Thursday, July 12, 2012

Before Paterno, Sandusky and Freeh: Penn State 71 summers ago

Today seems like an appropriate -- necessary, even -- day for this.

It's a 36-page staplebound paperback titled "A Brief History of The Pennsylvania State College For Freshmen."

It was Volume XXXV, Number 43 of The Pennsylvania State College Bulletin and is dated July 11, 1941 -- almost exactly 71 years ago.

It was written by Arthur Ray Warnock, Dean of Men.

The booklet -- which freshmen were advised to bring to college and refer to -- presents the college's history from its first 86 years of existence (1855-1941).

More importantly, it provides for us a snapshot of what one Pennsylvania State College official felt mattered about its history, mission and purpose in the summer before Pearl Harbor.

Here are some direct quotations from Warnock's guide:
  • In entering The Pennsylvania State College you have chosen to affiliate with a college which holds a sturdy grip on the hearts of thousands of men and women -- your predecessors in the student body -- who have found an enduring satisfaction in their devotion to it. Though they are scattered all over the world, they would express to your personally, if they could, their hope that you too in time may share affection for this college in the Pennsylvania hills.
  • There is something in Penn State that goes on and on, unchanging even while buildings, faculties, and student bodies come and go. If you find out what that is, you will have found the source of the notable Penn State spirit and loyalty.
  • You have come to a campus that is widely known as one of the most beautiful in America, -- to a college whose academic, technical, and scientific departments are widely recognized for their worth and for the achievements of their many graduates.
  • Engraved in stone over the front entrance to Old Main on the campus of your College is this inscription --
    "To promote liberal and practical education ... in the several pursuits of professions of life." Act of Congress -- July 2, 1862 -- Signed A. Lincoln.

    "And the faith of the State is hereby pledged to carry the same into effect." Act of Legislature April 1, 1863.
  • The Board of Trustees made a fortunate choice in the first President. Dr. Evan Pugh, though a young man barely past 30 years of age, was one of the best educated scientists in America. He was a native of Chester county, and was of Welsh descent and Quaker heritage. ... One of his contributions to agricultural education was the use of laboratory and field experience to supplement the conventional lecture method of instruction. His experimentation and his emphasis on strict scientific standards soon gave to his school a reputation.
  • In 1912 the Agricultural Extension department was instrumental in having country farm agents placed in five Pennsylvania counties. ... Today the extension program projects its helpful ministrations into every corner of the Commonwealth with diversified programs in agriculture, home economics, rural sociology, engineering, mineral industries, education, and liberal arts. In the World War of 1914-1918 the Agricultural Extension organization aided the nation materially in the food production program necessary in that emergency. ... Research and extension divisions throughout the College stand ready to answer promptly such calls as the national emergency may make.
  • In the first pages of this history appeared the following statement: "There is something in Penn State that goes on and on, unchanging even while buildings, faculties, and student bodies come and go." That something is a great, enduring purpose. ... It is a purpose which most often appears in acts, in a hundred and one daily experiences of campus routine; it is a purpose which expresses itself in work and effort. But, if the student is aware of its presence, he will be able to understand much about his college experience and its requirements which otherwise might be confused. And, if he has some imagination, in the midst of his daily routine of work and play there may come to him fleeting moments in which he sees himself as a part of this great purpose which is Penn State -- which in turn is part of the life and purpose of America.

Notice what's absent from all those passages I chose?


The word "football" does not appear until Page 13, when Warnock writes, briefly: "In 1881 a group of students organized an informal football team and journeyed by road to Lewisburg, there to defeat a Bucknell team in a drizzling rain. In 1887 organized football was begun..."

There are a few passing mentions of football after that. Mentions of Hugo Bezdek's successful teams and enthusiastic football weekends bringing large crowds to campus. But nothing that indicates football is center of the Penn State universe and identity.

There is a reference, though, to Edwin Erle Sparks -- Penn State's eighth president, who served from 1908 to 1920 -- having to "meet a difficult situation in the field of intercollegiate athletics [early in his tenure]. For aid he turned to the alumni. An alumni advisory committee in athletics was formed, and took over the direction of athletic policies and practices."

That doesn't seem like a terrible idea. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of Penn State alumni today would have done a better job than the trusted, powerful individuals who failed to take any steps to protect children for 14 years.


  1. I loved reading this post - and I love being your wife.

    Love, your sappy spouse

  2. Great sentiment, Joan! Chris--I wonder how many of those young men found themselves rushing off to "sign up" five months later.