Wyatt Massey of Spotlight PA State College and Josh Moyer of the Centre Daily Times
This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town.
STATE COLLEGE — A recent investigation by Spotlight PA and the Centre Daily Times into Penn State’s efforts to prevent misconduct and harassment found deep-rooted flaws in the system largely created following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The two newsrooms spent a year speaking with current and former Penn State employees, state lawmakers, and outside experts. The reporters reviewed court filings, university-sponsored campus surveys, internal university communications, and confidential hotline reports alleging misconduct.
The investigation found communication gaps and questionable practices within Penn State’s Office of Ethics and Compliance and related offices tasked with ensuring the university follows federal, state, and university policies.
Spotlight PA’s Wyatt Massey interviewed multiple employees who felt frustrated with Penn State’s practices, including John Champagne who reported a campus event as “creating a hostile work environment” in October 2021 and waited 18 months for a response.
The Centre Daily Times’ Josh Moyer reviewed past Penn State incidents involving misconduct. He interviewed former Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale about a 2017 report that found the university failed, post-Sandusky, to conduct necessary background checks on employees in 7.9% of youth camps. And he contacted several state legislators about the university’s exemption from Pennsylvania’s open records law, which several lawmakers have attempted to change. According to state Rep. Ryan Warner (R., Fayette) none of the commonwealth’s four state-related universities have supported ending the exclusion.
The newsrooms presented their findings to Penn State’s board of trustees, other top university officials, and individuals named in the story. All parties were provided several days to respond to questions. The university was also sent a list of information that would be presented in the story — such as key events, documents that would be cited, etc. — and offered a chance to comment on any or all of the claims.
The university declined to discuss many of the details of the reporting, and largely defended its structures for reporting misconduct.
“As a predominantly decentralized, large and complex organization, the university’s mechanisms for responding to reports of wrongdoing and reporting on outcomes of the university’s handling of such reports have grown organically throughout its history as needs have been identified,” Penn State said in a statement to the newsrooms. “Following internal and external examinations and audits of the university’s previous practices, new policies, protocols and people have been put into place.”
Sources shared documents and internal communications that gave the newsrooms crucial insight into what was happening inside the university. Penn State is largely shielded from Pennsylvania’s open records law, due to its special status as a state-related university. Without a change to the law, reporting offers one of the few windows into the school, insights that the investigation shows are as important for employees as much as the public.
Read the full investigation here.
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Image: Daniel Fishel / For Spotlight PA