Brian Goldman | Too big and bloated not to fail
The Gold Standard | We shouldn’t be shocked that large institutions are corruptible
December 5, 2011, 12:53 am·
The Daily Pennsylvanian’s arts and culture magazine, 34th Street, is good for a few things: Shoutouts, cultural elite and what Theos brothers did last weekend.
So when I flipped open last week’s Street, I was surprised to find a very revealing and serious journalistic foray that was antithetical to anything gossip-related.
The feature article, “Not Penn State’s Sex Scandal,” documented a horrific tale about former Penn professor Tracy McIntosh, who allegedly raped a 23-year-old student from the School of Veterinary Medicine.
But the story did not end with the rape. Rather, the article details how Penn administrators — including former Penn President Judith Rodin — conducted a seemingly half-baked investigation into the alleged rape, only to conclude that there was too little evidence to corroborate the allegations. They levied McIntosh with sanctions and froze his pay, but allowed him to remain on Penn’s faculty.
Of course, once McIntosh was formally charged with rape and sexual assault, Penn opened a second inquiry into what exactly went down on Sept. 6, 2002. This inquiry found that McIntosh had previously targeted other women in a similar fashion.
The sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, involving Jerry Sandusky, has more differences than similarities with our own McIntosh story. But both accounts share a common strain of institutional disregard that is particularly troubling.
Recent events highlight a virus infecting institutions, and Penn is not immune.
This virus prioritizes the status quo — fueled by power, prestige and finances — over the concerns of individuals.
We shouldn’t be all that surprised that Penn did not initially conduct a full-fledged inquiry when confronted with rape charges or that Penn State acted as it did with Sandusky’s alleged misconduct.
Institutions footed by vested money act to serve their self-interest. This isn’t a defense of the actions of Penn or Penn State, but rather an understanding of why they did not take more serious steps to confront the charges.
Political movements these days are largely driven by a similar sentiment — the belief that institutions are corrupt and betray our shared values.
The Tea Party sees “big government” as the epitome of institutional corruption and malfeasance. Occupy Wall Street began with the view that big banks are corrupt corporations whose self-interest seems to contradict, as opposed to reinforce, the self-interest of its community.
The incidents at Penn and Penn State have given us yet another window into the world of institutional doublethink. There’s good reason to extend our skepticism of schools and banks to the federal government.
We are quick to loathe investment banks for allegedly undermining the housing market through the issuance of sub-prime loans and the creation of dubious mortgage-backed securities.
But then we should also be wary of the government for contributing to the recent financial mayhem. After all, it was the federal government itself that first introduced mortgage-backed securities via Ginnie Mae in 1970.
That’s not to say the federal government completely caused the financial meltdown of 2008, because it didn’t. Institutional malpractice on the corporate level — where banks were over leveraged and then too closely intertwined with one another — contributed greatly as well.
This isn’t a partisan approach. Examples of institutional malpractice, whether they be the Solyndra scandal under President Barack Obama or Iran-Contra under President Ronald Reagan, span the political spectrum. Ideology doesn’t spur corruption. Institutional blindness and hubris do.
Institutional self-interest does not always merge and meld with the general good, whether it be Standard Oil and Tammany Hall in the late 19th century or the parallels we see today.
Penn’s handling of McIntosh’s alleged rape of a student shocks and violates our moral conscience but shouldn’t necessarily surprise us.
Let’s continue to question vested institutions starting here at Penn. Maybe we’ll read about the next scandal in Street next week.
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.