When Good Men Do Nothing - Page 2
Though I was shocked to hear the allegations against Sandusky, and heartsick over the responses of people within the administration who failed miserably in their attempts to get to the truth and do the right thing, I wasn’t surprised. Unfortunately, I did understand how such things could happen. They are the result of bureaucratic leanings toward policies and procedures over common sense, coupled with poor communication, and an intense need for self-preservation.
As a member of the residence life staff, I was responsible for following up on many situations involving personal conflict, violence, and illegal behavior. When you help run residence halls, you get to know the true nature of student life and the complexities of human behavior and interaction like no one else at the University. There is an underbelly to any campus, and ugly things happen. Sometimes good people do bad things. Sometimes bad people take advantage of the system.
No matter what, each person deserves to be accorded some basic rights to fairness and due process. Processes take time, and procedures have to be followed, because you can’t just act against someone without reason. You would also be a fool, indeed, to act against powerful, well-respected community heroes, without solid evidence and a solid commitment to follow-through. This is where policies and procedures get in the way, and where self-interest and self-preservation often trump common sense and common decency.
Maintaining confidentiality is an important part of the equation, but it must be weighed against a sense of responsibility, and carried through with a serious commitment toward doing what is right, what is just, and what is good for the community. Actions can be taken confidentially while processes play out. The trick is that you have to take the right actions, and to do so, you need the right information in the first place. To get the right information, you have to create a culture where doing the right thing and telling the truth are valued more than perceptions and reputations grown out of pride and a shared mythology.
To truly maintain a commitment to doing the right thing, one must also set aside some other enduring principles: the CYA principle (“cover your ass” at all costs), and not pissing off the “powers that be.” But the cost of doing so in a bureaucracy may be loss of position, loss of influence, and loss of further opportunity. When people are afraid, the tendency is to protect oneself. It takes personal courage and steadfast determination to follow through, because the really ugly situations that occur in bureaucratic organizations usually get plugged into processes that drag on so long that, in the end, even serious sanctions are diminished by the time that has passed between the action and the consequence, no one learns anything, and the witnesses and victims have endured stress, hardship and maybe even further victimization while they wait for a resolution.Continued on the next page