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Friday, November 30, 2012

Penn State Ethics Class Takes On Sandusky Scandal

The statue of former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno is now in storage, but some students in a new ethics class at the university say it should be melted down and made into a memorial for victims. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

The statue of former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno is now in storage, but some students in a new ethics class at the university say it should be melted down and made into a memorial for victims. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

Penn State is offering a class that gives students the chance to examine the ethical issues surrounding the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

In October, Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach, was sentenced to 60 years in prison for sexual abuse of young boys over 15 years.

Professor Jonathan Marks, director of the Bioethics Program, teaches the freshman level class. Using short stories and movies, Marks engages the students in a discussion about the ethical issues in the case using a variety of formal ethical theories.

“I was strongly encouraged by the Dean to make the Sandusky crisis the focus of this course and it was an invitation I willingly embraced because I think it’s my responsibility to do this,” Marks told Here and Now’s Robin Young.

Marks said the students had to struggle with how to deal with issues close to home, including how they felt about the late head coach, Joe Paterno, who was critized for failing to stop Sandusky’s abuse.

Some students felt that the university’s statue of Paterno (which no longer stands on the university grounds) should be melted down and made into a memorial for Sandusky’s victims. Others are conflicted. One student said if it weren’t for Joe Paterno, he would never have attended Penn State, because he received a Paterno scholarship.

Marks said the class forced students to think beyond the individuals in this case.

“What we need to do is not just think about individuals,” Marks said. “But how we can structure our institutions and society at large to promote the kind of ethical behavior we want to see in ourselves and in others.”


  • Jonathan Marks, director of Bioethics Program at Penn State University

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  • Bmac5360

    I was a bit disappointed by your off hand remark, “yes, that Penn State”.  It is a great school as demonstrated by their willingness to mold a class to explore the ethics involved in this crime.  I hope it explores how the events that started in the late ’90′s were handled by the authorities, the University and Paterno.  I would hope that the question goes beyond what to do with Paterno’s statue and restores the man’s reputation and legacy. Given a fair, impartial hearing instead of a rush to judgement I believe that people will realize that Joe did little, if anything wrong. Unfortunately, Joe isn’t here, so I’ll ask the question for him from the McCarthy hearings: Which Office does he go to to get his reputation back?

  • Jmh1024

    Maybe he should also include the ethics of the journalistic community who participated in a lynching before anyone could tell their side of the story.

    If you are beginning with the premise that Joe could have stopped Sandusky, the course is a waste of time.  Many assumptions have been made concerning Joe.  Did Joe even know what Sandusky was doing?  No one else seemed to know so why is only Joe taken to task for this not knowing?  What power did Joe wield that he could have stopped Sandusky?  Further, the failure here is of the legal community and law enforcement who have the power.  Not to mention Child Welfare Services who were well aware of the Sandusky situation.  None of these entities could or would stop Sandusky so please tell me what Joe could have realistically done even if the assumption that he knew were true?

    I do believe this would be normal if we lived in a dictatorship or a communist country.  The NCAA(National Communist Athletic Association)sure underscores that belief.  Without benefit of an investigation or testimony they judged PSU and Joe to be guilty.  They took the Freeh report as gospel and acted accordingly and we now know that the Freeh report was a compilation of inaccuracies, assumptions, suppositions and some outright lies.

    This is all just a load of garbage.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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