Penn State's Iconic Old Main without The Elm Tree on the Right

Penn State Trustees Report – Too Little Too Late

Penn State's Iconic Old Main without The Elm Tree on the Right
Old Main Now Missing an Elm Tree, Courtesy Penn State Live

Yesterday, the Penn State Board of Trustees released the Report Concerning November 9 Decisions. These decisions included the removal of coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier following allegations of sexual assault by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The report provides details our Penn State family needed to move forward. It also provided examples that servant leaders can learn much from: good and bad.

What the Board of Trustees Got Right

The Board is certainly under a great deal of pressure to get information out and scrutiny to get the message right. They got at least part of it right.

Reinforced Penn State’s Higher Standards

I stated publicly my support for the removal of Joe Paterno as coach and Graham Spanier as University President. This alienated many alumni friends. However, I stand by what wrote, in part because Joe Paterno taught us to expect more than the legal obligations from our leaders, as the report also agreed:

We determined that his (Paterno’s) decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno.

Clarified Intentions

The report also provides clarifications on the Board’s intended actions that were not realized:

the Board… …planned to tell (Paterno) that (1) the Board had decided unanimously to remove him as coach; (2) the Board regretted having to deliver the message over the telephone; and (3) his employment contract would continue, including all financial benefits and his continued status as a tenured faculty member. However, after (the board) communicated the first message, Coach Paterno ended the call, so the second and third messages could not be delivered.

Highlighted the Real Victims

The report repeatedly highlights our accountability and greatest concern is for the children – especially the victims of these alleged, heinous crimes.

Where the Board and Report Failed

Unfortunately, the report was terribly overdue and included no acceptance of the Board’s own accountability.


The report, posted on Penn State’s new website focused at a “More Open University”, reflected little in the way of being more open. This information is owed to our Penn State family. To reflect a more open culture, this information should have appeared within 1 or 2 days after the decision, not 123 days later. The Board missed an opportunity to reassure our family they will be more timely or open. If it required 123 days to get this communication together, approved and distributed, there is little “open” about it.

Acceptance of Own Accountability

As servant leaders to our great University, the Board failed to accept their own role in these tragic events. The report comes across as defensive. This defensive posture, softened by the focus on children and carefully crafted wording did little to assure us the Board learned from their own mistakes. The Board is ultimately accountable for the oversights and failures of organizational leaders. This was conveniently overlooked.

As servant leaders, we expect more of our Board of Trustees. This alleged tragedy reflects a systemic failure of our leadership and our Board of Trustees is ultimately accountable. While I am grateful for the clarifications provided, it seems too little, too late.

What’s Next

On the same Penn State Live site that referenced this report, there is an article on the removal of a giant Elm tree beside Old Main. The Elm lost it’s battle with “elm yellows”. The result is a very different view of the picturesque Old Main landscape. Much like Old Main, the landscape our Penn State family will be forever changed. The question remains though whether more trees must still be removed from  Penn State leadership.

Question: What did you think of the report?

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Ben Lichtenwalner

Spreading servant leadership awareness, adoption and action with an emphasis on technology and contemporary issues.