Sent to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg newspapers yesterday:
For Centre County residents, the death of Timothy Piazza is only the most recent example of a pattern of corporate Penn State’s community abuse.
In 2011, we learned that Penn State administrators, enabled by the Board of Trustees, had covered up the serial rape of young boys by Jerry Sandusky.
In 2013, State College residents fought a fierce battle against Penn State and Columbia Gas, over Penn State’s plan to install a 12” diameter, high-pressure natural gas transmission line through a residential neighborhood, solely to serve the West Campus Steam Plant. Penn State trustees only backed down after citizen outrage and a lawsuit combined with air quality compliance deadlines, which caused the trustees to move the route of the proposed pipeline onto campus, where it now threatens the lives of thousands of Penn State students, faculty and staff.
In 2015, Centre Region residents were forced to mobilize for our own public safety against another Penn State threat, when we learned that Penn State had engaged in a sweetheart land deal with Toll Brothers developers to build hundreds of luxury student housing units right on top of the groundwater recharge area for our public drinking water supplies. We have no large lakes, reservoirs or rivers in Centre County. If our groundwater is contaminated, we’re screwed. And Toll Brothers has a horrible record of non-compliance with Clean Water Act regulations.
So citizens took Toll Brothers and the enabling Ferguson Township municipal board to court. Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine ruled in our favor in July 2016, finding that the developers, in collusion with the supervisors, attempted an unlawful “end run” around local zoning ordinances. The Commonwealth Court reversed Grine on a procedural technicality. Our case is now on the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and we’re directly petitioning the trustees to break the sales agreement.
This spring, we learned that corporate Penn State’s continued promotion of an institutional culture of alcohol abuse, and negligence in supervising sanctioned and unsanctioned fraternities and sororities, again led to the death of an undergraduate student. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.
It’s leadership behavior driven by the same private profit-driven greed that drove the Sandusky cover-up, the Columbia Gas pipeline plan, and the Toll Brothers water threat, hidden behind the slipping disguise of a public land grant university.
Penn State’s administrators, enabled by a complacent, out-of-touch Board of Trustees and a weak state legislature that can’t even be bothered to bring the state-related universities under the provisions of the Right to Know Law, continue to demonstrate a pattern of callous disregard for the externalized human and social costs of their internal decisions.
The recent and not-so-recent pious handwringing by Penn State’s purported leaders is unlikely to lead to any constructive change. It can’t. There are too many incentives for business as usual, and none for genuine reform.
Katherine Watt, State College PA, PSU Class of 1996.