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Penn State students rail against officials in child-sex abuse scandal

In the place known as Happy Valley, cries of 'cover-up' greet reports that university officials apparently failed to report alleged sexual predator, a former football coach, to outside authorities.

November 08, 2011|By David Zucchino

Reporting from State College, Pa. — A sense of betrayal and disgust seems to have washed over the normally tranquil, tree-lined campus of Penn State University.

A child-sex abuse scandal has badly bruised pride in the school and its hallowed football program. The fact that university officials apparently failed to report an alleged sexual predator to outside authorities has been even more incomprehensible.

On Tuesday, amid the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania, in a place often referred to as Happy Valley, outraged students were speaking out in harsh appraisals of their leaders.

It was shocking enough, many students said, that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested Saturday and charged with sexually assaulting at least eight boys. But shock gave way to anger and demands for punishment after revelations that university officials, including beloved football Coach Joe Paterno, did not report Sandusky to police or to child welfare officials years earlier.

"It's absolutely disgraceful," Jim Lettau, 21, a Penn State senior, said as a crush of students watched a TV news report on the latest updates on the scandal. "There was a complete cover-up."

When university President Graham Spanier declared his full support for two top university officials charged with perjury and failure to report sexual assault allegations, it was too much for Penn State senior Vanessa Hall.

Hall, 21, stood outside the student union with signs condemning former athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, who were charged with failing to alert police that they had been told that Sandusky had been seen having sex with a boy in the locker room showers in 2002.

"Schultz, Curley and Spanier — you are NOT PSU," one sign read. Another read: "Tuition = Education, not Lawyers," a barbed reference to university payments for lawyers representing Curley and Schultz. A third read: "Sandusky belongs in Jail."

Hall, like many students, demanded that Spanier be fired. "Spanier has tarnished our school's image — and, worse, he's not supporting the victims of sexual abuse," Hall said.

Across the quad, in front of the school's administration building, a man who said he was a 1975 Penn State graduate burned his diploma. At the school's on-campus Berkey Creamery, the Sandusky Blitz ice cream flavor (banana and chocolate) was removed from the menu after the weekend's revelations. Peachy Paterno remained on the menu, at least for the time being.

Many students have downloaded the report and its lurid descriptions of a "naked Sandusky" being seen by a shocked graduate student coach having sex with a boy in the shower.

The report also details Sandusky's alleged sexual predations with eight boys over a 15-year period, saying he used the allure of Penn State football and his access to the team to entice boys he met through his charity, the Second Mile.

Students were urging others to protest the behavior of university officials by refusing to sing the school's alma mater at Saturday's football game with Nebraska, or by boycotting the game entirely.

Some students have suggested wearing all blue, one of the school's colors, to promote child sexual abuse awareness — a turnabout of the popular "white-out," in which fans wear the school's white color.

"People are angry — they're demanding accountability and transparency," said Lexi Belculfine, editor of the school newspaper, the Daily Collegian, which devoted all five front-page stories Tuesday to the scandal.

On Monday, Daily Collegian columnist Emily Kaplan excoriated school officials, writing that they were more concerned about protecting "the university's brand" than protecting abused children. "And these men were supposed to be leaders, true blue and white," she wrote.

Though many students were willing to give Paterno the benefit of the doubt, Belculfine said, others were joining the growing chorus for the coach to step down. News reports circulated Tuesday the school had decided to remove Paterno, 84, perhaps as soon as Friday's Board of Trustees meeting. The Associated Press reported board support for Paterno was "eroding."

Late Tuesday, the board issued a statement saying it will appoint a special committee to investigate the child-sex abuse case.

With his horn-rimmed glasses and plain black coach's shoes, Paterno has stressed old-school values of honor and commitment during his 46 years as the school football coach.

He and his wife contributed millions of dollars to a campus library that bears the Paterno name — and raised millions more for the building — leading some cynics to joke that he wanted to help build a university the football team could be proud of.

Paterno constructed a money-making program with an enviable graduation rate and a squeaky-clean, if somewhat vanilla, image. A statue of Paterno outside the football stadium is flanked by the words "Educator — Coach — Humanitarian," in that order.

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