Corroboration: Gregg Doyel, CBSSports.com national columnist 23 November 2011: “And Graham Spanier, the former school president who was earning more than $800,000 a year ago, had better start clipping coupons and acquiring a taste for ramen noodles. As the guy with the final say on campus, the buck stopped with him in 2002. I’d be fine with a jury cleaning out his wallet before moving on to the deeper pockets at Penn State.”
Corroboration: The New York Times profile of Graham Spanier published 21 November 2011.
Note: This is opinion concerning fired Penn State Graham Spanier’s character and the term “alleged” applies throughout for any reference to Spanier’s criminal culpability in the Penn State sex scandal.
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier is among a group of academics I’d never want with me in a burning building. That’s a literal trust test firefighters use when going to fires, because they do not want to go into a burning building knowing the person who has their back is always looking for a way out without giving a damn about anyone else. We trained to never go into a building alone, to always grip the turnout coat of the firefighter leading the way in. Spanier would stop at the door and never tell you he’s no longer behind you.
You can’t trust a coward, plain and simple. Spanier was never to be trusted for the 20 years I’ve known the coward. Spanier held the Oregon State University provost post when I taught in the OSU English Department from 1984 through 1991, and no, I was never on tenure track. The ax I’ve been grinding for the last 20 years is due to a much bigger offense—First Amendment violation. You cannot call yourself an educator and do what Spanier did at Oregon State or at Penn State. John Byrne, the OSU president at the time, didn’t like a commentary I’d published about teaching the governor’s son in a dysfunctional English department and told Spanier “to do something about it,” according my source, Linc Kesler. Spanier didn’t hesitate to attempt to fire me, a writing instructor, for writing. To hell with academic freedom and the First Amendment. His job was to protect his job, his wife’s sinecure, and the university’s image.
We—my wife, daughter, and I—survived my job loss due Spanier’s cowardice, but we’d been through worse. I have gone into burning buildings for a living and survived, and we survived my cancer seven years after I left the fire service, before arriving at Oregon State. But after dealing with Spanier, I made damned certain both my daughter and wife would never have to depend on me financially again because of the risk inherent in my job, not as a firefighter, but as someone who uses the First Amendment to speak truth to power. My wife is an independent professional. My daughter graduated from college (not in Oregon ) with Latin honors in the top ten percent of her class last May and is employed in a city where each firehouse is labeled and known as a safe house 24/7 for children and other citizens, which is what Penn State should have been—a safe house for children and others who need to be able to trust those with the power to protect them. Spanier failed them. Big time. Firefighters are the defenders, wrote Sallie Tisdale, the daughter of a firefighter, in Harper’s.
In fact, my inspiration for a 30-year career defending the First Amendment after leaving the fire service had nothing to do with literature as defined on campus. I read Dennis Smith’s Report from Engine Co. 82 in 1972, my first year as a paid firefighter and was amazed by the fact that a working class stiff like Smith had a master’s degree and could write pretty good prose. So I became a writer and teacher after I had to leave the fire service, but I never left public service and figured teaching literacy in public higher education contributed damned near as much to the greater good as the fire service. My mistake turned out to be suppressing my working class background to find a place in the elitist literary culture of an academic English department where the people didn’t know crap about firefighting and referred to it as a “quasi-military” organization as if universities were some sort of rank-free democratic ideal. Ask Spanier. University people are a helluva lot more rank and status conscious than any fire department I’ve been associated with or know about. And the commitment required by the fire service never left me, and that commitment transferred to a belief in the importance of practicing and teaching First Amendment skills for everyone, working class or not. To hell with my next career move. I just wanted to write and teach. That was my career.
Spanier reminds me of the two firefighters who were fired for failing to respond to a structure fire until the third call. Not six months later, not two years after a grand jury presentment, but that day. They were fired. They sued to get their jobs back and lost. They were out. Gone. And I replaced one of the two. You never. Ever. Refuse to respond to a call for help if you’re a firefighter. You don’t stop to think about your next career move. You go. But that ethic did not and does not exist for cowards like Spanier. He constantly considered his next career move in terms of himself and never in terms of other people. He was a political animal always looking for an opportunity to jump to the next level of status and income in higher education. He arrived at Oregon State and publicly announced his commitment to the University and left to become a chancellor in Nebraska, then left Nebraska when the chance to become Penn State president came along. Spanier would have no understanding of my attitude or of the answer I heard once from a firefighter at FDNY Rescue 1 when I paid a visit, and, being naive, asked how long firefighters stayed with Rescue 1. “Nobody leaves Rescue 1,” he said. Commitment. Rescue 1 was not a career move. It was the career because helping other people, not yourself, was the highest calling.
At Oregon State, Spanier demonstrated his commitment to himself by forcing nepotism on the English department; the department chair was told to create a teaching position for his wife, Sandra, to be certain she had tenure quickly, and, at the same time, the chair was ordered to cut the teaching load of literature professors so Sandra would have to work less for the same money. At the same time, Spanier did nothing to improve a writing program that was called by outside consultants little better than an underfunded community college. The department chair tried to bury that report, forbidding any copies to be made, but I made sure both the nepotism and the report became public knowledge. The OSU president didn’t like that and told Spanier to do something about it, and Spanier told Bob Frank, the English chair, to do something about.
No, you do not want that kind of man at your back entering a burning building or as president of a university. He’d just as soon hit you over the head with the Halligan as hand it to you. And he has not changed. On November 17, 2011, he was spinning again and looking for the exit. Adam Smeltz, senior editor at statecollege.com, reported using “unnamed university sources” that Spainier felt really bad about what happened to those kids, but, by the way, he resigned and was not fired. National media repeated the bullshit.
Suggesting that Spanier “volunteered to step aside” is two steps beyond ludicrous, given his past and present behavior. Spanier knew what was about to happen at Penn State and he knew that he no longer had support on the board of trustees and he knew that he’d made a big fat gaff by supporting the two Penn State administrators who were indicted for lying to the grand jury. Spanier again, as he did when he ordered me fired for writing something his boss didn’t like, wants to insulate himself, distance himself, spin his way out of responsibility for the nightmare Penn State is living through because for 15 of the 16 years he served, a pedophile roamed his campus and he was more concerned about the Penn State image than the safety of children.
Integrity is a joke for Spanier. Always has been. “Commitment” is a word he has used to further his own career, and now he’s trying to save his ass by using the same self-serving, duplicitous nonsense. He’s probably looking for cover to keep his tenured professor job at Penn State and his wife’s sinecure in the Penn State English Department. So Pennsylvania, watch your back. Spanier burned the First Amendment and ran away from it, and now he’s trying to get away with taking no responsibility for failing to remove a known pedophile from his campus. Governor Corbett had the man read correctly. Spanier is arrogant and self-serving, and if the criminal courts don’t get him, then the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should sue the bastard for every penny he took from the taxpayers.
And one can only wonder at Spanier’s motive for keeping Penn State records away from the public when he opposed right-to-know-laws for Penn higher education.
And one of the best passages in Report from Engine Co. 82 described the rescue of a kid, a teen from a burning tenement by an officer, a captain.
Postscript: Bob Frank was awarded for his loyalty with a promotion to assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts. OSU fired him from the job when the university was sued in 2003 for a million dollars by a psychology professor, Robert Uttl, after Frank tried to force him out of his job for refusing to award a student an unearned grade. I operated at the time as a background source for Nikki Sullivan, an Oregon State student reporter who wrote a two-article series on the sordid Uttl affair that earned her an Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association award. In 2005 OSU had to pay $322,000 to Uttl.