Penn State University Scandal: Causes and Recommendations | Free Essay Example

Penn State University Scandal: Causes and Recommendations

Words: 3655
Topic: Business & Economics


The Penn State university scandal was all about lack of ethics in the management of organizational affairs. Several counts of child abuse were leveled against Jerry Sandusky. Through his charity organization, the culprit had a long list of victims whom he abused on a regular basis. Personnel deployed at the Penn State University were also accused alongside Jerry because they apparently lacked ethics by not reporting the child scandal incidences taking place in the organization. The Penn State Nittany Lions was coached for some time by Jerry Sandusky. As a matter of fact, officials were supposed to report the child abuse cases. However, they failed to do so.

This research paper has been constructed based on a number of research questions. For example, why did the scandal prevail at the learning institution for such a long time? Were politics and power to blame for the unethical act? What were the supposed roles and responsibilities of the management board of the university in regards to preventing such scandals from taking place? Is it within the confines of ethical behavior to be a whistle blower at the workplace regardless of the consequences that an employee may face? The paper also suggests solutions that an institution can adopt in order to prevent a similar scandal. Some of the solutions include removal of bureaucracies in the management of organizations, close collaboration between different departments at the workplace, employee participation in all levels of decision making and embracing an open policy where employees can interact with the top management without any element of intimidation.


The main reason for choosing this topic is that ethics is ideal for human conduct bearing in mind that the evolution of its principles are given along with the evolutionary process of humanity. It also guides the human beings about what is good and right or acceptable organizational behavioral patterns that should be pursued. Ethics guide professional life and the common good expected from employees. Societal ethics and business ethics are inseparable and can sometimes be cumbersome to distinguish (Lucas & Fyke, 2014).

Our daily concerns when it comes to efficiency, competitiveness and organizational profitability cannot do without the application of ethical behavior. Ethics at the workplace guides not only the content of the decisions. It also assists in the process of decision-making. This explains why ethical behavior is highly desirable at the workplace.

The adoption of ethical and behavioral principles reflects the type of organization which we belong and our nature as people. Our respect for individual differences and the need to be socially responsible when considering safety issues, the environment and health of our everyday business management are supposed to be in tandem with the relationship between employees and society. In the Penn State University scandal, sex abuse to children leads to a total loss of trust from the community and society at large especially when discussing the roles of organizations in streamlining the wellbeing of society. Each individual has his or her own set of values.

Therefore, it is imperative for each employee to reflect their contribution at the place of work and immediate community being served in order to harmonize their individual values ​​with the key tenets ​​expressed in ethical principles.

Workplace ethics is a vital component for an employee. The latter should be honest at all times, avoid doing anything that lower the reputation of a corporate body. Employees should demonstrate humbleness, exercise tolerance and be flexible. Being ethical means giving up some things or losing something (Boyd, 2010).

It is crucial to listen more to ideas from peers because many seemingly absurd notions can offer solutions to a problem. Hence, we need to work in teams, listen to people and assess their situations without rushing or judgments based on assumptions, and especially giving credit where it is worth. Quite often, employees receive praise for the work executed by others without even passing the same or name the colleagues who contribute towards it. Such an organizational behavior can be unethical because it is all about accepting a compliment for someone else’s work and eventually, it may be recognized and you will get bad-character fame.

Employees should learn to respect individual differences, act courteously and be available whenever needed to perform a particular task at the workplace. They should recognize the merits of projects developed by colleagues or managers. They should not harm the reputation of colleagues or managers through prejudiced judgments, perjury, unfounded information or any other subterfuge. Workers should not seek exchange of favors that appear or are likely to give rise to any kind of commitment or personal obligation.

The management teams should encourage the expression of ideas when aligned with the objectives of the companies, even if they represent significant change. Emotion between Coworkers and outsiders is also crucial towards the wellbeing of organizations. Such a scenario is deemed very controversial owing to the differences that exist at the place of work.

Sex abuse of either minors or adults is an extremely negative behavioral pattern in the management of organizations. It is not proper to embarrass colleagues or cause situations that make them feel uncomfortable.

Research questions

  1. Why did the unethical behavior prevail at the university for such a long time? Was it deliberate or influenced through power and politics?
  2. What roles was the management supposed to play in ensuring ethical practices at workplace?
  3. Is it ethical to act as a whistleblower even if the policies of an organization are against it?
  4. Should individuals who fail to report crime be treated as accomplices?
  5. How did communication failures and decision-making play a role in the scandal? Was the problem an issue of “group think” or something deeper?
  6. What was the corporate culture like? Did Penn State have any values and ethics and if so were they followed during the development of the crises?

Why did the unethical behavior prevail at the university?

