The Woman Who Stood Up To Joe Paterno; Omerta, Never Virtue

CNN with “The Woman Who Stood Up to Joe Paterno,” a piece about Vicky Triponey, the former Penn State VP in charge of student discipline who profoundly clashed with Joe Paterno over how players should be punished for off-field infractions.

You should read the whole thing, but I was particularly interested in Paterno’s thinly-veiled misogyny:

“I am very troubled by the manipulative, disrespectful, uncivil and abusive behavior of our football coach,” she wrote. “It is quite shocking what this man — who is idolized by people everywhere — is teaching our students.”

Paterno clearly seemed to resent “meddling” from outsiders, even if Triponey was simply doing her job. She saw the dangers of special treatment that placed football players under a softer standard than other students lived by. She said it wasn’t right. But it was a battle she couldn’t win.

Paterno ridiculed her on a radio show as “that lady in Old Main” who couldn’t possibly know how to handle students because “she didn’t have kids.”

And there’s also this:

And then one day in late 2004, as disciplinary sanctions were being considered against a member of the football team, she received a visit from Paterno’s wife, who had tutored the player.

He’s a good kid, Sue Paterno said. Could they give him a break?

Triponey realized then that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or even Connecticut.

By the next year, 2005, she was battling Paterno himself over who controlled how football players were disciplined. Paterno also chafed over enforcing Penn State’s code of conduct off campus.

Spanier called a meeting at which Paterno angrily dominated the conversation, Triponey recalled. She summarized the meeting in an e-mail to Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and others, complaining that Paterno “is insistent that he knows best how to discipline his players” and that her department should back off.

And, perhaps most tellingly:

Tensions reached the breaking point in 2007 over how to discipline half a dozen players who’d been arrested at a brawl at an off-campus apartment complex. Several students were injured; one beaten unconscious.

Triponey met with Paterno and other university officials half a dozen times, although she preferred to remain neutral as the appeals hearing officer.

At the final meeting, Triponey urged the coach to advise his players to tell the truth. Paterno said angrily that he couldn’t force his players to “rat” on each other since they had to practice and play together. Curley and Spanier backed him up on that point, she said.

That thing about “ratting,”  you caught, that right?  I’m fairly certain Paterno didn’t come across that code of ethics in his celebrated study of Virgil and the Roman classics.  It sounds a lot more like omerta.

Forget that we’re conditioned to expect misogyny and reckless codes of male super-valuation from old men, or the Mafioso codes of silence or the parallels to the Catholic Church’s endless scandals. Over a lifetime, the Brown-educated, Latin-reading Paterno presented as someone fit and wise and cosmopolitan enough to lead the big business of Penn State football, and, over the course of time and through the gross misguidance of others that he did nothing to remedy (and seemingly encouraged), the University itself.

Turns out he hadn’t really been fit for any of these roles since 1998.  Maybe sooner.  I suspect we’ll’ learn more than we ever wanted to know about Joe Paterno in the coming weeks and months.  He can’t defend himself, it’s true.  But he had opportunities before he passed, and he continued lying to everyone, including the community he claimed to love and, most ironic for a life-long student of the classics, himself.

Muhlenberg is one of America’s Hottest Colleges

As an Ursinus alum, I’m bummed my alma mater didn’t make this list.  But Muhlenberg College ranks right up there with Boston College, Boston University, NYU, USC, Georgetown, Yale and other marquee-brand schools on a new list of America’s hottest colleges.  That’s hottest as in “the place to be.”

I’ve been saying for years that Allentown is “the place to be,” and it’s precisely that now more than ever.

(BTW, as a Yale alum, take that, Harvard.)

At Christmas, a Tale of Two School Districts

Roosevelt Community School

A few months ago, I attended my first Community Partner meeting at Roosevelt Community School here in Allentown.  For those of you not familiar with the Community School model or how in works in this region, visit this page at the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley.

Because of state budget cuts in education, elementary schools in the Allentown School District (a district and tax base not nearly as well-off as the Parkland School District that borders it) don’t have year-round gym, music, or art programs.  Instead, they get nine weeks of each.  Nine weeks of art.  Nine weeks of music. Nine weeks of gym in a district where over 40 percent of elementary students are either overweight or obese. Keep that in mind.

At Roosevelt,  Allentown Symphony Hall is a civic partner providing free music education five days a week via the El Sistema program for the length of the school year.  While I waited in the hall for my first meeting to start, I heard children talking to each other candidly and without prompting about how excited they were to be able to start El Sistema.  At another ASD elementary school, fliers for after-school fitness clubs paper the walls.  Mentoring programs, art programs, financial planning programs…these are all being organized and run by teachers, parents, volunteers, and, in the case of Roosevelt, a Community Director.

At Roosevelt, supplemental education doesn’t stop with children.  There are classes for parents, too, classes on parenting, financial basics, and English as a second language.  This philosophy is at least two-fold as far as I can tell:  parents with more resources and access help foster a better environment for success at home, and schools that are open to the community become places where parents, despite real or supposed cultural barriers, feel welcome.  That’s essential.

I’m sharing all of this for a few reasons that are related.

  • It’s extremely important.  As our city schools face continued challenges locally and nationally, and as budgets are cut because of the ongoing financial crisis or political maneuvering, I do believe these kinds of models will be an important way forward.
  • As Director of Mission at First Presbyterian in Allentown, I work with volunteers at Roosevelt.  100 percent of Roosevelt students are on free or assisted lunch.  Many don’t have enough socks, proper shoes, or warm winter clothes.  If you want to help with that, regardless of where you live, get in touch with me.
  • A few days ago, a post went up on the Valley610 blog telling people to add the Parkland Educational Foundation to your holiday gift-giving list. Jon Geeting jumped on this with a rather provocative headline.  By and large, Parkland has money.  By and large, gifts to the PEF will serve to maintain and further enhance the district’s profile as top in the region, and will help Parkland students maintain and enhance their already jack-pot experience.  That’s fine.
  • I owe a lot to the education I received in the 80s and 90s as a student in the Parkland School District.  We had a lot of opportunity, and kids there now have even more.  We had a ton of resources, and I can’t even imagine the kinds of resources that abound in each of the district’s schools at all levels in 2011.  In high school, I was Debate Team president and the President of the Class of ’98, and I understand even more now how lucky I was to be where I was and to have had parents, friends, teachers, and administrators who all impacted my life in profound ways.  Parkland has a great tradition, and I hope it continues.
  • But….

Kids in the ASD don’t have socks.  They don’t have winter coats.  They don’t have year-round gym or art or music.  Many can’t afford school lunch.  A few miles away sit schools bustling with opportunity in communities with money.

If you have a few expendable dollars this Christmas, give it to Community Schools like Roosevelt in the Allentown School District.  I like the intention, in some ways, behind the Parkland Educational Foundation’s idea of giving in honor of your favor teacher and so on.  But seriously, why not donate to the ASD in your favorite Parkland teacher’s name?  That’s what I’ll be doing.