Open letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson
Dear President Erickson:
I am reliably informed that under the administration of former President Graham Spanier, it was Penn State policy not to resolve expeditiously Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaints raised by disabled students and other disabled members of the Penn State community.
Instead the University’s policy was to take a hard-line on ADA issues, not mediate their resolution, but litigate vigorously with the intention not necessarily of winning on the merits, but rather of exhausting the resources of disabled individuals by forcing them to drop their requests for relief because they could not afford lengthy legal representation.
It is my understanding that President Spanier’s policy was part of what Judge Freeh referred to in his report as the “football culture” at Penn State that he said requires extensive reexamination. I am told that President Spanier’s motivation was to reduce the presence of disabled individuals on campus so as not to dissuade parents of prospective football players from having their sons join the team.
I hereby request that you change Penn State’s policy so that legitimate ADA complaints can be resolved quickly, humanely, and at less cost to the University.
Joel Solkoff, advocate for disabled and elderly individuals, State College, PA
[Readers: Sadly, in July 2012 nothing has changed to guarantee the safety of disabled students regarding the hazards described in this photo essay written in 2006. See note at the end of the essay for more information on how this essay came to be written and why nothing has yet been done to secure the safety of disabled students.]
TO: Dr. Richard Devon
FROM: Joel Solkoff
SUBJECT: Unmarked dangers to wheelchair, scooter, power chair riders and the blind immediately to the left of the Leonard Building.
The Leonard Building is a useful landmark for people going from the White Course graduate dormitories in the direction of the Atherton Bridge and the crossings on Atherton Road that do not involve going across the bridge’s steep incline.
Photo 1: Front of the Leonard Building.
Looking at the map, if you go left and then across the Applied Sciences building, there appears to be a convenient right at the bridge at the Information and Technology building. Or, working one’s way through the White Course Parking lot, there eventually is a street cut, making it possible to cross Atherton on a level area.
My concern in September, 2006 was that after frequent crossings on the bridge, I would wind up on the sidewalk at Burrowes Road, going in the direction of College Avenue, only to find, on one of several occasions as many of three wet/drying pieces of sidewalk concrete and no place for a scooter to comfortably get around the often heavy traffic. So, I was driving my scooter around Leonard in the hope of finding a more convenient path to College Avenue.
Photo 2: It looks safe enough. No warning signs. Well-maintained concrete. Well-tended grass.
Photo 3: You can see my shadow as the scooter continues.
Photo 4: I am trying to give you a sense of how innocent this passage appears.
Photo 5. It suddenly is not innocent any more.
Photo 6. I don’t see these steps until my scooter nearly falls down them.
Power chairs and wheelchairs are similarly low to the ground. Indeed, the blind have no way of knowing about this likely danger.
Photo 7. A graduate student running up these stairs to go to classes passes me and watches me taking photographs.
“Can I help you?” she says. “Yes, take my picture.” She does, rushing back up the stairs, wishing me luck.
[Note: The reference to “football culture” in the title of this post refers to the Freeh Report on the scandal at Penn State released in July 2012. It is my contention, as a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community, that the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students.
[During the Fall Semester of 2006, I successfully completed a graduate-level independent study course at the Department of Engineering with Dr. Richard Devon. The focus of my study was access for individuals with disabilities on Penn State‘s University Park campus. The photographic essay above is one of several documents provided to Dr. Devon, whose sponsorship provided me with the ability to interview Penn State officials responsible for disability services and the construction and maintenance of the physical design of the campus to meet the special needs of individuals with disabilities.
[I showed this essay to officials responsible for correcting hazards to individuals with disabilities. I received detailed confidential explanations that correcting them to assure safety was impossible since it would involve putting up signs and drawing attention to the presence of disabled individuals which President Graham Spanier had personally prohibited because of his concern that parents of prospective football players would be dissuaded from attending Penn State if they thought the school appeared to have too many individuals with disabilities.
[The dangers described in this essay continue despite the awareness of responsible officials. The requirement to change the “culture of football” which continues these abuses to disabled students continues to pose a challenge to the Trustees and Administrators at Penn State who are under the illusion that the findings of the Freeh report are limited to the sexual predatory practices of an individual who is now in jail and to former officials who failed to protect children.
