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Break up Penn State

Will Bunch has a great idea:

That's why I think the solution to the very deep and very fundamental problems at Penn State need to be much, much bolder than the cosmetic change that a new president (especially when it's likely to be a bland choice in the mold of Tom Ridge) and a new face on the sidelines of Beaver Stadium. Those changes would do little -- if anything -- to upend the deeply rooted culture of corruption that finally went so far off the tracks that preserving the cash cow of a winning football program became more important than the safety of children.

There's only one way to end the culture of winning at all costs, football-first-and-education-second, and rioting when things don't go your way on the athletic field.

Blow up, metaphorically speaking, the main campus in State College.

Split up the student population among the 19 so-called commonwealth or branch campuses that now educate nearly 40 percent of the student body, and launch a major expansion with new construction and real job creation at those sites, to finally fulfill Gov. Corbett's so-far empty promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs." In fact, expand the overall statewide enrollment so that a college education in Pennsylvania is more accessible to the middle class. But make the current campus in State College much, much smaller -- with a student body closer to 10,000 and a focus on central Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, you can -- and should -- let these new pumped-up regional campus have varsity football programs.

Just not in Division I. That is one dream that needs to be buried along with the Paterno era.

The reasons for doing this are two-fold. The first is obvious -- the culture of corruption at Penn State that clearly runs much deeper than just one monster who got away with sexually abusing young boys. What a lot of people are unwilling still to admit is that the Jerry Sandusky scandal has exposed Joe Paterno -- and his enablers up and down the university ladder -- as an Emperor with No Clothes, parading down College Avenue on his white horse.

Paterno's "grand experiment" started failing a long time ago -- his student athletes starting causing all kinds of problems for Paterno as long ago as the late 1990s. There was some foreshadowing of the Sandusky affair back in 2006 when JoePa appeared to make light of sexual assault allegations against a star player, which prompted the National Organization for Women to call for his resignation, and three years earlier a different player accused of a sex assault was allowed to play in a bowl game. But Paterno was just one piece of the puzzle -- the Sandusky probe has revealed an entire community, including administrators, the campus police, and local law-enforcement, that was in the tankto protect the sacred cow disguised as a Nittany Lion.

You think a new president is going to just waltz in and fix that?

Meanwhile, the most unsettling thing about last night's riot was how predictable it was. In the last decade, we've seen students go on a destructive rampage when Penn State lost games (in 2001, when the basketball team lost to Temple in, ahem, March madness) and when it won games (over Ohio State in football in 2008), and now over Paterno's firing. Yes, I realize that these aren't a majority of the student body, and that others more righteously protested against Sandusky and the failures of now former university president Graham Spanier. But rioters have become the public face of the Penn State student body, and it suggests that maybe putting 45,000 young students in one rural town, where the economy is built on a currency of jello shots, was an idea that made a little bit of sense in, say, 1950 but seems played out in 2011.

So let's end the "grand experiment" -- not the grand experiment of Paterno, but the bigger grand experiment that is Penn State's main campus. It failed. A radical restructuring of the Penn State system would cause everyone -- from students on up to the governor -- to re-think the entire experience, to re-invent the university as one focused not so much on beating Nebraska as on beating the Chinese and the Indians in creating the commanders and the foot soldiers of a new American economy.

Too simple, too obvious, and too good for the 99%. Never happen.

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Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

As one who is apparently a dick (see "jest" above), I think Bunch's idea is stupid. The problem isn't that the university is too large. The problem is that football is too important, both there and elsewhere.

I started out at one of the PSU branch campuses, incidentally. The branch campus network is a great thing for Pennsylvania, and other states might do well to emulate it. But even in the Internet Age, it's tough to do research in science and engineering at such small campuses. While it's possible that the central campus could be downsized a bit, and some programs moved to the branch campuses, it's hard to see how that could be done on anything like the scale Bunch is talking about.

As long as major universities need to have successful sports programs so that alumni and others will support them, there are going to be problems like this. There's too much money dependent on winning something that's largely meaningless in any sense that makes a university, or our own lives, better. Seattle just spent somewhere north of $600 million to build two sports stadiums for its allegedly professional sports teams. Now we're going to build one for the UW, at a no doubt similar cost. What in the world for? Traffic still sucks in downtown, which was always what I hated about going to games at the Kingdome. When the new Husky Stadium is finished, traffic will still suck around the U.