Education chief says Penn State might have ‘price to pay’

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday said Penn State University will have “a price to pay” if a federal investigation concludes the school covered up allegations that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted young boys on campus.

“It makes me extraordinarily angry. It is unacceptable to me, if these allegations are true … that the adults, who are there to make a difference in young people’s lives, actually perpetuated a devastating situation,” Duncan said during his second “Twitter Town Hall,” where he answered questions submitted via social networking sites.

“We have a legal obligation to investigation. If [Penn State] was not forthcoming with criminal activity, there will be a price to pay. What happened there is absolutely devastating. This is a cancer that, rather than stopping it, it just grew and grew and grew.”

The Education Department is investigating whether the university violated the Clery Act by not reporting incidents of sexual abuse to federal authorities. The 1990 law requires all public colleges and universities to submit detailed information on all crimes that occur on campus. Violations of the act have led to hefty fines for several universities, including Eastern Michigan University, which had to cough up $357,000 in 2007 after not telling students that foul play was suspected in a student’s death.

In addition to the Clery Act investigation, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights may initiate further inquiries.

The Penn State scandal already has claimed university President Graham Spanier and iconic football coach Joe Paterno, who was forced out amid allegations he didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky or notify police. After Paterno was fired last week, Penn State students demonstrated on campus and across State College, Pa., clashing with authorities and overturning a satellite truck.

Duncan said Penn State’s firing of Paterno, a fixture on the Nittany Lions’ sideline since 1950, was a “hard decision that probably needed to be made,” given the gravity of the situation and the emotional toll the alleged abuse took on the victims.

Amid the controversy, Penn State ultimately decided to play its scheduled game against Nebraska last Saturday. Critics have charged that the decision proves that leading American universities value athletics more than education and the well-being of students.

Duncan agreed that some institutions have allowed football to balloon “out of control,” though he did not single out Penn State.

“In some universities, is football too big a deal? Yes, absolutely,” he said.

After the 17-14 Nebraska victory, Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini echoed the sentiments of many others when he said he “didn’t think the game should have been played.”

“I thought that this game gave us an opportunity to show that the situation going on is bigger than football. It is bigger than the football game that was just played,” he said. “It is bigger than the young men that played in the game that would have missed it if they called it off. It’s about education and putting things into perspective … hopefully the fact that both teams sat up and prayed together put that in perspective a little bit.”

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