[I plan to continue documenting details on the wide-ranging abuses by Penn State toward individuals who are disabled (including veterans), the elderly, and the community which is economically dependent upon Penn State until these abuses are recognized as part of what is popularly known as the Sandusky sex scandal and until these abuses are corrected. As Judge Freeh observed, wide-range reform is required for Penn State to recover from the worst scandal in its history and once again demonstrate that it is an institution devoted to education and the welfare of its students, faculty, employees, and community. “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”]
[Note: The Board of Trustees of Penn State hired former FBI director Louis Freeh’s firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, (FSB) LLP, (with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Wilmington Delaware), to conduct this report. Freeh said, “In performing this work, we adhered faithfully to our original mandate: to investigate this matter fully, fairly, and completely, without fear or favor. We have shown no favoritism toward any of the parties, including the Board of Trustees itself, our client.” The New York Times reported: “In an investigation lasting more than seven months, Louis J. Freeh, a former director of the F.B.I., found a legendary football coach bending his supposed bosses to his will, a university staff that was mostly unaware of its legal duties to report violence and sexual abuse, and a university president who hid problems from the board of trustees and was guided by a fear of bad publicity.”
[Louis J. Freeh is a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and a former federal judge. At the FBI, one of the investigations he conducted was of the 1996 explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 killing all 230 persons on board shortly after it took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport. “FSS has an unmatched ability to provide key strategic counsel to obtain optimum results for its clients in myriad situations, including those requiring resolution of complex litigation-related issues, creative and practical crisis management solutions, or judicious and effective interaction with the most senior foreign and domestic government officials,” according to its website.
[“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State, ” Judge Freeh said in remarks introducing the release of the report on July 12, 2012. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.”]
On November 4, 2011 the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (”Attorney General”) filed criminal charges against Gerald A. Sandusky (”Sandusky”) that included multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with minors and endangering the welfare of minors. Several of the offenses occurred between 1998 and 2002, during which time Sandusky was either the Defensive Coordinator for The Pennsylvania State University (”Penn State” or ”University”) football team or a Penn State professor Emeritus with unrestricted access to the University’s football facilities. On November 4, 2011, the Attorney General filed criminal charges against the University’s Athletic Director (”AD”) Timothy M. Curley (”Curley”) and Senior Vice President Finance and Business (”SVP-FBh”), Gary C. Schultz (”Schultzh”) for failing to report allegations of child abuse against Sandusky to law enforcement or child protection authorities in 2002 [This date was later determined by the Special Investigative Counsel to be 2001.]and for committing perjury during their testimony about the allegations to the Grand Jury in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, in January 2011.
On June 22, 2012, a Centre County jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of the criminal charges against him. As of the date of this report, the charges against Curley and Schultz have not been heard by the court.
The criminal charges filed against these highly respected University and community leaders are unprecedented in the history of the University. Several senior University leaders who had knowledge of the allegations did not prepare for the possibility that these criminal charges would be filed. In the days and weeks surrounding the announcement of the charges, University leaders (referred to on campus as “Old Main”) and the University’s Board of Trustees (“Board” or ”Trustees”), struggled to decide what actions the University should take and how to be appropriately transparent about their actions. The high degree of interest exhibited by members of the University community, alumni, the public and the national media put additional pressure on these leaders to act quickly.
On November 11, 2011, the Trustees formed the “Special Investigations Task Force (“Task Force”) of the Board of Trustees of The Pennsylvania State University” and selected Trustees Kenneth C. Frazier and Ronald J. Tomalis to lead its efforts. On November 21, 2011 the Task Force engaged the law firm of Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, LLP (”FSS”) as Special Investigative Counsel, to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the criminal charges of sexual abuse of minors in or on Penn State facilities by Sandusky; the circumstances leading to the criminal charges of failure to report possible incidents of sexual abuse of minors; and the response of University administrators and staff to the allegations and subsequent Grand Jury investigations of Sandusky. In addition, the Special Investigative Counsel was asked to provide recommendations regarding University governance, oversight and administrative procedures that will better enable the University to effectively prevent and respond to incidents of sexual abuse of minors in the future.
The Pennsylvania State University is an outstanding institution nationally renowned for its excellence in academics and research. There is a strong spirit of community support and loyalty among its students, faculty and staff. Therefore it is easy to understand how the University community was devastated by the events that occurred.
The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment, there was no ”attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.”
Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University–President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.
These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and
football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the University’s facilities and affiliation with the University’s prominent
football program. Indeed, that continued access provided Sandusky with the very
currency that enabled him to attract his victims. Some coaches, administrators and
football program staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky’s behaviors and no
one warned the public about him.
By not promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him, Spanier failed in his duties as President. The Board also failed in
its duties to oversee the President and senior University officials in 1998 and 2001 by
not inquiring about important University matters and by not creating an environment
where senior University officials felt accountable.
Once the Board was made aware of the investigations of Sandusky and the fact
that senior University officials had testified before the Grand Jury in the investigations,
it should have recognized the potential risk to the University community and to the
University’s reputation. Instead, the Board, as a governing body, failed to inquire
reasonably and to demand detailed information from Spanier. The Board’s overconfidence in Spanier’s abilities to deal with the crisis, and its complacent attitude
left them unprepared to respond to the November 2011 criminal charges filed against
two senior Penn State leaders and a former prominent coach. Finally, the Board’s
subsequent removal of Paterno as head football coach was poorly handled, as were the
Board’s communications with the public.
Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley gave the following reasons for taking no action to identify the February 9, 2001 child victim and for not reporting Sandusky to the authorities:
Through counsel, Curley and Schultz stated that the ”humane” thing to do in 2001 was to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague but troubling allegations. According to their counsel, these men were good people trying to do their best to make the right decisions.
Paterno told a reporter that ”I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
Spanier said, in his interview with the Special Investigative Counsel, that he never heard a report from anyone that Sandusky was engaged in any sexual abuse of children. He also said that if he had known or suspected that Sandusky was abusing children, he would have been the first to intervene.
Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, the Special
Investigative Counsel finds that it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid
the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University–Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley– repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Universityfs Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.
The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities. The investigation also revealed:
A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders of the University.
A failure by the Board to exercise its oversight functions in 1998 and 2001 by not having regular reporting procedures or committee structures in place to ensure disclosure to the Board of major risks to the University.
A failure by the Board to make reasonable inquiry in 2011 by not demanding details from Spanier and the General Counsel about the nature and direction of the grand jury investigation and the University’s response to the investigation.
A President who discouraged discussion and dissent.
A decision by Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley to allow Sandusky to retire in 1999, not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy, with future ”visibility” at Penn State and ways ”to continue to work with young people through Penn State,” essentially granting him license to bring boys to campus facilities for ”grooming” as targets for his assaults. Sandusky retained unlimited access to University facilities until November 2011.
A football program that did not fully participate in, or opted out, of some University programs, including Clery Act compliance. Like the rest of the University, the football program staff had not been trained in their Clery Act responsibilities and most had never heard of the Clery Act.
A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE,ADMINISTRATION, AND THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN INUNIVERSITY FACILITIES AND PROGRAMS
From the results of interviews with representatives of the University’s Office of Human Resources, Office of Internal Audit, Office of Risk Management, Intercollegiate Athletics, Commonwealth Campuses, Outreach, the Presidentfs Council, Faculty Senate
representatives and the Board of Trustees, and benchmarking similar practices at other large universities, the Special Investigative Counsel developed 120 recommendations for consideration by University administrators and the Board in the following eight areas:
The Penn State Culture
Administration and General Counsel: Structure, Policies and Procedures
Board of Trustees: Responsibilities and Operations
Compliance: Risk and Reporting Misconduct
Athletic Department: Integration and Compliance
University Police Department: Oversight, Policies and Procedures
Programs for Non]Student Minors and Access to Facilities
Monitoring Change and Measuring Improvement
These recommendations are detailed in Chapter 10 of this report, and include several that the Special Investigative Counsel recommended to the Board in January 2012. The recommendations made at that time were designed to assist the University in preparing for its upcoming summer programs for children. These steps should assist the University in improving structures, policies and procedures that are related to the protection of children. Some of these recommendations will help the University more fully comply with federal and state laws and regulations dealing with the protection of children. Other recommendations support changes in the structure and operations of the Board, or promote enhancements to administrative processes and procedures. Most importantly, the recommendations should create a safer environment for young people who participate in its programs and use its facilities.
