Ethical Reasoning: Implications for Accounting

Ethical Reasoning: Implications for Accounting


PENN STATE CHILD ABUSE SCANDAL: A CULTURE OF INDIFFERENCE What motivates an otherwise ethical person to do the wrong thing when faced with an ethical dilemma? Why did Joe Paterno and administrators at Penn State University look the other way and fail to act on irrefutable evidence that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had raped and molested young boys, an offense for which Sandusky currently is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence? According to the independent report by Louis Freeh that investigated the sexual abuse, four of the most powerful people at Penn State, including president Graham Spanier, athletic director Timothy Curley, senior vice president Gary Schultz, and head football coach Joe Paterno, shel- tered a child predator harming children for over a decade by concealing Sandusky’s activities from the board of trus- tees, the university community, and authorities. The Freeh report characterizes the inactions as lacking empathy for the victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well- being. Not only that, but they exposed the first abused child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, of what assistant coach Mike McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001. 1 McQueary testified at the June 2012 trial of Sandusky that when he was a graduate assistant, he walked into the locker room and heard sounds of slapping

and observed Sandusky up against a boy, whose hands were up against the wall. 2 He reported the suspected child abuse to Paterno who reported the incident to his superiors but did not confront Sandusky or report the incident to the board of trustees or the police. 3

REASONS FOR UNETHICAL ACTIONS The report gives the following explanations for the failure of university leaders to take action to identify this child vic- tim and for not reporting Sandusky to the authorities:

• The desire to avoid the bad publicity that reporting the incident would bring

• The failure of the university’s board of trustees to have reporting mechanisms in place to ensure disclosure of major risks to the university

• A president who discouraged discussion and dissent • A lack of awareness of child abuse issues and the Clery

Act, which requires all colleges and universities partici- pating in federal financial aid programs to keep and dis- close information about crimes committed on and near their campuses

• A lack of whistleblower policies and protections • A culture of reverence for the football program that was

ingrained at all levels of the campus community

Ethics Reflection


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