Compliance Failures & Crisis Management: What can we learn from Baylor University & Penn State?

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Sexual assault allegations rocked two prestigious university football programs, Penn State and Baylor University.  Both universities took two different paths to addressing the underlying compliance, governance and risk problems that led to the scandals.  Penn State embraced a transparent approach to addressing the problems.  In contrast, Baylor’s Board of Regents have blocked stakeholders’ efforts to understand the root causes of their compliance failures.

In fall of 2011, Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach for the Penn State Nitany Lions, was charged and convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of children. Several Penn State University officials, whose alleged actions were questioned in terms of whether they met ethical, moral, and legal obligations in reporting any suspected abuse, were also charged.  In response, the Board of Trustees commissioned an independent investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his law firm. The Freeh Report found several high ranking school administrators knew about allegations of child abuse on Sandusky’s part as early as 1998  and were complicit in failing to disclose them. In so doing, Freeh stated that the most senior leaders at Penn State showed a “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims” for 14 years and “empowered” Jerry Sandusky to continue his abuse. Penn State released the full Freeh report to the public and addressed the governance, risk and compliance issues openly.

Baylor, however, has adopted a less than transparent approach to addressing allegations that football players sexually assaulted women on campus and that the university knew and failed to act.  Unlike Penn State, when the Board of Regents commissioned a report, they released a heavily edited statement to those outside of the Board.  Baylor has seen substantial backlash from many stakeholders, including prominent alumni.

In the episode, Eric, a Baylor alumni, asks:

  • What can organizations in crisis learn from other organizations that have gone through similar trials?
  • How can transparancy be weilded effectively to counter-act even the most serious instances of misconduct?
  • What are the fundamental differences between the crisis managment approaches these two organizations have taken?

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