I will preface what I’m about to post as such: I am a DIE HARD and ardent NC State Wolfpack fan. Oftentimes I have thought to myself, “they can do no wrong.” Period. I will admit, that sentiment can be reckless. I also, at the same time, value loyalty: to things/places, causes, and people (in that order). I value family a great deal, and within my community loyalty to family and our people is sacred. A rapper I used to listen to (and still secretly do) said, referring to his brother, “even when he’s wrong, he ain’t wrong, cause he’s my brother.” That pretty much explains how I have felt about my family through time no matter what; but to NC State, not so much. It is an organization; it, and the people within it, make mistakes. And when they are wrong, they are wrong, and should be held accountable.
I am concluding a week long academy for student conduct administrators on college campuses. There are folks here from all over the country, from California, to Texas, to Pennsylvania. In fact, there are several people here from Penn State, and many alumni of Penn State. Of course as we are discussing conduct matters, the scandal at Penn State was obviously going to come up on more than one occasion. After each mention of Penn State, and subsequent snicker, discomfort, or “oh yea – Penn State” comment, some employees and alumni acted like they wanted to be upset! Some playfully, others playfully but kinda serious. They would respond with, “hey now,” or “watch it,” or as one of our speakers apologetically said “I’m a graduate of Penn State, so don’t get me wrong, that’s my school,” before she went on to leverage criticism.
Simultaneously this week, I began reading the Freeh Report, detailing the Penn State abuse by Gerald Sandusky. It also details the appalling lack of accountability, responsibility, and empathy of several in the Penn State community for years and years. My question is, why are people so reluctant, offended, and outraged at the notion of saying anything bad about Penn State? This is exactly the reason they are in this position now; blind allegiance to an entity at the expense of rational critique and ethical protection of innocent people. Pen State messed up…no if, ands, or buts. I teach Educational Leadership to graduate and undergraduate students, and have been in higher education for 10+ years – but a first year freshman can tell you that Penn State messed up. We all should be able to say that without apology. This does not take away the fact that PSU is a great educational institution…but they messed up. Let’s leave it at that for a while.
The leadership lesson: own your stuff. Each of use will fail. Each of us will fail those we love and care about; our family, friends, constituents, customers, etc. Our goal should not be to hide or obfuscate the truth, or to show blind and reckless loyalty to ourselves or others. Rather, we can admit what we did, apologize for what we did, attend to those to whom we caused harm, and commit to act in ethical and consistent ways moving forward. As leaders, it is paramount that we act with integrity at all times, as much as humanly possible. The funny thing, though, is that humans are fallible, and we make mistakes. When we do, we need to own our stuff.