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Who's Responsible for an Organization's Ethics?

"The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims." Freeh Report

While performing an independent investigation into sexual abuse at Penn State, former FBI director Louis Freeh and his team conducted over 430 interviews and analyzed more than 3.5 million communications. Their research concluded that the university's most powerful leaders knowingly looked the other way while a sexual predator continued harming children for over a decade, and concealed the crimes from authorities to keep bad publicity away from the school's famed football program.

Freeh's report names the culprits, but other than the late Joe Paterno, most are not household names. On the other hand, their titles should be enough to indict them for complicity: university president, senior vice president of finance and business, athletic director, head football coach, university police department chief, and board trustees. The list raises the question: if leaders at these levels cannot be trusted to oversee an institution's ethics, who can be?

The evidence detailed in the report shows that people at many levels of Penn State's hierarchy knew what Jerry Sandusky was doing, but they were either frustrated in their attempts to report it, or reluctant to say anything for fear of losing their jobs. Whether they deferred their responsibility to superiors, or made a conscious decision to remain quiet, these employees could have done more to stop the abuse.

As it turns out, we're all responsible for our organizations' ethical conduct. Being ethical is not just about behaving ethically; it's also about calling out those who engage in unethical behavior, whatever the personal consequences.

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