4. Alumni and Taking Control of Penn State Athletics
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chapter 4 Alumni and Taking Control of Penn State Athletics “Speak of the Moderns without contempt, and of the Ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits; but not by their ages.” —Earl of Chesterfield (1748) “For the Glory,” begins the Penn State Alma Mater, words composed in 1901 by Fred Lewis Pattee, professor of literature, whose name is immortalized on the Penn State library building alongside its addition, immortalized in its own right as the Paterno Library. A century plus a dozen years after the Alma Mater was christened, Eileen Morgan and Ray Blehar, graduates of Penn State in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, quoted these three words to conclude a diatribe against the Penn State Board of Trustees. The two members of the alumni, in a page-long newspaper denunciation, blasted the trustees for not taking responsibility for the failures surrounding the Jerry Sandusky Scandal that exploded in November 2011.1 The two probably did not know that General James Beaver, for whom the Penn State football stadium is named, was president of the Board of Trustees when the song premiered at an Alumni Dinner at the 1901 Commencement. Beaver immediately called the song “the official song of Penn State,” although President Atherton questioned the song being named the Alma Mater without his sanction.2 The two Penn State alumni, along with many other Penn State alumni, stated their view that if Penn State had a culture problem, “it is not with the football program but with the members of the Board of Trustees.” Furthermore, they emphasized their opinion that Joe Paterno was not part of a cover-up and that the Board of Trustees “should apologize for its unwarranted firing of Paterno.”3 The alumni were on fire and possibly hotter than the results of a football bonfire a century before that exploded when gasoline was poured on the huge woodpile following a moral victory, a tie game with undefeated Harvard in 1914.4 Alumni, who were once in control of Penn State athletics, may no longer run athletics, but they have a great deal of influence affecting how Penn State and athletics are conducted. Well into the twenty-first century, members of the Penn State alumni are the largest dues-paying college alumni organization in the world: the Penn State Alumni Association. The association is tied directly into Smith_text.indd 35 12/7/15 11:11 AM 36 chapter 4 the athletic program, and especially football, more than it is into any other aspect of the institution. That has not changed since the first Penn State alumni chapter was formed in Pittsburgh in 1898 or the original issue of the Penn State Alumni Quarterly was produced more than a century ago. For example, the first alumni publication, the Alumni Quarterly, devoted about 40 percent of its pages to Penn State athletics in the October 1912 issue. On the same month a century later, the Penn Stater, the successor to that Alumni Quarterly and later the Alumni News, devoted more than 50 percent of the September–October issue to athletics. The unusually high percentage was a result of commentary on the Jerry Sandusky scandal.5 The volume of athletic news going out to the Penn State alumni has been unrivaled by any other topic, and football has always dominated. If the Penn State alumni had voted on the “firing” of Joe Paterno or the dismantling of the Joe Paterno statue next to Beaver Stadium, they almost surely would have voted no. These were two of the major reasons that the alumni voted to dispatch all alumni members of the Board of Trustees up for election in the years after the 2011 Sandusky Scandal and to elect others who were opposed to the treatment of coach Paterno.6 The history of the alumni influence on Penn State athletics is not new, nor is it more controversial in the second decade of the twenty-first century than at any time in the previous one hundred or more years. Organizing alumni was not unique to Penn State in the nineteenth century; it may have been little Williams College in Western Massachusetts that created the first alumni society in 1821, a half-century before Penn State did. At Williams, it was created, among other reasons, “to advance the reputation of our Alma Mater.”7 So it was with most alumni and their institutions of higher education, and so it was at Penn State. American athletics, once begun...



Subject Headings

  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Football.
  • Paterno, Joe, 1926-2012.
  • Sandusky, Jerry.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports -- Administration.
  • College sports -- Corrupt practices -- Pennsylvania -- University Park.
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