Penn State University firings rile campus

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Penn State students and others gather off campus following the firing of football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier amid the growing furor over how the school handled sex abuse allegations against an assistant coach on Wednesday. (Photo Courtesy of Matt Rourke)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

UT alumnus Brad Kurz was writing a paper Wednesday night when he heard Pennsylvania State University’s Board of Trustees had fired long-time football coach Joe Paterno. Moments later, Kurz heard a police officer pass by his room.

“He said ‘there is a mob of students trying to break into the main building,’” Kurz said. “He came back a few moments later and said the students were heading towards Beaver Street, the main site of the protest [Wednesday].”

Paterno’s dismissal and the subsequent student riots after the announcement made national headlines yesterday night and spurred conversation on many college campuses. Kurz said students were in a state of shock that quickly turned to anger after the announcement, because no one had heard anything about it before. Penn State’s Board of Trustees dismissed Paterno for failing to report rape accusations against his former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Kurz graduated from UT with a degree in psychology and liberal arts honors last spring and currently studies higher education administration at Penn State. Kurz said before he got to Penn State he would joke with his friends that Paterno was like a mascot they only let out for games. He said his perception of Paterno has changed since he got to Penn State.

“Just being around and seeing his impact, you have to grow close to ‘Joe Pa,’” Kurz said. “I don’t even know half of the stories, but what I do know is so impactful, so incredible. I’d be blind not to be impacted.”

Kurz said although there is an ethical debate surrounding Paterno’s actions, students still want him to stay.

“The feeling here is that ‘Joe Pa’ is Penn State,” Kurz said. “He and have wife have created traditions here and have given so much money to charities. Everywhere you go, you see their names.”

Rachel Perrotta, political science sophomore at Penn State, said students will hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of Jerry Sandusky Friday night. A group of Penn State alumni have also recently partnered with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an organization providing support for victims of sexual abuse, with a goal to raise $500,000, one dollar for each of Penn States’ alumni, according to the organization’s website.

Paterno released a statement Wednesday saying he was disappointed with the Board of Trustees decision, but he had to accept it. Before the Board announced their decision he said he would retire at the end of the season.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said in the statement. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

Glenn Frankel, dean of the School of Journalism, said the only moment equivalent to the firing of Joe Paterno is when Margaret Thatcher stepped down as prime minister of the U.K.

“It was a very sudden thing,” Frankel said. “She thought she was going to be there until the end, then the wise men of the Conservative Party came to her and told her ‘it’s over.’”

This sits very well with the modern American narrative that no institution can be trusted and everyone in authority is like the emperor with no clothes, Frankel said.

“Anyone or any institution that has power and authority over other people needs to be looked at and held accountable,” Frankel said. “That applies to Joe Paterno, Penn State, UT and any other institution.”

Student Government president Natalie Butler said although she thought Paterno was a great football coach the incident was tragic and she felt bad for all of the victims.

“I don’t think people in that position have a higher moral obligation,” Butler said in response to allegations that Paterno should have known better. “It is unfortunate this is the way his career had to end.”

Engineering senior Phillipe Brady said he always thought of Paterno as the grandfather of college football and a stand up guy. He said Paterno was to Penn State what Mack Brown is to UT — they represent all that’s good at their university.

“I don’t think that would happen here, and if it did I don’t know what I would do,” Brady said. “It’s frightening to see someone that good fall as far as Joe Paterno.”