Perhaps one of the ugliest stories in the history of higher education is unfolding in an unlikely setting--State College, Pennsylvania, long known as "Happy Valley" and the idyllic home to Penn State University.
Happy Valley, and all of college athletics, has been rocked by reports that a former assistant coach for the Nittany Lions football team sexually abused at least eight boys, from 1994 to 2009. Jerry Sandusky was the defensive coordinator at Penn State until his retirement in 1999, and he long was seen as a likely successor to iconic head coach Joe Paterno.
Sandusky turned out dozens of defensive stars, helping Penn State become known as "Linebacker U." Allegations that he molested boys, both while working as a coach and as head of a youth charity called The Second Mile, have shocked the college-football world.
No one, however should be surprised at one aspect of the Penn State story--allegations that two high-ranking university officials lied under oath in an effort to cover up the scandal.
Tim Curley, Penn State's athletics director, and Gary Schultz, the school's senior vice president for business and finance, stepped down in the face of charges that they committed perjury and failed to notify state officials about allegations of sexual abuse.
Having worked in higher education for 19 years, I am not at all surprised by charges that university administrators lied under oath. In fact, I've seen similar behavior in an up-close-and-personal way since I was unlawfully terminated from my job as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Indisputable evidence shows that I was targeted and fired because I write a progressive blog, on my own time, that apparently upset conservative forces in our state's political environment.
The public perhaps views college campuses as "citadels of higher learning," where students, faculty, and staff are called to seek truth and insight. Many colleges offer required courses on ethics, and UAB even has an Ethics Bowl team. But when placed in a high-stakes, real-world situation, UAB administrators have shown that their ethics can quickly exit, stage left. In fact, I have evidence that they lied under oath in an ongoing federal lawsuit over my termination.
Higher ups at Penn State apparently have similar problems with "situational ethics."
How ugly is the Sandusky scandal? Consider this report from Huffington Post:
The allegations against Sandusky, who started The Second Mile in 1977, range from sexual advances to touching to oral and anal sex. The young men testified before a state grand jury that they were in their early teens when some of the abuse occurred; there is evidence even younger children may have been victimized. . . .
Sandusky is charged with multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor, as well as single counts of aggravated indecent assault and attempted indecent assault.
One accuser, now 27, testified that Sandusky initiated contact with a "soap battle" in the shower that led to multiple instances of involuntary sexual intercourse and indecent assault at Sandusky's hands, the grand jury report said.
What about charges against the Penn State administrators? Those aren't pretty either:
Curley and Schultz also are accused of perjury for their testimony to the grand jury that issued a 23-page report on the matter Friday, the day before state prosecutors charged them. Sandusky was arrested Saturday and charged with 40 criminal counts.
Curley denied that the assistant had reported anything of a sexual nature, calling it "merely `horsing around,'" the grand jury report said. But he also testified that he barred Sandusky from bringing children onto campus and that he advised Spanier of the matter.
The grand jury said Curley was lying . . . adding that it also deemed portions of Schultz's testimony not to be credible.
Should we be surprised that Penn State administrators, making handsome salaries from taxpayer funds, would play "cover our butts" on matters of serious public concern? No, we should not. University higher ups have the same mindset here in Alabama.
A tape-recorded conversation that I had with Bonasera, however, shows that she did know that content on my blog played a huge role in my termination. You can hear that conversation at the link below:
Audio: UAB and the Cost of Blogging About the Siegelman Case
Here is a transcript from a key portion of the conversation between me (RS) and Anita Bonasera (AB), clearly showing that Bonasera and my supervisor, Pam Powell (and Powell's supervisor, Dale Turnbough), knew exactly why I was targeted and unlawfully fired:
RS: I told Dale Turnbough about this two weeks ago, and she never said a word about any of this. In fact, she said she was going to take care of it, she assured me absolutely that this had nothing to do with my blog—and then two weeks later I find out it’s all about my blog.
AB: It’s not all about your blog. Your blog was an insignificant piece. . . . The blog . . . was a very small part of the bigger picture. . . . again, related to other non-work related things. I didn’t see those non-work related things. Pam (Powell) sat down with the computer people—and I don’t know who else was there—and they reviewed what was work related and what was non-work related.
RS: And she’s the determiner of that, even though she has told us . . .
AB: She was able to determine what you were working on and whether it was related to your blog . . .
RS: Well, you just said it, it’s all about my blog. You just said that.
AB: That was a piece of it. Some of it was research related to your blog, from my understanding. I understand there were some things about Siegelman, screens up about Don Siegelman, things that they saw you doing that they consider to be research for your blog because then that was topics that you wrote about on your blog.
RS: Those are also news articles that we are supposed to keep up with, about Alabama, stuff in the news.
This indicates that at least three UAB management types knew that I was fired because of my blog content--specifically about the Don Siegelman case--and they lied about it in sworn affidavits. That probably meets the legal definition of perjury. Several other administrators, including President Carol Garrison, made similar statements that also might rise to the level of perjury.
Garrison perhaps had at least one moment of candor in her affidavit when she wrote: "I am not aware of any party outside UAB having any influence whatsoever over the decision to terminate Shuler or my decision to uphold that termination." That's probably because an Alabama politico or two went to someone on the UA Board of Trustees and asked them to have me canned. If the board member instructed Garrison to see that the dirty deed was done, that means no one outside UAB was involved--at least in Garrison's mind.
Administrators in higher education tend to think that lower forms of human life are stupid. But Garrison forgets that I worked at UAB for 19 years and have a pretty good idea of how the place works. The idea to fire me almost certainly did not originate with someone at the level of Anita Bonasera or even Pam Powell. And a manager in the area where I worked, such as Dale Turnbough, is not likely to take action--the kind that would invite a lawsuit--without consulting those above her. Even Garrison is not likely to take the kind of outrageous action found in my case without a push from, or the approval of, the Board of Trustees.
Again, higher ed is a "cover your ass" environment. Penn State officials knew they had criminal trouble on their hands in the Jerry Sandusky case, so they tried to cover it up. UAB officials knew they had significant civil trouble on their hands in my case, so they tried to cover it up--and it's possible that white-collar crimes were committed in the process.
Below is a copy of Anita Bonasera's affidavit in my lawsuit. After that, is a motion I filed, seeking to have bad-faith affidavits stricken and sanctions imposed.
These documents will show you why I am not surprised to know that Penn State officials are facing perjury charges in the Jerry Sandusky case. I've seen similar conduct here in Alabama.
UAB Lawsuit--Anita Bonasera Affidavit
UAB Lawsuit--Motion to Strike Affidavits