Penn State on Trial, Again – Mark Steyn Edition


The Odyssey length trial against Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg by Climate Change scientist Micheal Mann has put Penn State University back into the legal headlines. This case might jog some people’s memories, vaguely remembering something about a football coach who fiddled with the kiddies and an intransigent administration. For many Pennsylvanians, like myself, it was something you certainly never forgot. Simberg and Steyn highlighted another scandal at Penn State at around the same time with Micheal Mann. Steyn appropriately points out that the same corruption that existed under then President Graham Spanier on the serial child abuse scandal was not simply confined to that one area. Spanier was a close ally to Mann. Evidence includes the consistent acknowledgements Mann gave to Spanier, even after he was sitting in prison. Spanier assured that a phony investigation into the conduct of Mann would lead to a PR stunt and a predetermined exoneration. Just like in the case of the serial child abuser Jerry Sandusky. However, in the case of Sandusky the lid could not be kept on it, whereas in the case of Mann the lid essentially held.

Once the Penn State system was circumvented and Sandusky was finally arrested, he was perp walked in a jacket that had “Penn State Wrestling” visible on the front. It reinforced to me that the universe has a caustic sense of humor. I specifically remember an exchange between a probing reporter asking then head Football coach Joe Paterno about his former long time assistant coach (Sandusky) and the emerging scandal that shocked the public. Joe “Pa” was then pretty much a figure head of the football program who refused to retire. He appeared to solidify himself as a crusty, old curmudgeon. His assistants did the coaching and Joe Pa didn’t even wear a headset for most of the games. Paterno’s response to the reporter’s questions was rather revealing… perhaps symbolic too; Joe Pa responded with the school chant “We Are, Penn State!, We Are, Penn State!”.

As Joe did the chant he held his arm up doing a fist pump as though he were leading a cheer in Beaver Stadium. The reporter paused for a couple moments, seemingly in disbelief. He then followed up with a question asking if Paterno understood the gravity of the situation. To observers, including myself, he did NOT seem to “get it”. On radio shows at the time speculation as to whether or not Joe Pa had gone senile was a debate topic. In subsequent days it turns out Paterno did the bare minimum legally speaking to not be prosecuted in the child abuse scandal by reporting it to a University administrator. He certainly failed as a man and as a leader. He was fired by Penn State to deflect bad PR as the public outrage mounted. The statue of Paterno at Penn State was removed. As I recall that was the first year of the Big Ten Championship game. The Championship Trophy was to be named in honor of Joe Paterno. That was changed. Joe Pa’s record of college games won as head coach was officially removed from NCAA history. Still, when the climate gate scandal occurred, there was no such accountability for Micheal Mann.

Long before the recent Harvard scandal with Claudine Gay, I was very aware of the problems in the American educational system at the University level. Culture certainly has a role to play. Those cultures just don’t change overnight. Many years ago when I was in high school I made trips to visit prospective colleges. Penn State “Main” as it is known in PA is hands down the biggest college in the state. It’s a juggernaut. Penn State dominates the town of State College which is located in a rural area in the central part of the state. Some claimed Penn State became an isolated bubble with not much else to influence the culture. I think there’s something to that. First impressions can be strong and lasting. That’s the way it was for me when I visited Penn State as a high school student.

Penn State had organized prospective students and their parents to start their college tour at a large auditorium with an official presenter. This presenter opened to the large audience with a story mocking “stupid parents”, “dumb questions”, and throwing out their kid’s application as a joke. At the time I immediately thought that the guy was a complete jerk and pompous [REDACTED] with completely elitist attitude. Plus I thought this is a state school, it’s not supposed to be some exclusive country club. Also, to me it was an embarrassingly obvious breach of appropriate conduct for a University official, especially one meant to deal with the prospective public. Even if his story were true, it’s beside the point. There is a certain decorum for holding certain representative positions. Or at least that’s the way I see it. That episode always stuck with me. The sneering, arrogant, blow hard was my introduction to Penn State culture. Obviously not all Penn Staters are jerks (though mostly the ones from Philly are) and there are still plenty of good things with people who had positive experiences etc… but I don’t want to qualify my basic point to death here.  When I look at the ranting Twitter conduct of Micheal Mann and his near sociopathic behavior in dragging out a law-fare court case, it’s not so different from the tone I vividly remember all those years ago at a Penn State campus trip.

I’m not going to bother with re-hashing the specifics of Micheal Mann’s hockey stick curve, the climate-gate scandal, or the financial motives around climate change research. This is already thoroughly plowed ground elsewhere, and I suspect many readers on Ricochet are already familiar. My point is to share info that is more general to the University culture. I never was a fan of Joe Pa. Another short story I think reflects on the character of Joe Pa and the system: There was a football player who was good enough to start for the team, but he was not at the level to make a career in the NFL—back when “student-athletes” were being advertised as “going pro in something other than sports”. This was part of the media campaign promoting college sports. Anyway, this footballer ended up having a scheduling conflict between a football practice and a final test. He was serious about school and notified his segment coach that he’d be missing practice for the critical test. Joe Pa found out and got angry.  That anger resulted in a punishment and tongue lashing for the academically inclined football player.