The Penn State scandal is a clear show of disrespect. At the workplace, ethics should be perceived as the value attached in dignifying oneself and others. In most workplace environments, we have to deal with other people at one time or another. However, this should not derail the relationship that exists between employees and outsiders. Respect comes into play when there is need to develop strong and long-lasting relationships with peers. Ethics also entails offering dignity to oneself and others.

The unethical behavior prevailed at the university probably because there was no regard or safety measures instituted for the sake of children. The board of trustees and even the athletics department lacked a proper mechanism in place that could safeguard is apparent that no single official at the university took the initiative to investigate allegations leveled against the suspect. In any case, tens of emails were never given any attention. After thorough investigation into the issue, it was established that protecting the reputation of the university was the first priority of the powerful president. Hence, power and politics played major roles in concealing undesirable behavior.

Management roles that could have avoided the scandal

A scandal similar to that of Penn State University could not have happened if employees are trained and developed on a regular basis. This implies that capacity building and training is a crucial organizational practice that aids in fostering both ethics and professional code of conduct at workplace. The importance of training is visible in improving organizational performance and knowledge management. Learning and development creates a mechanism that seeks to continuously asses, reflect, and establish methods of improvement in organizations through ethical practice. From the findings, it is clear that learning has gained a greater acceptability institutions’ managements continue to adopt it for greater performance, organizational change and improved employee relationships (Pilch & Turska, 2015).

Organizations adopt training and development in order to continuously improve knowledge and innovation among workers. Findings from various studies on the same note that the process of training and development requires all stakeholders especially the top, middle level management and employees at the lower levels to develop a keen understanding of its importance in an organization.

This will enable them to evaluate an organizations performance levels and reflect on various strategies critical for drawing methods for improvement. The reflection can be comparative or drawn from creativity to create new orientation in work performance. Reflection and evaluations are very idealistic in that both practices are critical application in complex systems to ensure that room for improvement is created for all achievements, whether positive of negative. Systems approach model echoes that reflection and evaluation incorporates the needed performance improvement and emphasizes on change (Odeenet al., 2013).

Besides, training is a process that requires sharing organizational visions and working in teams. This is critical in that it makes a learning organization to have a shared objective at all levels of application. Learning and development in an organization is developed when common visions have been developed as this easily nurture behaviors, values, and norms towards the need for improvement. Training and development of a workforce is also built on the belief that workers and employees learn better and faster in teams because they get the sense of security and identity with their colleagues compared to their senior managements. The systems theory strongly supports this particular consideration as it notes that collaboration develops the need for learning (Lucas, Kang & Li, 2013). Workers who have stronger ties with their colleagues are able to learn and develop their skills.

Acting as a whistleblower at the workplace

An employee or external party who reports of an on-going or past illicit activity in an organization is referred to as a whistleblower. Ethical practice in organizations through training and development of a workforce is perhaps one of the realities that cannot be avoided in the fast dynamic world. Being a whistleblower definitely risks the tenure of an employee especially if the corporate culture does not support it. Bureaucratic systems like the one witnessed at the Penn State University can hardly allow freedom of speech let alone reporting a retrogressive act at the workplace. Nonetheless, acting as a whistleblower is very ethical. It should be promoted among employees in an organization. In fact, allowing a liberal workplace environment is part and parcel of the managements’ role of improving productivity. Employees should regularly be taken through training and development workshops and seminars on how they can be productive at work even if it is through whistleblowing.

Many organizations especially those that cannot train their members on ethics have greatly relied on external change agents to influence progress. However, the practice that involves the use of external change agents also calls for the introduction of new models of operations either to address a given problem or create a roadmap for higher profitability. External agents as the name suggests are outside forces and their proposition should be rejected by the existing organizational culture. Training and development should be considered to be crucial in imparting new skills to the existing human resources. This will be critical and will act as a foundation for forming internal change agents (Ruiz-Palomino, Martinez-Canas & Pozo-Rubio, 2012).

Internal change agents unlike the external change agents have been very important in effecting changes as their propositions are easily accepted since employees easily identify with them. A holistic force therefore becomes evident as all departments floats with new proposals either at the personal or as a team for improvement (Ahlstrom, Hagberg & Dellve, 2013).

Reporting crime and being an accomplice

Since the president of the university failed to report the incidence to the rest of the management team or even take the slightest action to address the mess, he should have been taken as an accomplice. While attempting to protect organizational reputation, the president forgot the fact that making the issue public and taking the necessary steps would have painted a brighter picture of the institution.

