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Post-Sandusky reforms falter at Penn State

Plus, when NIL deals exploit college athletes.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Open complaints, rail safety, NIL pitfalls, green demands, explosion probe, presidential presence, and a pink grasshopper in JeffCo.

Penn State was lauded as a national leader for misconduct-focused reforms made in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but Spotlight PA and the Centre Daily Times found the supporting system quickly unraveled. 

According to a yearlong investigation by the outlets, the internal accountability apparatus Penn State constructed has repeatedly failed those it was intended to protect. The system is marred by its own decentralized structure, long delays, a familiar lack of transparency around key findings and patterns, and hostile workplace accusations against a chief ethics officer.

Read the full report: Fear, distrust, and an ethics office in chaos erode Penn State University’s post-Sandusky scandal reforms.

THE CONTEXT: The university’s now-former top ethics officer, Kenya Mann Faulkner, was accused of ridiculing staff in group settings, including calling them names and mocking their physical appearances.

Investigations followed but went nowhere, leading one tipster to appeal directly to the university's board of trustees. Faulkner would step down months later amid allegations of discrimination and retaliation. 

Overall, awareness of the university’s misconduct reporting system has grown, but satisfaction with its response to such complaints fell from 53% in 2013 to 42% in 2017. John Champagne, a Penn State Behrend professor who complained about a "Pray the Gay Away" event in 2021 and waited 18 months for a response, said he had "no faith" left in the system.

And federal officials, as recently as 2020, flagged “serious inadequacies” in Penn State’s approach to sexual misconduct cases post-Sandusky.

The university says practices are changed when necessary.

Read more: 


“She is front and center in the incursion.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi on Rachel Marie Powell of Mercer County, aka 'the bullhorn lady,' who was convicted for Jan. 6 rioting on Tuesday; Read the New Yorker's piece about her path to insurrection
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» 30K in Pa. approved for student loan forgiveness, via WHTM

» Boyle: Philly LGBT center funding stripped by GOP, via Politico

» Pa. lawmakers introduce abortion protection bills, via Capital-Star

» Why nonprofits are worried about Pa.'s budget impasse, via WESA

» Sen. Kim Ward says earlier Pa. primary a priority, via 1210 WPHT (35:30)

» Perry-backed bill targets military leave for abortion care, via WHTM

» Dems keep edge in latest Pa. voter registrations, via PoliticsPA

» Trump receives target letter from J6 investigators, via Politico

A Norfolk Southern freight train heading east along the Turtle Creek Valley toward Trafford, via Doug W. in Monroeville. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

An aerial image of a long train snaking across a green landscape with houses in the distance.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.RAIL REFORMS: Lawmakers say this week's train derailment in Montgomery County underscores the need for rail safety legislation like that introduced after February's derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, per City & State. One such bill passed the Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House in June but is contending with enforceability questions and resistance from the industry and its allies.
  • RELATED: Sinkhole may be to blame for Monday's freight train derailment in Whitemarsh Twp., via WHYY
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.FINE PRINT: Bloomberg reports college athletes signing name, image, and likeness (or NIL) deals are being exploited by questionable offers, disreputable agents, and outright scams. Former Penn State athletic integrity officer Robert Boland said students often lack adequate legal representation when signing the deals. Spotlight PA explained how NIL deals work at Penn State and who is (and isn't) policing them.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.GREEN(ER) JOBS: Some 1,400 workers at Wabtec's locomotive plant in Erie have been on strike for nearly a month seeking better pay, voting rights, health care benefits, and one unique condition, Grist reports. The workers want to expedite an industry shift toward less polluting locomotives and greener technology in the manufacturing process. Similar pushes in the past owed to anxiety over shifting skillsets.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.LEAK SOURCE: Investigators have tied a natural gas leak detected before March's fatal blast at a West Reading chocolate factory to a pipe fitting with a known tendency to crack and a spot on a federal list of pipe materials with "poor performance histories," the AP reports. The exact cause of the R.M. Palmer plant blast is still sought. Gas company UGI left the fitting in place and fully pressurized in 2021.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.PHILLY FIXTURE: President Joe Biden's reelection campaign will be headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, a stone's throw from Philadelphia — a key city in a key state — where he's remained a fixture since taking office. Biden returns to Philly tomorrow for his sixth visit this year (an average of one a month) and 13th since taking office. First Lady Jill Biden made an appearance in Pittsburgh Tuesday. 
Investigative journalism that gets results: Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

IN MEMORIAM: Harrisburg history-maker Hettie Simmons Love has passed away at the age of 100. PennLive reports Love was the first recorded Black graduate of the Wharton School of Business’ MBA program in 1947. Love was ignored by classmates and later denied professional opportunities.

UNUSUAL SIGHTING: A rare pink grasshopper was spotted in Jefferson County and posted to Facebook. According to BBC reporting this month, people have only about a 1% chance of seeing one: "It is believed on rare occasions, a genetic mutation causes them to turn pink."

IN CUSTODY: Since escaping Warren County Prison and touching off a weeklong manhunt, Michael Burham has been transferred to Erie County Prison, where the warden says no one has ever broken out. Gov. Josh Shapiro called to thank the couple whose tip led to Burham's arrest.

APPEALS PROCESS: All Right-to-Know appeals will be conducted via the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records' online portal come July 31. Here's Spotlight PA's beginner's guide to winning an open records fight.

ROAD RACE: Five Philadelphia Inquirer reporters used five different routes to the Jersey Shore — cars, bikes, trains — to determine once and for all which is the fastest. The paywalled story lets you bet on a winner.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Telescopic

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Eric F., Becky C., Jon W., Don H., Barbara F., Dan A., Susan N.-Z., Keith F., Elaine C., Stacy S., James B., Craig E., Stanley J., Kimberly D., Tom M., David W., William Z., Wendy A., Bob C., and Jane R.
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