So fast forward to today. An important question is: has Penn State undergone meaningful reform?

The school had a former FBI chief to a review of the handling of the child abuse scandal. That scandal even led to state legislation meant to further protect kids and adults in the K-12 and University systems. So how’d all that turn out? Well, a recent PA Spotlight report strongly indicates that Penn State has been successful at omitting itself from key aspects of the reform efforts. There are other critical materials out there too. But here I thought I’d share some highlight quotes from the Spotlight report:

“internal accountability apparatus Penn State constructed has repeatedly failed those it was intended to protect.”

“the chief ethics officer was repeatedly accused of misconduct and retaliation”

“Problems identified during the Sandusky scandal remain, a U.S. Department of Education report from 2020 concluded”

“A decade after the national scandal, Penn State lacks a unified way to track all cases of reported misconduct. Its various compliance offices do not all follow a standardized investigative protocol and do not disclose their findings to the public or to the wider university community.”

Penn State grants little public insight into both its accountability practices and its basic internal processes, actions authorized by a special exemption in Pennsylvania’s open records law.”

Penn State commissioned surveys of employees’ and students’ feelings about its campus culture and values. The results highlighted widespread distrust in the university’s misconduct reporting system.”

“It’s enraging to hear allegations surface, knowing they’ll be shoved under the rug to protect the reputation of the university and the organization,” the student wrote.”

So effective reforms efforts at Penn State University will likely last longer than Micheal Mann’s ultra-marathon, near trans-generational lawsuit of Mark Steyn. As it turns out Penn State had success in exempting itself from certain state oversight and public reporting. The same could very well be said of Micheal Mann.

Regrettably, the well intended laws passed by the General Assembly (PA’s legislature) in the wake of the Penn State scandal covering up Sandusky’s crimes have not eliminated child abuse in the public school systems. PA still has local reporting of school administrators covering up abuses. But at least now those that work in the system who fail to report child abuse in the PA school system can be prosecuted for failing to report abuse cases. Sad that such laws had to be passed. But the reality is that institutions and individuals therein tend to act to protect themselves. In the case of Mann, I don’t actually believe new laws are required. I believe he has already violated professional conduct standards. Perhaps there’s some useful policy change to come though.

I will continue to follow the Steyn vs Mann case closely. Hopefully the judge doesn’t totally rig the evidence allowed to be presented to the DC jury and that the jury is fair. We’ll see. But let this case also raise awareness again on the topic of oversight of the public education system.

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There are 8 comments.

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  1. cdor Member

    I can’t believe that lawsuit is still going on. Who is paying Mann’s legal fees? Is it Penn State? Mark Steyn has gotten so screwed by that lying jerk.

    • #1
  2. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson

    cdor (View Comment):

    I can’t believe that lawsuit is still going on. Who is paying Mann’s legal fees? Is it Penn State? Mark Steyn has gotten so screwed by that lying jerk.

    Taxpayer-funded legal expenses is a prime  method for bureaucratic government operated institutions and related players to outlast their public benefactors in disputes. they spend their opponents money.

    • #2
  3. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos

    Bureaucracies tend not to have a moral compass.  Universities stopped being about truth and learning some time ago and became money-grubbing bureaucracies.  Only money and image matter.  Michael Mann was a commodity because of the fame of the Hocket Stick.  That meant grant money.  Hence he must be right and protected.  Universities instinctively circle the wagons around scandals in the football program because enormous sums are at stake.  And gutless, weasely rhetoric to protect the university image (contrary to sordid ideological realities) and the income stream is the top line in the University president’s job description.

    • #3
  4. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt

    The Penn State sex abuse scandal’s biggest mistake was not immediately involving the Pennsylvania State Police to investigate the allegations instead of looking for an in-house solution with their campus police agency and administrators.

    One of the reasons beside being woke that teachers’ unions and administrators do not want school resource officers in public schools is that a student might approach an officer with a sexual abuse allegation involving school staff. 

    • #4
  5. iWe Coolidge

    You can watch the case LIVE via instructions here.

    Right now Michael Mann is being cross-examined. Steyn might get a chance at him today. It should be delicious. 

    • #5
  6. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton

    There was a big development at the end of the podcast today. They talked to a lawyer who said that the attorneys for Mann bill up to $2,500 per hour. Mann was asked how much he has paid his attorneys. $0 Some people or foundations are paying big bucks to fund this lawsuit.

    • #6
  7. kedavis Coolidge

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    There was a big development at the end of the podcast today. They talked to a lawyer who said that the attorneys for Mann bill up to $2,500 per hour. Mann was asked how much he has paid his attorneys. $0 Some people or foundations are paying big bucks to fund this lawsuit.

    Wouldn’t surprise me if it’s Penn.  Although where THEY get the money from, I wouldn’t guess.

    • #7
  8. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    There was a big development at the end of the podcast today. They talked to a lawyer who said that the attorneys for Mann bill up to $2,500 per hour. Mann was asked how much he has paid his attorneys. $0 Some people or foundations are paying big bucks to fund this lawsuit.


    • #8
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