Wichita State to take lessons from Penn State molestation scandal

Wichita State University’s administration has plans for crises such as a laboratory explosion, campus violence or natural disaster.

After the events of the past week at Penn State University, another type of crisis is on the mind of president Don Beggs and his staff.

Vice president and general counsel Ted Ayres will meet with athletic department employees in the next week to 10 days to discuss how WSU wants its personnel to respond to problems similar to the child molestation scandal engulfing Penn State.

“We try to go to school on those issues,” Beggs said. “We could have those problems, and are we prepared to deal with them?”

At Penn State, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year period. Coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier were fired Wednesday night and perjury charges are pending against athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz.

“We all talk about teachable moments,” athletic director Eric Sexton said. “We’re going to take this as an opporunity to reiterate some things we all know.”

Ayres said the meetings will serve as a reminder of personnel’s legal and ethical responsibilities. Depending on the situation, contacting law enforcement may be proper. He will remind coaches, trainers, interns and custodians who work in the athletic department to know they will be backed by the administration. Ayres will also update them on legal requirements for reporting possible crimes.

He said athletic department personnel will be reminded that the judicial system operates under the presumption of innocence.

Ayres expects to take this message to faculty, students and other departments in the future.

“The important message is that we come forward, we do the right thing,” Ayres said. “You will have support from the top levels of the university. If this sort of information would come to you, we all have a responsibility to make sure that what is the right thing, legally, practically, morally, ethically is done.”

The atmosphere in some athletic departments may not encourage whistle blowing, especially by coaches, graduate assistants or interns who are low in seniority. Even in an atmosphere where team solidarity and loyalty are valued, Sexton wants his personnel to feel comfortable bringing issues to his attention.

“To be part of the team is also to be able to have these conversations,” he said. “It falls upon me. It falls upon everybody feeling like they can rely on each other. It’s a shared responsibility for the entire staff.”