In an unexpected turn, due to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, Penn State University might be losing their academic accreditation. The decision lies in the hands of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. After Penn State has lost their great reputation, had their legendary football team’s history damaged, and the legacy of coach Joe Paterno tarnished, this could be the biggest blow to the school yet.
What it means
If it is decided that the school should lose their accreditation, the results could prove drastic. First, students would no longer be able to get federal financial aid, student loans, grants, and possibly even state financial aid.
The school has acknowledged that the Sandusky scandal has resulted in the integrity of Penn State being brought into question, as well as how the school is run. Because the Freeh report determined that school officials did not take proper action and allowed sexual abuse to continue, the school was not being properly run.
As of now, Penn State is on an official warning. After the NCAA banned Penn State from football bowl games for four years, took away numerous scholarships, stripped wins from 1998 through 2011, and fined them $60 million, most thought the penalties were done being handed down. But those penalties are minimal when compared to the loss of accreditation.
The biggest issue with handing down the punishment of stripped accreditation is that it punishes many people who were uninvolved in the scandal. It was officials who committed the crimes and other officials who did nothing to stop them. But if accreditation is lost, it is the students who lost out.
Removal of accreditation hurts the students
Being punished for the wrongdoing of others is something that no one likes. If accreditation is lost, that leaves thousands of students who had enrolled into one of the top schools in the United States and have paid a lot of money with a degree that is essentially worthless.
No one would argue that the school officials should be punished for the scandal. But who would argue that students who had nothing to do with it should be punished? For example, why should an English major who does not even like football lose the value of their education because of a poorly run athletic program?
What should be done?
The removal of accreditation would be a major mistake and would leave students in jeopardy. Unless the removal is done strategically, it should not be done. An acceptable removal would be allowing currently enrolled students to continue to get the benefits of an accreditation status. However, the removal of accreditation would drive away top professors and leave those students with a lesser education than they are paying for. Also, such a strategy would be complicated to implement.
An acceptable course of action is a complete overhaul of Penn State leadership. No one involved with the scandal who did not take the proper course of action or was seen to have acted improperly in any way should be allowed to stay with the university in any capacity.
With the Freeh report at hand, the commission overseeing Penn State’s accreditation could easily demand that certain officials be dismissed and outside replacements be brought in.
The solution does not lie in removing accreditation. The solution lies in the reforming the school. Penn State was once the model of excellence. Now it is the model of corruption, scandal, and poor leadership. But punishing innocent students would be a crime in itself. Punishing those responsible for the problems would be just.
The legacies left by the Jerry Sandusky scandal must be erased. Even much of the legacy of Joe Paterno must be put far into the past. The Nittany Lions must no longer be Joe Pa’s team.
The wheels have begun turning to change the image of Penn State. Names are now going to be on the backs of jerseys. A new coaching regime has entered the university. But more must be done. And it will not be a quick change. Penn State must prove that changes are in the works and that sooner rather than later, the image of Penn State University will be a far cry from what it was during the days of Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky.