared had those four “honest and honorable men” alerted police and child welfare authorities?

Lord’s comments betray an alarming sort of “child protection fatigue” that Cathleen Palm has detected among other people in power, as Pennsylvania continues to wrestle with issues such as statutes of limitation reform.

Palm, the founder of the Center for Children’s Justice, says there’s often sympathy for victims of child sexual abuse until they seek to hold their abusers accountable. Then their stories are viewed through different lenses, she said.

Lord also seemed to suggest that compensation erases the pain of child sexual abuse.

Victims can go on to lead wonderful lives, Palm said, but it’s as if the abuse they suffered gets hardwired into their DNA — “it doesn’t ever really leave you.”

It takes empathy to understand that, though. Until Lord develops some, he should — for the glory of old State — keep his inglorious thoughts to himself.

And now, an upbeat note

Millions of Americans have made their voices heard — through town halls, protests, emails and phone calls — since the election of President Donald Trump and the swearing in of the 115th Congress.

But one local constituent who tried repeatedly to call the office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey — to no avail — should be commended for turning his frustration into something positive.

Lititz-area software developer Ryan Epp designed a web service —SnailMailCongress.com — to make it easier for constituents anywhere in the country to send their congressional representatives personalized letters in the mail.

Through a few easy steps, and a $1.28 fee per letter (a cost Epp hopes to bring down), constituents can type a message that Epp will format into a letter, print out, put in an envelope, stamp and mail within one business day.

The service is nonpartisan; Epp described it as open to everyone “from conservatives all the way to communists.”

“Snail mail” is generally considered an effective way to reach federal legislators, and Epp’s invention simplifies that, allowing citizens to feel like they have a real stake in our government.

“Anything that boosts civic engagement I think is great,” Epp told LNP. “The voter turnout is depressingly low so anything that makes it easier for people to get involved ... in the process is good.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker told LNP through a spokesman that he was “very well attuned to the opinions of my constituents, whether I hear from them via phone calls, emails, letters, or in the aisle at Costco. ... The more input I receive, the better I am able to arrive at a conclusion.”

So keep on writing those letters and making those phone calls. Our representatives in Washington, D.C., are listening. And reading.

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