Let’s get this out of the way: Trustee Ken Frazier was wrong to tie in a racially charged reference to the O.J. Simpson trial in his response to a question from alumni candidate Bill Cluck during a Board of Trustees committee meeting Thursday.
Attempting to explain that the board’s decisions surrounding Joe Paterno and others were not made on the basis of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Frazier — who is black — told Cluck — who is white — in a heated exchange, “If you care about that, you are one of the few people in this country that looks like you who actually believes the O.J. Simpson not guilty verdict was correct.”
In a letter to the Centre Daily Times, Frazier has since apologized for “language that was racially insensitive and inappropriate.” It was inappropriate, and in trying to make what otherwise could have been a legitimate point Frazier risked further polarizing an already polarized debate.
And the divisive dialogue from within the Penn State community — not the debate over Paterno’s legacy, not the acceptance of the NCAA sanctions or the Freeh Report — is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of legitimate progress.
One week ago, we lamented that the level of discourse surrounding the university had, as evidenced in a recent Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship advertising campaign, been reduced to a tone more fitting of a conversation between teenagers than an educated campus community.
After this weekend’s Board of Trustees meeting, those who did speak up have done little to advance the dialogue.
We’d like to think that this is, in part, because the people who are voicing their opinions the loudest are drowning out the voices of a more rational majority.
From the outside, it could easily seem as though there are two clearly divided camps: those who refuse to move on until one coach’s legacy receives some undefined vindication from the wrongs Penn State inflicted; and, on the other side, those who believe the Freeh Report provided an infallible indictment of former university leadership ahead of an inevitable guilty verdict in upcoming criminal trials.
But there are many who realize that there are other alternatives to the narratives provided in the Freeh and Paterno reports.
There are also many who recognize that it’s possible to agree to disagree and still have rational, measured discussions on the future of the university.
That university, it bears repeating, has more important things to debate than the reputation of one man or the findings of a single report.
If you agree, we implore you to start speaking up, too.