Schools, States Taking Steps to Prevent Their Own ‘Penn State Scandal’

The impact of the Penn State sex abuse scandal continues to be felt, as schools around the country have started to adopt policies designed to prevent a similar disaster from occurring on their campuses. Among the schools taking such steps is the University of Mississippi, whose administrators just passed a rule that prohibits one-on-one contact between minors and staff members older than 18. Meanwhile, the University of Kansas voted to strengthen its mandatory reporter rules, saying that anyone who failed to alert the authorities about ongoing sex crimes could lose their job with the school.

The University of Southern California hired the person most familiar with the Penn State scandal and its fallout, the author of the report covering the university’s institutional failings — former FBI director Louis Freeh — to brief its high level officials and staff on the changes they need to make to improve the school’s response to reported instances of malfeasance by employees.

In all, 55 of 69 BCS football schools — 79.7 percent of those playing at the highest level in college — either reviewed or strengthened their policies regarding minors on campus in the wake of the case involving Jerry Sandusky, an Associated Press review found.

“The conversation started the minute the Penn State situation was made public,” said Mississippi associate athletic director Lynnette Johnson, who called the 18-and-over policy the linchpin of the changes at their campus in Oxford, Miss. “We wanted to build something that’s comprehensive and manageable and can actually be enforced.”

Policy changes were not limited to colleges and universities. According to Eddie Pells of the Associated Press, long conversations about where Penn State went wrong also occurred in statehouses across the country. Since then, 18 states have adopted laws adding university athletic staff to the list of those mandated to report witnessed child abuse.

It goes without saying that the organization taking the scandal most seriously is Penn State itself, which hired Freeh to detail where it went wrong as to make recommendations on how it can handle similar issues in the future. The university has even launched a “Progress” website where it updates the public on how it’s doing with the adoption of the changes Freeh recommended.

The AP canvassed the 69 schools in the BCS conferences in 2012, along with Notre Dame, and found that, in addition to the 55 that said they reviewed or changed their rules in response to the Sandusky case, 12 others had recently done that work in response to a push from the U.S. Department of Education or because of incidents that occurred on their campuses or laws passed in their states.

“We didn’t want to be in a position where we could say it couldn’t happen here,” said Mark Land, spokesman at Indiana University, which beefed up its policies. Before the scandal at Penn State, the university had rules that were in line with those at other schools. Despite that, the Freeh report noted that 234 of 735 coaches paid to work at summer sports camps in 2009 didn’t have their required background checks before their camp began.