In the days leading up to the removal of the Paterno statue, my stance was generally agnostic. Or at least I thought it was. I agreed with folks like Russell Frank who calls the debates about symbolism "off the point."
But then PSU President Erickson's announcement--and the statue--came down today, and I realized my stance was not agnostic at all. Or better, this was one of those issues with roughly two solutions, action or inaction. And inaction in this case would have been a kind of action.
Sarah Koenig's amazing reporting at Penn State for This American Life has revealed time and again how administrators here are beholden to big money and (therefore) to football. This was one of the main takeaway points from the episode "#1 Party School," which connected dots between alcohol, football, money, and administrative decisions. The program, by the way, is worth a re-listen in light of recent events. It's almost eerie.
The removal of the statue was a necessary but still insufficient response to the Freeh Investigation's findings on the university's culpability in Jerry Sandusky's crimes. At the core of the university leaders' inaction on Sandusky lies the culture of football at Penn State. The people most upset by the statue's removal are--guess who?--supporters of football and of Joe Paterno. To leave the statue where it is would have been to maintain the status quo. To remove it (even if it is placed elsewhere ultimately and with proper historical narration and context) is a first step toward taking back the university.
Removing the statue is, at base, really no different from the removal of Gary Schultz's name from the child care center on campus back in November (Schultz is one of the administrators whose name appears frequently in the Freeh report). But it's pretty different for two reasons: 1) there was no outcry in protest (before the grand jury report, comparatively few knew who he was), and 2) no one waited around for a BOT meeting; most of his name got hacked down on the night Joe Paterno was fired. (I should note, as suggested by my letter to the Collegian the day before this happened, I was not at all agnostic about what should be done about Schultz's name on the daycare.) Before the maintenance workers came to sand down the sign and clean up, I snapped this picture.
In the middle of the chisel marks is a barely legible--because mangled--"U," a harbinger of things to come.