November 15, 2011

Tuesday Memo - Penn State and Me


In just two short weeks IM will hold its second annual For All Humanity Luncheon in support of our Refugee Services work.  With the world in such turmoil, and so many refugees seeking a safe place, we are proud to be among those organizations that welcome the stranger to our country, and city.  We are pleased to be honoring Susan and Dan Boggio for the good work that they do on behalf of so many people in need and are thrilled that Tehmina Masud and Sultana Mangali are our co-chairs.  The proceeds of this luncheon will go to house, feed, clothe, educate and help employ our new neighbors.  And with government cuts, those funds are needed more now than ever.  Please join us on Tuesday, November 29, 2011.  You can learn more by clicking here.
Also, don't forget about the Thanksgiving Day Meals on Wheels Delivery on November 24th. Volunteers are needed to deliver a traditional Thanksgiving meal to home-bound seniors.  Sign up here.


I happen to be a proud graduate of Penn State.  That was true a few weeks ago and still is so today.  But as you might guess the revelations of the past few weeks are terribly troubling and the mishandling of the tragic news is heart-wrenching.

I was a teaching assistant for Joe Paterno way back in 1971.  I got to see how the inside worked, and while it was not quite as idyllic as its public image, the program was special and Joe set what appeared to be very high standards.  I also, over the years, have had the opportunity to see Joe at work - his philanthropic endeavors on behalf of Penn State and other charities is legendary. He gave away millions of dollars and was a major catalyst in making Penn State a great university.

All of that pales in comparison to the sickening waste of such a good name.  Joe and the leaders at Penn State were complicit (at least that's how it appears) in helping keep a story out of the news for what I assume is fear that the news would damage the precious image everyone worked so hard to project and protect.

It's terribly sad that the safety and rights of little kids were less important than image.  It's quite astonishing that it took this long for all of this to come out - but a lesson is that it always does.  And it's the cover-up, as much as anything, that ends up being the destructive force.  Instead of doing what's right in real time, the efforts at keeping things quiet bring down more and more people.  More often than not, good people like Joe Paterno who should have done the right thing on day one, fail to see the moral imperative of the day.

We are left to wonder how many people knew and how they could look the other way all these years.  Why did Penn State let Sandusky have access to any campus facilities?  How could they reconcile the primary mission of any university with the moral need to protect young kids?

The obvious answer is they could not - and now a lot of people will pay with their reputations and jobs.  That's as it should be.  But if they were not so selfish and blinded by their self-perceived power, the greater good would have risen and the interests of the kids would have taken higher priority than the university's good name.

What's the primary lesson?  There's only one:  act with transparency and integrity.  If Penn State, and other institutions facing similar tragic news, would show more interest in the victims and less interest in their own power and image, I am guessing that most of us would, despite our disgust and hurt, be much more forgiving.  It's time that trusted institutions act in ways that deserve our respect.  Let's all pray for the kids who were unfortunate enough to be snookered into believing that the good folks at my alma mater would care more about them than their precious image.

Talk to you in two weeks.

Elliot Gershenson
President and CEO
Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston

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