It’s hard to step back and take an objective look at what’s happening at Penn State. One man allegedly sexually molests God knows how many children, and it’s horrible, but now the entire university is under suspicion. Under siege. Under indictment in the court of public opinion.

And still, they have to go on. Teachers have to teach, grants have to be funded, and at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, they still have to try to raise money.

But as Penn State tries to resume normal operations, the administration has to fall over itself trying to prove that they are not a university full of child rapists. They love children! When you think of Penn State, think of child abuse victims.

Wait, no, not in that way….

We’ve got a couple of painful letters from new Penn State. The first is from the new President, Rodney Erickson, and is addressed to Dickinson Law alumni. I call it “Dickinson” Law because there isn’t a Penn State Law alumni around that isn’t emphasizing “Dickinson” just a little bit more these days.

A tipster explains the context of this first letter: “First, all the alums received an endearing email from Penn State proper (which I have attached below), the text of which can be summed up as “We seriously feel bad about this everybody! I swear! It’ll be different this time!! YOU’LL SEE!!!!!! I CAN CHANGE!!” ”

Here’s a little bit of it. I pulled out the second question:

A message from President Rodney Erickson

Common Questions

Since I was appointed president nearly six weeks ago, I have received thousands of letters and emails from individuals across the University and around the world. These notes run the gamut from strong support to questions to suggestions to dissatisfaction with my decisions or the pace of our progress. I appreciate all of the input — I value your opinions and I am committed to listening to your concerns. We weigh many factors in our decision-making process, and your feedback is important.

My staff and I are doing our best to respond personally to all the mail in a timely fashion. However, given the volume, I wanted to take this opportunity to answer a few of the most common questions that are coming across my desk…

2. Actions speak louder than words: what is Penn State doing to help combat the problem of child abuse?

Penn State has committed $1.5 million of its share of Big Ten bowl game revenues to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to assist in the efforts to raise awareness about child sexual abuse and develop outreach educational programming across the Commonwealth and beyond. Last week we announced the launch of a Center for the Protection of Children at the Hershey Medical Center that will be devoted to the prevention and treatment of child abuse. The Center, which will also be supported by bowl revenues, is the first piece of a University-wide institute that will bring together many existing and expanding resources at Penn State related to the prevention and treatment of child abuse. Late last month the University opened a Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Hotline at 800-550-7575 (TTY 866-714-7177) that can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all Penn State Campuses. See http://live.psu.edu/tag/Penn_State_Promise for the latest updates.

Yes, Penn State is doing its part to stop child sex abuse. You can click through to the next page to see the full message from President Erickson to Penn State Law alumni.

With that out of the way, it’s time to turn to the important task of raising money. Now, if it were me, I’d probably avoid hitting up law alumni at the moment. The legal economy is still terrible. Thanks to Cravath, everybody is looking at a crappy bonus, and the school is the middle of a HUGE CHILD SEX SCANDAL. Maybe it’s not quite the right time to be asking your graduates for cash.

Of course, thinking like that is probably why I’m not a dean of a law school. Penn State Law Dean Philip J. McConnaughay doesn’t have any shame; he made the hard sell to Dickinson alumni with direct mail. After regurgitating some of the news President Erickson shared, McConnaughay came out with this gem:

Law School alumni are volunteering to mentor and teach our students about the special responsibilities of lawyers to confront and address injury and injustice, never to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist, and to lead moral and ethical lives of good character even when the law might not compel that particular course of action. Many alumni are contacting us to ask how else they might help.

Lemme guess, they can help by giving money?

The Dickinson School of Law is responding to this circumstance by significantly reducing the size of our entering 1L classes, from about 245 students to 180 -185 students. This will ensure that we retain a student body composed only of exceptionally well-qualified candidates, that our classroom experience remains superior, that our bar passage rate remains high, and that our placement record remains solid, with Dickinson School of Law graduates securing meaningful legal jobs upon graduation, as they deserve. But this also means a dramatic shortfall in the tuition revenue that provides most of the Law School’s operating budget.

The Law School is responding to this budgetary challenge by reducing expenses, trying to increase revenues from other sources (e.g.,a larger L L.M. class, non-degree distance education courses, CLE, etc.), and by reducing the size of our administrative staff where feasible. But the Law School and our students are more dependent than ever on your giving to help close the gap.

I want to break those last two paragraphs down, because there is some argumentative brilliance here:

  • Are you voluntarily reducing class size, or are you just afraid people don’t want to be tagged with a Penn State degree just at the moment?
  • If you are voluntarily reducing class size now, what about the kids in the classes of 2014, 2013, and 2012 who are drowning in the size of their classes?
  • And why is fleecing LL.M. students part of the solution? Penn State Law: Where Only Foreigners Get F****d?
  • Somehow, I don’t think a person who graduated in the class of 2010 really wants to pay so that the smaller class of 2015 has it easier.
  • How can you ask for money at a time like this?

Too soon! Both of these letters just feel a little too soon for the university to be trying to lather platitudes over this massive scandal. All the child protective measures reek of “too little, too late,” while the monetary requests feel like bad taste.

Jerry Sandusky (allegedly) did all those bad things to all those children. Not the university. We know that. Just give everybody a little time. Presidents and deans don’t want to hear this, but not every situation can be turned into an opportunity to raise more money.


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