Deadly bubbles

photo by istargazer

photo by istargazer

For some time now, the news coming out of State College, Pa., has gotten worse and worse. The scandal involving the venerable football program and its all-too-venerated coach sheds a cold and chilling light on what happens when success masks dark secrets.

On all levels, the story is tragic. For Penn State. For the Paterno family. And most poignantly, for the young victims. The story explodes the notion that wise, smart, highly educated individuals can always be trusted to do what’s right. The lessons learned from the Penn State scandal are deep, meaningful and should be heeded by every administrator in every business, university and organization.

But what is most fundamental about the scandal, and what is perhaps its most important takeaway, is a simple truth often overlooked: change should be wisely considered and welcomed when it is right.

At the heart of the Penn State scandal is the now sadly exposed truth that no one wanted things to change. The bubble in Happy Valley grew bigger and thicker and the air inside grew fouler and fouler to the point that no matter how dark and hard became the pressures that could have — that should have — burst it from the inside, nothing did until  David Newhouse, the editor of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, broke the story

An article on CNN’s website this morning, tells the story of one brave academic who dared challenge the status quo at Penn State. To her initial detriment, and now her eventual vindication, Vicky Triponey, then Penn’s vice president overseeing student affairs, stood up to the administration, and most importantly to the vaunted football coach. She tried to change the system for the better.

But they would have none of it. They loved “The Penn State Way,” and come hell or high water, they weren’t going to let anyone change it. They were determined, all of them, to keep the bubble they loved intact, the myth alive and the money, prestige and accolades flowing.

Then the floods came, along with a living hell that certainly hastened Joe Paterno’s death.

The inability to see and explore change is shortsighted, if not wholly foolish. Whether change is imminent in one’s individual life or in the life of a university, change almost always holds something positive. Change is healthy, renewing, refreshing and often life changing.

That’s why Being the Change is so important to JMU. It grounds us, focuses us forward not inward, and it gives us the freedom and the mindset to value the future — to look critically at what is and optimistically at what might be.

Simply put, it is the wise acknowledgement that we are never as great today as we can be tomorrow. And perhaps, just perhaps, the constant examination of our status quo will save us from getting caught in a bubble filled with deadly air.

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About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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