Posted by Robert Hurley on Thursday, November 10, 2011
The Board of Trustees at Penn State has fired its President and its legendary football coach. Is their action an example of appropriate justice or overreaction? The answer lies in understanding something about repairing trust and reputation after there has been a serious betrayal. The Board's first role is to repair the University and its reputation. To do this a few things are necessary from research on successful trust repair. They must acknowledge and take ownership of the failures, act immediately to deal with known root causes of the trust violation, engage in a comprehensive and longer term investigation and act on all recommendations that this investigation puts forward to restore trust.
The Board of Trustees of Penn State has made some difficult decisions that signal to the world that they understand that the abuse of children on their campus by an influential assistant coach was wrong and that those who were involved or enabled this behavior will be held to account. They have signaled that they are trustworthy. Repairing trust cannot be done by sidestepping the core issues like Rupert Murdoch and News Corp did in 2005 when the first allegations of phone hacking allegations emerged and they attributed the violation to a few rogue reporters. Penn State has made a good first start. Now comes the really hard part of changing a culture that enabled such heinous acts at an otherwise fine University. As they are criticized by students and the media, the Board should take solace in the fact that they have taken courageous action on the road to restoring trust.