At Penn State
, Joe Paterno
was larger than life, even cast in bronze. His power and influence were so great, no one dared to confront, and certainly not defy, the legend, according to a former university official.
During her four years as vice president for student affairs, Vicky Triponey challenged that power and lost. Triponey held direct oversight of the Office of Judicial Affairs, the university's disciplinary arm. When football players ran afoul of school policy, Triponey said Paterno interfered with the discipline process.
After one such incident, Triponey said, then-president Graham Spanier
told her, "Vicky, you're one of the handful of people who have seen the darker side of Joe Paterno."
In another instance, Triponey said, Spanier told her, "You can't expect to change the culture" and that in "40 years he never saw anybody stand up to Joe Paterno." Spanier did not respond to an interview request this week. Multiple calls to Paterno's publicist were not returned; neither was an e-mail request to his on-campus PR
Triponey's account of the pressure she faced sheds light on the influence the football program had on the university. This culture has now come under scrutiny in the wake of the worst scandal in college sports history.
Following the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky
— charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a period of 15 years — Spanier and Paterno were forced out. According to a grand jury report, Paterno and three other university officials failed to notify police after a graduate assistant coach witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the school's football facility in 2002. Sandusky has maintained his innocence.
Paterno is not a target of the investigation.
Athletics director Tim Curley
and senior vice president Gary Schultz were accused of failing to report the alleged abuse to police and perjuring themselves before a grand jury. Their lawyers have claimed they are innocent.
Bill Asbury, who worked almost three decades at the university and preceded Triponey as vice president of student affairs, understands Happy Valley
's culture better than most. He played football in college and the NFL
and is a member of the reform-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
"When we say, 'We are Penn State,' it's more than just 'We are Penn State and you're not.' It's also: 'We are Penn State and we are one. We are members on the same team, therefore we will do whatever it takes to protect the team, the culture around the team and university,' " Asbury said. However, he likely could never have imagined that protecting the program would cross the line to criminal behavior, as the allegations of a coverup suggest.