It is apparent that proper training and development of the human resource at this university is missing. If the president and his team would have gone through rigorous training on ethical practices at the workplace, the sex allegation issue could have been resolved expeditiously. Capacity building and training offer an expanded platform that organizations use to generate more alternatives for addressing challenges. Training and development create the sense of continued change as the ‘ship’ must be monitored at every instance to hasten its speed towards the destiny and improve the quality of products to colonize the market.

The above study reflected the fact that training impacts on an organizations’ culture in terms of effecting change. While this has been strongly debated and interpreted differently by different scholars, it is worth underscoring that training plays a critical role in changing an organization’s culture towards gaining skill, knowledge and enhancing relationships towards achievement of main objectives. Training is an empowering tool which does not only boost the performance of workers. It also facilitates the culture of involvement, consultation and integration in decision making.

Communication failures and decision making in the scandal

Communication barriers are the conditions or factors affecting effective transmission of a message. Examples include interpersonal and organizational barriers.

Interpersonal barriers

  • Interpretation of messages by the recipient.
  • Physiological defects of the sender or receiver.
  • Feelings and emotions of the sender or receiver.
  • The environmental conditions in which communication is talking place.
  • The use of semantics, such as language differences, inadequate words, insufficient information, and so on

Organizational barriers

When an organization grows, its structure also becomes large and eventually causes communication problems. Another barrier is reflected in the nature of administrative authority. It is vital to note that the nature of leadership is unique in each organization. Hence, oversight in itself creates a barrier. Specialization is yet another barrier that affects the efficiency of communication.

The scandal at Penn State University was a product of something deeply rooted in the management style and the “Penn State way” culture of the institution. The latter may have been contributed by “group think” whereby employees think and act as a group and avoid individual responsibility. For example, Jerry was well connected to the top leadership structure of the organization. As a result, no pragmatic action could be taken against him in spite of the sex scandal with children. Second, the institution lacked well defined measures for protecting the wellbeing of children. Hence, anything could happen to the minors due to lack of the necessary safeguards.

Reporting rule at the university was non-existent. Therefore, it was completely ignored.

Mary Hatch’s model of cultural dynamics contains very fundamental concepts of organizational culture, learning and development towards attainment of organizational success. The culture of an organization comprises key subcultures that run deep within the organization’s network. Training and development therefore facilitates the development of change by introducing new beliefs, trends and models of communication works towards enhancing the overall value of the employees. Changing an organization’s culture at any particular time might be very hard. However, embracing learning develops the ability of an organization to create change and its orientation with minimal resistance.

Changing the culture of an organization is a major setback in training and development. It bears a lot of weight in the sense that several managers have not embraced the need to develop their staff after employing them. From the literature review, it was clear that there is need to introduce new propositions to the human resources through training and development sessions by the human resources management to invoke a new approach to cultural outsets.

Effecting change calls for an organization’s management to challenge employees on the need to embrace learning by providing the necessary platform for such changes. The use of teams and teamwork as a cultural organization factor should be used to achieve workforce development. Employees are known to easily adhere to teamwork ideas after realizing the related short and long-term benefits.

Many organizations that do not wish to invest in the critical process of training and development seeks an equal force and outsources already trained workforce from other areas. Although the above argument may be true, it seems to bear two major aspects of deficiencies. One such problem its failure to fully recognize the critical role played by trained employees towards improving profitability. Besides, it does not respect the main aim of training and development which is to create the much needed competitive advantage over others in the market. Improving workers’ salaries and safeguarding their tenure after a training and development practice is part of motivation for the highly valuable and skilled employees.

The nature of corporate culture at Penn State University

Employees should be inspired by the values and cultures embraced by an organization. It is definite that Penn State University has a well-outlined code of professional practice that all employees should follow. However, the existing corporate culture at the university mainly required employees to remain loyal to the authority regardless of the consequences. According to Holmquist (2013), a Code of Conduct expresses the commitment to ethics in relationship to clients, workers, shareholders, manufacturers, public authorities, media, community and society in general. It is a daily use tool that guides actions and decisions, ensuring uniqueness to all Group companies, whatever the region, culture, or market. If the culture at the university would have been effective, then the leadership and governance team of the institution would have tackled the issue without any fear of being reprimanded.

A Code of Conduct reinforces ethical practice in such a way that child abuse through sex can hardly take place. Hence, it should be mandatory to employees. An ethics code is not only a source of information to workers. It also inspires integrity, positive relations, impartiality, transparency and respect for all people, the diversity and environment.

Organizations that have adopted strong ethical standards also offer a channel that can be accessed by internal and external audiences. Impartiality and transparency can be enhanced through ethics at work. The latter also ensures confidentiality of information while preserving the identity of people involved and works to promote a better environment for everyone. Organizational commitment to ethics and transparency permeates all decisions adopted by individuals and teams at the workplace. After all, ethics is one of the Penn State’s University values. The main concern is to ensure that human behavior is aligned to the highest governance standards. A Code of Conduct is a tool with clear objective and guidelines on how a company expects its employees to relate with colleagues, partners and society in general.

