Since last November, when the Jerry Sandusky saga propelled Penn State into the headlines, I’ve wondered about Penn State’s former president, Graham Spanier. After reading the Freeh Report in its nauseating detail, I did more than wonder — I started digging for Spanier’s own words on what it means to be a university president.
Let’s go back eleven months, when NCAA Division I presidents concluded a summit that called for “bold, sweeping changes” in intercollegiate athletics. In the NCAA’s own press release on the summit, Spanier had this to say about the need to reform the NCAA rulebook:
Some of these things our coaches and our boosters might not like, but we need to do what I think you are going to see happen in the next year. . . . [Violators] should be afraid now, if they are going to go out and break any rules – because people have had enough of that. . . . The folks that are trying to disrupt the integrity of intercollegiate athletics in this country are going to have to be held more accountable than has been the case in the past.
Somehow, I think what we’ve seen unfold at Penn State in this past year is NOT what Spanier had in mind. Holding people more accountable was clearly not part of the administrative ethos when talking about coaches and boosters at Penn State, as the Freeh Report made abundantly clear.
A few months before that summit of NCAA Division I presidents, Spanier was at the heart of the 2011 investigation of the Fiesta Bowl for financial irregularities and other major problems. At the time, Spanier was the chair of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, and chaired the BCS investigative task force that looked into the matter. From the task force’s report, page 1:
As they move to close down a network of St. Louis charter schools over the next several weeks, state education officials face a task as monumental and complicated as dismantling an entire school district.
As many as 3,800 children — or about 11 percent of those attending public schools in the city — must find new schools. Their records must be properly preserved and transferred. The school buildings they attended have to be scoured for equipment and materials paid for with federal funds. The 288 teachers and staff who work at the schools must have a better idea of their remaining pay and benefits. And that’s not counting the thousands of questions by parents who demand answers.
The Imagine schools [schools run by VA-based Imagine Schools, Inc.] had been on shaky ground all year.
Their scores on the state’s standardized tests were well below those of St. Louis Public Schools. The schools were deficit spending. Rent and administrative costs took dollars from the classroom to the for-profit management company that runs them.
A for-profit company, taking money for their profits? No one could have anticipated . . .
. . . “Unity is the great need of the hour.” That’s what Dr. King said. It is the great need of this hour as well, not because it sounds pleasant, not because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exits in this country.
I’m not talking about the budget deficit. I’m not talking about the trade deficit. Talking about the moral deficit in this country. I’m talking about an empathy deficit, the inability to recognize ourselves in one another, to understand that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, that in the words of Dr. King, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
Pause for a minute and let that sink in: “the empathy deficit is the essential deficit that exists in this country.”
We have an empathy deficit when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame, schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education. We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in ten minutes than ordinary workers are making in an entire year, when families lose their homes so unscrupulous lenders can make a profit, when mothers can’t afford a doctor when their children are stricken with illness. We have a deficit in this country when we have Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others, when our children see hanging nooses from a school yard tree today, in the present, in the 21st century. We have a deficit when homeless veterans sleep on the streets of our cities, when innocents are slaughtered in the deserts of Darfur, when young Americans serve tour after tour after tour after tour of duty in a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged. We have an empathy deficit in this country that has to be closed. We have a deficit when it takes a breach in the levees to reveal the breach in our compassion, when it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed, the sick that He calls on us to care for, the least of these that He commands that we treat as our own. So, we have a deficit to close. We have walls, barriers to justice and equality that must come down, and to do this, we know that “unity is the great need of the hour.”
If the need was great in 2008, it’s off the charts today.
But back to that candidate . . . skipping ahead in his remarks a bit:
However, all too often, when we talk about unity in this country, we’ve come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. . . We offer unity, but we are not willing to pay the price that’s required.
Of course, true unity cannot be so easily purchased. It starts with a change in attitudes. It starts with changing our hearts, and changing our minds, broadening our spirit. It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our own differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. What makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart, that puts up walls between us. We are told that those who differ from us on a few things, differ from us on all things, that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The Welfare Queen, she’s taking our money. The Immigrant, he’s taking our jobs. The believer condemns the nonbeliever as immoral, and the nonbeliever chides the believer for being intolerant.
So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The divisions, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame the plight of ourselves on others — all of that distracts us from the common challenges that we face, war and poverty, inequality and injustice. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing each other down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It’s the poison that we must purge from our politics, the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late. Because if Dr. King could love his jailer, if he could call on the faithful, who once sat where you do, to forgive those who had set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time and bind up our wounds and erase the sympathy deficit that exists in our hearts.
But if changing our hearts and our minds is the first critical step, we cannot stop there. It’s not enough to bemoan the plight of the poor in this country and remain unwilling to push our elected officials to provide the resources to fix our schools. It’s not enough to decry the disparities of health care and yet allow the insurance companies and the drug companies to block real reform in our health care system. It’s not enough — It’s not enough for us to abhor the costs of a misguided war, and yet we continue to allow ourselves to be driven by a politics of fear that sees the threat of an attack as a way to scare up votes instead of a call to come together in a common effort. . .
Boy, did he nail it on that one. As far as I can tell, the politics of fear is what makes DC run these days, not only on terrorism but on the budget, health care, social security, and everything else.
I wonder what ever happened to that guy. We sure could use someone like this in DC to take on the fear-mongers.
Nelnet will pay $55-million to settle its share of a whistle-blower lawsuit that accuses it and several other lenders of defrauding taxpayers of more than a billion dollars in student-loan subsidies.
The settlement, which Nelnet announced late Friday, is the latest to result from a lawsuit brought by Jon H. Oberg, a former Education Department researcher, on behalf of the federal government.
$55 million to settle a $1+ billion fraud case? Talk about pennies on the dollar. It’s just the cost of doing business, I suppose.
But I wonder why Nelnet announced this late on a Friday afternoon? Aren’t they proud of their accomplishment?
The settlement comes seven years after Mr. Oberg discovered that Nelnet and several other lenders were exploiting a loophole in a program that guaranteed a 9.5-percent return on certain loans. Mr. Oberg reported his discovery to his supervisors, but he says he was brushed off and told to work on other things.
The overpayments continued until the Education Department announced, in January 2007, that it would stop paying lenders at the highest subsidy rate until they could prove that they qualified for it. The following month, the department announced that Nelnet would be allowed to keep $278-million in overpayments but would lose out on an estimated $882-million in future federal subsidies.
Shorter Bush Dept of Ed: "OK, we caught you stealing. You can keep the money, but don’t let us catch you at it again."
The Bush administration is the gift that keeps on giving.
Fortunately, this is a kind of black swan event. I mean, no one seriously thinks that the insurance companies would do something like this under the new health insurance reforms, or the MOTUs on Wall Street would do anything like this with FinReg, or . . .
MyFDL is the community site of progressive political blog Firedoglake. Anyone can participate by writing a diary, commenting on others’ diaries, or joining groups to find other people in your area. Content posted to MyFDL is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to Firedoglake.