One of the most challenging of the tasks confronting the Penn State community is transforming the culture that permitted Sandusky’s behavior, as illustrated throughout
this report, and which directly contributed to the failure of Penn State’s most powerful
leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator. It is
up to the entire University community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Board, and
the administration – to undertake a thorough and honest review of its culture. The current administration and Board of Trustees should task the University community,
including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and peers from similar institutions and outside experts in ethics and communications, to conduct such a review. The findings from such a review may well demand further changes.
I realize not as depressing as you might think shouts out that McKeesport really is a depressing place. It is.
When I get around to it, I will describe the exceptions to depressing, such as this fire juggler whom I saw last night while I attended Corpus Christi, an annual Downtown McKeesport event two blocks from the Blueroof Experimental Cottage where I am entering this blog post on my laptop on the kitchen table.
If you are quick, you can see me now live on the Internet blogging away at Blueroof Technologies’ Experimental Cottage–do-gooders extraordinaire so aging in place can happen with dignity and independence for:
I took the following photograph today of a side street (not that McKeesport’s Fifth Avenue is much better) to show what I mean by depressing:
In the six or so years that I have lived and traveled through the Rust Belt Of Pennsylvania, McKeesport is definitely the most depressing of Rust Belt depressing towns. McKeesport has been losing population steadily from its all time high in 1940 of 55,355 to the most current figures available– a mere 19,731 people according to the 2010 U.S. Census–an ongoing decline; this time 17 percent fewer people than 10 years ago.
McKeesport is 19 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Double click on the photo.
See a START pin showing where I am now on Sunday morning July 1, 2012, 7:10 AM, getting ready to take a shower at the Blueroof Experimental Cottage, 400 Spring Street, McKeesport 15132.
Hope: The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary of the English Language (Copyright 2012) defines hope as: “expectation of fulfillment or success.”
McKeesport Hope 1. Best shower for the elderly and disabled. For me, as a 64-year-old man with a spinal cord injury who cannot walk: hope in McKeesport means being able to take the best shower (safest, most satisfying) that I have taken in the 18 years of being a paraplegic: a shower I can take without assistance from a health care aide, a shower that does not put me in danger of falling posing the risk (as my neighbors back at an independent living facility at State College which I call home face on a daily basic–a risk that all too often leads to an ambulance outside my window, a trip eventually leading to Centre Crest, a nursing home where at great government expense, my neighbors die in despair). [I am generally a cheerful guy]
Here in McKeesport is the best shower for paraplegics in the world:
When I entered the bathroom to take a shower, the lights to the bathroom were not on. As the forward wheels of my scooter crossed the beam generated by this contraption co-founder Robert Walters installed:
the lights go on. [Let there be Light.]
Meanwhile, inside the shower a motion detector is making sure that I do not fall.
Here in the shower, a motion detector watches out for me. See it. It is on the top left of the bathroom door. It looks like this:
If I fall, the detector detects no motion. If I do not get up after a period of time programmed by an expert, the walls call 911 and my family.
Actually, the voice that makes the call is a voice synthesizer located on a shelf in the laboratory in the basement. The interns who installed it had a range of voices to choose from. They chose the surprisingly sexy voice whom ever afterward is known as Amy. I can just imagine my daughters Joanna and Amelia when the lascivious voice of Amy calls to inform them their father has just fallen in the shower.
McKeesport Hope 2. Fresh water fish are back in the Mon Monongahela River.
Now that the River is no longer polluted with the effluents caused by National Tube Company, once McKeesport’s largest employer, sadly missed because the unemployment rate here is in the double digits, fresh water fish have returned.
Signs for live fishing bait are prominently displayed. The Marina, quite pretty, is doing a booming business.
[I must stop this work in progress here. A friend just called reminding me that it is past 10 and this posting, dear subscribers and readers, promises that a return to more hope and more despair await you.]
However, July 4th is nearly here and let me close by reminding you that the pursuit of happiness is currently denied to too many of the men and women, veterans of our wars –who fought to keep us free–and their families.
Blueroof plans to build a research cottage for a veteran family to provide the kind of decent housing Blueroof has become famous for creating–a place not only of residence but of research to ensure that disabled, aging, and low-income veterans can age in place successfully and that our engineering, architecture, and architectural engineering schools can better learn how to provide designs that improve the quality of their lives.
Words do not escape me. Rest assured, I will return–showered and ready to post and comment on photographs such as this one: