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How we reported our 'Missed Conduct' investigation

Plus: Have you reported misconduct to Penn State? We want to hear from you.

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

July 20, 2023
⭐ Support local investigative journalism! If each Talk of the Town subscriber gives just $15/month, we will meet our fundraising goal for Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau this year! Contribute now.
Inside this edition: How Spotlight PA and the Centre Daily Times reported our “Missed Conduct” investigation, Pa. House Democrat resigns costing the caucus its one-vote advantage, and central Pa. UPS union workers prepare for strike.
Daniel Fishel / For Spotlight PA
A recent investigation by Spotlight PA and the Centre Daily Times into Penn State’s efforts to prevent misconduct and harassment found deep-rooted flaws in the system largely created following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

The two newsrooms spent a year speaking with current and former Penn State employees, state lawmakers, and outside experts. The reporters reviewed court filings, university-sponsored campus surveys, internal university communications, and confidential hotline reports alleging misconduct.

The investigation found communication gaps and questionable practices within Penn State’s Office of Ethics and Compliance and related offices tasked with ensuring the university follows federal, state, and university policies.

Spotlight PA’s Wyatt Massey interviewed multiple employees who felt frustrated with Penn State's practices, including John Champagne, who reported a campus event as “creating a hostile work environment” in October 2021 and waited 18 months for a response.

The Centre Daily Times’ Josh Moyer reviewed past Penn State incidents involving misconduct. He interviewed former Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale about a 2017 report that found the university failed, post-Sandusky, to conduct necessary background checks on employees in 7.9% of youth camps. And he contacted several state legislators about the university’s exemption from Pennsylvania’s open records law, which several lawmakers have attempted to change. According to state Rep. Ryan Warner (R., Fayette) none of the commonwealth’s four state-related universities have supported ending the exclusion.

The newsrooms presented their findings to Penn State’s board of trustees, other top university officials, and individuals named in the story. All parties were provided several days to respond to questions. The university was also sent a list of information that would be presented in the story — such as key events, documents that would be cited, etc. — and offered a chance to comment on any or all of the claims.

The university declined to discuss many of the details of the reporting, and largely defended its structures for reporting misconduct.

“As a predominantly decentralized, large and complex organization, the university’s mechanisms for responding to reports of wrongdoing and reporting on outcomes of the university’s handling of such reports have grown organically throughout its history as needs have been identified,” Penn State said in a statement to the newsrooms. “Following internal and external examinations and audits of the university’s previous practices, new policies, protocols and people have been put into place.”

Sources shared documents and internal communications that gave the newsrooms crucial insight into what was happening inside the university. Penn State is largely shielded from Pennsylvania’s open records law, due to its special status as a state-related university. Without a change to the law, reporting offers one of the few windows into the school, insights that the investigation shows are as important for employees as much as the public.

Read the full investigation here.

—Wyatt Massey, Spotlight PA, and Josh Moyer, Centre Daily Times
“You can’t hold people accountable if you don’t know what’s going on. And it’s a structural problem so it’s not like we can easily address it.”

—Michelle Rodino-Colocino, president of the Penn State chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said of the university’s transparency
» Fear, distrust, and an ethics office in chaos erode Penn State’s post-Sandusky reforms

» Have you reported misconduct at Penn State? We want to hear from you.

» A Pa. House Democrat is resigning amid the budget impasse, costing the caucus its one-vote advantage

» What Pa.’s past budget impasses can tell us about the current standoff

» What’s next as Pa. prepares to spend $1.2B on broadband

» How Harrisburg Works: Higher bar, guns in the Capitol, and why the Pa. legislature is full-time
The East Broad Top Railroad, located in Huntingdon County, is one of the oldest narrow-gauge railroads in the United States and a National Historic Landmark — via @plumriverphoto.

Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
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» Daily Item: Lewisburg elder abuse is ‘outrageous,’ attorney says
» CDT: PSU faculty receive ‘vile’ emails after signing antiracist letter
» WPSU: Central Pennsylvania UPS union workers get ready to strike

» Progress: Penn Highlands DuBois accredited as level II trauma center
» StateImpact: Penn State study aims to help dairy farmers cut methane
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» July 21: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performs at The State Theatre in State College.

» July 21-23: Fellowship of the Pines, in Brockway, is “an interactive experience taking the atmosphere and outdoors of a renaissance faire then swirling it together with the unpredictable fun of a comic-con.”

» July 22: The 26th annual Kids and Cancer Benefit Run includes a parade of motorcycles through Bradford.

» July 22: Enjoy live demonstrations at Lumber Legacy Day at Black Moshannon State Park.

» Ongoing through July 29: Squirrel and Acorn Bookshop hosts the Find Waldo Local Scavenger Hunt in downtown State College.

An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, “spotlight” also forms “stoplight.”

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We’ll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

Good luck!

Last week’s answer: Rock

Congrats to Mary S., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: Alesha G., Rena Z., Coache, Don H., Linda A., Elizabeth B., Jeffrey F., Tish M., and Leann T.
Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.
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Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


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