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Ethics & Compliance

Ethics & Compliance

Penn State and Joe Paterno and “Nine Commitments to Truth

Is Michigan State and Dr. Nassar another case of Penn State and Coach Paterno?

It sure looks like it with officials and members of the institution not coming forward to provide clarity and transparency to the situation. Both the University’s former President, Lou Ann Simon and its athletic director, Mark Hollis resigned with little communication to the public in the process or since (See: NYT 1). A number of women have reported that they had reported sexual abuse by Dr. Nassar over a period of years as early as the 1990’s yet none of these reports were taken seriously enough, if at all, to warrant an official investigation (See: NYT 2). Just recently the dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, where Dr. Nassar was employed was charged with not just of facilitating Dr. Nassar’s abuse but of committing sexual abuse himself (See: NYT 3).

This all sounds almost exactly like the Penn State scandal involving Coach Jerry Sandusky, Athletic Director Tim Curley, President Graham Spanier and head coach Joe Paterno. In both cases the institution was trying to defend itself from not only litigation and regulation, but also in the arena of public opinion. Penn state failed horribly and Michigan Stet is in the process of doing so.

In 2011 during the time when Penn state scandal was high news, The Institute for Enterprise Ethics posted a statement on our web site entitled: “Lessons in Enterprise Ethics from Penn State and Joe Pa”. Since, Michigan State clearly had not taken that message to heart I thought this might be a good time to re-post it:

Lessons in Enterprise Ethics from Penn State and Joe Pa

“Two of the most important lessons in enterprise ethics are in vivid relief in the Penn State and Joe Paterno crisis: The first lesson is that the best way to protect an institution you love is not by trying to defend it behind a wall of denial and secrecy. The second lesson is that individual people must sometimes separate their loyalty to their institution and their loyalty to their personal values and principles.  

Contrary to the first lesson, Penn State took the decision to not aggressively address the allegations of severe misconduct on its football staff even though it had been reported multiple times and went far up the institution’s chain of command. Apparently the institution’s leaders determined that if they merely ignored the situation it would go away and the institution would not be harmed. But, the information escaped the walls of the university and the institution has been seriously wounded.

Joe Paterno, by far the most influential person at the University, and possible in a very large part of the state, took the decision to try to protect the institution he loved by means of secrecy rather than force action on a situation that was antithetical to all the values and ethics he publicly professed for the past almost 50 years. So, contrary to the second lesson, he failed to be loyal to his own personal ethical commitments and deferred to loyalty to the institution. He consequently not only contributed to the downfall of the institution but hastened an embarrassing end to his own 50+ year reputation.

Clearly neither Mr. Paterno nor other leaders of Penn State had sufficient confidence in the strength of the institution they had worked at for decades to trust its ability to withstand the burden of candor and honesty.

These two lessons are at the heart of the agenda and purpose of the Institute for Enterprise Ethics. It is the mission of the Institute to help executives integrate ethical, socially responsible, and environmentally sustainable leadership practices into the fabric of their organizational culture.”

I trust that we have kept that promise to you over the past seven years.

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