Just as Kent State is best known for the shootings of unarmed student protestors over 40 years ago, Penn State will be long remembered for its sexual predator crisis. The university’s crisis communication mistakes have only fueled the fire.
The errors made are numerous. The cover up, Coach Paterno’s announcement he would retire after the season and then he got fired immediately, the violent student protests, and then one of the most stunning communication disasters ever — the Jerry Sandusky interview with Bob Costas. In all seriousness, only a disturbed man could believe that interview helped his cause. Enough said. But what should Penn State do next?
1- Appoint a universally admired investigator from outside the university to conduct a thorough investigation of the entire administration’s handling of the matter. Sandusky’s alleged crimes are only part of the problem, the culture that allowed for this is on trial, too.
2- Clean house. Anyone with fingerprints on this needs to get severed from the college, including board members if that is where the investigation leads.
3- Full contrition. An apology they really mean. Take down the Joe Paterno statue. This happened on his watch.
4-Restitution to any victims.
5- A clear and compelling plan to ensure this never happens again must be presented to the public. It should include a clear explanation of how it happened and why it will not happen again.
6-Penn State needs to make protecting children one of its signature charities. Doing good is always better than talking about it.
Penn State should be judged harshly for what happened there. But how it handles the aftermath will also have a lasting impact on the judgement history will make.
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