Penn State’s Unsung Hero

Speaking truth to power is essential in a democratic society. As questions about Joe Paterno’s legacy and NCAA sanctions consumes the airwaves, let’s not forget Vicky Triponey who stood up to Joe Paterno to ensure that all students are treated equally.

As Penn State’s VP of Student Affairs, she consistently and vocally resisted efforts to influence student disciplinary actions by coaches, board members, and alumni. Originally she had the support of Penn State’s administration. However when the team’s record improved her recommendations were overruled and disciplinary penalties on those associated with the football program was lessened. She resigned in 2007 after years of harassment. During the investigation of Jerry Sandusky the Freeh Report investigators sought her opinion of the Penn State culture which she described as “insular and secretive.”

Corrupt cultures allow bad behavior to thrive. It can start innocently enough. Pride in your team can quickly escalate to arrogance which puts self-interest above the institution. Winning provides financial reward which translates to power. Without values power becomes arbitrary and unmanageable. We need people like Ms. Triponey who are willing to speak up—in the face of tremendous pressure and personal cost—and we need to be willing to listen.

“You’ve got to change the culture, and the culture is deep. It’s not just the leaders. It permeates the place. I think they have an interconnectiveness in their passion for their football program. But I’m not sure that’s a genuine sense of community. It’s a sense of pride. It’s a sense of prestige.” At this point, most would agree that the culture of Penn State must change.

A healthy culture in our institutions benefits everyone. Let’s hope our corporations have millions of people like Vicky Triponey who keep their focus on the bigger picture and are willing to take a stand so that everyone can thrive.

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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