A university’s most valuable possession is its reputation. When the average person hears the name “Harvard,” the mind is filled with pictures of scholarly robes and ivy walls. When most people hear “Berkeley,” they think of student revolutions and social change.
But what’s the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Penn State University?
If this question were asked a year ago, of course, the first thing that would have come to mind would have been the school’s historic success in football, or maybe the short, fiery coach with the Coke-bottle glasses. But within a year, one person’s name has become unfortunately synonymous with Penn State, and it isn’t Joe Paterno.
Paterno’s longtime No. 2 man, Jerry Sandusky, was found guilty in 45 of 48 counts this week in the child-abuse scandal that has shaken the world of sports. The acts of an individual, however isolated they were, affected the community like a meteor. Sandusky’s actions not only horrifically altered the lives of several young men, but they also changed the way Penn State is thought about as an institution, as well as changing the way coaches and others who work with children are scrutinized.
Pennsylvania State University is consistently rated in the top 50 schools in the country by most college-ranking organizations, and is usually rated higher in rankings of research institutions. It has one of the highest student enrollments in the country, with an extensive and successful commonwealth of satellite campuses across Pennsylvania that contributes to a large amount of students receiving quality educations. The university ranked 11th among U.S. universities in research and development spending, and has graduated an extensive network of alumni who have gone on to do great things.
Sadly, at least for now, this all gets overshadowed, because of the shadowy things that went on while everyone else was watching football.
The effect Sandusky’s actions have had on those who work with children will continue to be seen, as parents become more hyper-vigilant in vetting the people around whom their children spend time. This heightened awareness of predators like Sandusky is both good and bad for children’s organizations. It means, hopefully, that fewer children will be preyed upon, which, in the end, is the most important concern, but it also means that a lot of well-intentioned soccer coaches, math tutors and after-school program workers will be under suspicion for acts that a man in Pennsylvania committed.
The effect of a single, unbridled individual with evil intentions has tarnished the name of Penn State and the names of all those who work with children, and it will be a long road for both organizations to improve their reputations.
The question, then, begs to be asked: What do people think of when they hear the name “Weber State”? Most likely, for those outside of Utah, the answer would be Damian Lillard, the star basketball player who is projected to be drafted as the highest point guard in this week’s NBA draft. A large burden of responsibility rests on Lillard’s shoulders as he moves on to be one of Weber State University’s more noted alumni, and all reports indicate he is the man for the job.
But the burden of responsibility also rests on each student and faculty member at WSU. As members of our own school, community and respective fields of study, we should strive to contribute to the greater reputation of WSU, because after seeing a monster like Sandusky tear apart the Penn State landscape, it is important to note that one man can forever change the reputation of a school.