Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spanier Revealed...

...Okay, not so much.

In my last post, I drew your attention to three articles on Graham which were slated to run today in the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The author, David Jones, promised these would be revealing. I could only find two articles. Perhaps Jones' editor decided that three wasn't a charm.

What do these two articles tell us about Graham?

Graham On His Dad

One of the two stories focuses on Graham's relationship to his father. According to Jones, "...Spanier said he hasn't shared this story of his upbringing with Paterno or, for that matter, many others." That's funny, I remember him sharing the story about his father with the whole University in his inaugural address in 1995. In fact, I remember this very well, because I thought its Oprah worthy confessional nature was an embarrassment to Penn State, particularly when compared Clark Kerr's highly intellectual inaugural address at Berkeley in 1958. Here's the passage from Graham's confessional.

In 1936, with a few deutsche marks sewn into his collar secretly by his mother, but with no other possessions, a 15-year-old German boy named Fritz managed to escape the oppression of Nazi Germany, and found his way to South Africa. Fritz was never to see most of his family again. Twenty of his close relatives died in the death camps. Fritz learned English, became a citizen of South Africa, fought for that country during the war, and in 1947 married a woman from Johannesburg. A year and a half later, a son was born in Capetown.

In that year, 1948, apartheid became the official policy of South Africa, and Fritz became disturbed by the parallels between what he left behind in Germany and what now surrounded him in South Africa. So in 1949, Fritz came to the United States by himself, settled in Chicago, saved a few dollars from his job loading and unloading trucks in a warehouse, and a few months later persuaded his wife to come to Chicago along with the infant child.

Fritz Otto Spanier, my father, known in America as Fred, died at 64, an unhappy man after years of ill health, never experiencing the prosperity that other immigrants found. For most of his adult life he was a working-class man with upper-middle-class aspirations. He valued learning, but never knew formal education. He allowed people to believe he had a college degree because he was too embarrassed to admit he did not.

Yet something almost inexplicable happened during this man's life that would have lasting impact on his family. Despite the fact that neither he nor anyone else in his family had ever set foot on a college campus, he and his wife managed to instill in their children a healthy respect for education. Their three children now have among them seven university degrees.

This story is not as unusual as it might seem, since I am certain many of you, like me, are the first in your families to attend college. Many of our students, too, carry with them the hopes of the future for their entire family constellations.

I tell you all of this to communicate something about my values. The university experience means far more to me than turning students into alumni or turning ideas into publications. For me, education is society's mechanism for turning despair into hope, for raising the social consciousness of the community, for altering the course of families, for turning poverty into wealth, and for improving the quality of life. Only education could allow a poor immigrant who grew up on the south side of Chicago to become the President of Penn State.

The first bit that I've emphasized communicated more to me about Graham's values than I think Graham had had intended to communicate. As they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Graham's dad had status issues and allowed people believe he had a college degree. Graham clear also has status issues-if you don't think so you haven't been reading this blog-and he misleads people about his accomplishments and that of the University he leads.

The only thing new that Graham tells us in the Jones piece is that as a kid his family was poooooooor and he assures us that when he lived in Highland Park, IL as a kid, it wasn't ritzy place that we know today. A place where the median family income in 2006 was
$117,235. Was Graham bullshitting about being so poor he went to bed hungry? Hard to say, but I'm doubtful.

Graham and Tom

The other piece in the Patriot-News today is about Graham's relationship with Tom Osborne while the former was chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the latter was the head football coach there.

The story tells us that Osborne, before Graham's arrival, had put into place a succession plan which had an assistant athletic director moving into the AD slot as a placeholder until Osborne was ready to retire from coaching and take the AD job himself. Graham upset the applecart. He hired as AD his own guy from Oregon State, where he had been vice-provost for academic affairs immediately prior to going to Nebraska.

This provides a little more background in to the folklore surrounding Graham's move to Penn State in 1995. The folklore has it that Graham was Paterno's choice to head Penn State. The primary evidence for this is that the chair of the Board of Trustees at the time was Paterno's buddy Bill Scheryer. The folklore also has it that Osborne, another Paterno buddy, had some role in recommending Graham.

I have heard this folktale in real time from many people some of whom had connections to both Scheryer and Paterno. Hence it has some credibility to me.

It may be that Joe and Bill were doing Tom a favor by helping him unload Graham after his applecart upsetting performance.

Why would JoePa want to bring in someone who had dumped apples on the sidewalks of Lincoln? For one thing JoePa had, in 1993, installed a 39 or 40 year old Tim Curely as AD. Paterno's boy Curley was there for the long haul. The applecart in Happy Valley wasn't going to be tipped and anyway thirteen years ago Paterno likely was sure he could handle anybody in a bureaucratic knife fight. Hey, and he probably still can.

In summary, there's nothing earth shattering in today's Patriot-News.

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