Although ethics at work cannot exhaust or address all ethical dilemmas that may arise, any Code of Conduct aims to be a comprehensive guide for an extensive group of decisions to be made. For this reason, all the company’s professionals have an obligation to know, understand and apply it when executing professional activities (Wood, Braeken & Niven, 2013). Training as a change agents or the use of managerial proposition for change cause employees to be receptive and resist changes (Holmquist, 2013).


The Penn State University Scandal would have been avoided if effective leadership and management of organizational affairs were in place. To begin with, it is crucial to mention that one of the main causes of bureaucracy in organizations is complex organizational hierarchies. In the case of Penn State University, it is evident that administrative power is heavily concentrated at the top. Such a system of management often defines rules and procedures at the top level. On the other hand, managing business resources in organizations requires a bureaucratic system as part and parcel of organizational structure. As much as excessive red tape usually accompanies a bureaucratic system, it assists organizations to effectively manage available resources (both monetary and human capital).

The sex scandal at Penn State University went on for such a long period partly because of a bureaucratic system. Therefore, one solution towards avoiding such a scandal in future is to reduce the degree of bureaucracy.

First, there is need to restructure the management and/or leadership of the institution. Determining the nature of authority model that exists at the organization is obviously the first step. The rational-legal and traditional authorities had existed at Penn State University for a very long time. There was substantial lack of charismatic authority that ushers transformational leadership. For example, concerned employees were evidently afraid of reporting the scandal to other independent authorities owing to the fear of victimization.

There was gross need for charismatic authority at the institution. The top management of the university and in particular the president exercised a rational-legal authority where individual power was exercised owing to the position at the organization.

Second, it would be necessary to use projects to modify the bureaucratic structures. This implies that setting up new and vibrant departments is necessary. The latter should be charged with the duty of overseeing effective management of the institution especially in matters related to ethics and wellbeing of employees as well as other stakeholders. The top hierarchy should be answerable or accountable to an independent oversight body.

Third, horizontal work units can be used to organize employees. This type of arrangement ensures that every worker is directly responsible for his/her actions. Although the horizontal structure largely focuses on accomplishing tasks in organizations, it also provides an open system whereby employees are directly responsible for their inputs. Whistle blowing is also more effective where horizontal work units are practiced.


An organization always aims at enhancing ethics among its staff for the sake of sustainability. It is one of the greatest advances at the workplace since it determines the ability of an organization to remain productive and relevant to both stakeholders and the targeted market at large. As such, training and development is critical in facilitating top performance and organizational profitability. From the above case study, it is evident that a poor organizational culture may breed organizational laxity and lack of accountability among employees. The Penn State University scandal may not have happened if the corporate culture was effective.


Ahlstrom, L., Hagberg, M., & Dellve, L. (2013). Workplace rehabilitation and supportive conditions at work: A prospective study. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 23(2), 248-60. Web.

Boyd, C. (2010). The debate over the prohibition of romance in the workplace. Journal of Business Ethics, 97(2), 325-338. Web.

Holmquist, J. P. (2013). Workplace ethics at the time clock: Fudging time with respect to western and eastern views. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24(11), 2221. Web.

Lucas, K., & Fyke, J. P. (2014). Euphemisms and ethics: A language-centered analysis of Penn State’s sexual abuse scandal. Journal of Business Ethics, 122(4), 551-569. Web.

Lucas, K., Kang, D., & Li, Z. (2013). Workplace dignity in a total institution: Examining the experiences of foxconn’s migrant workforce. Journal of Business Ethics, 114(1), 91-106. Web.

Odeen, M., Ihlebæk, C., Indahl, A., Wormgoor, M. E., A., Lie, S. A., & Eriksen, H. R. (2013). Effect of peer-based low back pain information and reassurance at the workplace on sick leave: A cluster randomized trial. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 23(2), 209-19. Web.

Pilch, I., & Turska, E. (2015). Relationships between machiavellianism, organizational culture, and workplace bullying: Emotional abuse from the target’s and the perpetrator’s perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(1), 83-93. Web.

Ruiz-Palomino, P., Martinez-Canas, R., & Pozo-Rubio, R. (2012). Promoting ethics in the workplace: Why not reflect general organizational justice? The International Business & Economics Research Journal (Online), 11(13), 1447. Web.

Wood, S., Braeken, J., & Niven, K. (2013). Discrimination and well-being in organizations: Testing the differential power and organizational justice theories of workplace aggression. Journal of Business Ethics, 115(3), 617-634. Web.