We may not be that different after all.
That the 67–year–old could have molested eight boys over a 15–year period seemed unthinkable. We shook our heads as details emerged that Joe Paterno and top University officials likely had knowledge of an incident in which Sandusky sexually assaulted a young boy in a locker room shower back in 2002, but never called the police. Instead, University President Graham Spanier banned Sandusky from bringing children into the locker room and no further action was pursued until one of the victim’s mothers alerted the police seven years later.
We at Penn were watching, as distraught Penn State students tore through campus in support of their beloved coach. While some students at Penn called for solidarity with our peers, others were furious. Why? The classic mix–up; New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd confused Happy Valley for Locust Walk. Her column was entitled “Personal Foul at Penn.” Multiple other references were made in the column, leading to a correction published by the Times and media coverage of the mix–up.
Still we breathed a collective sigh of relief that it didn’t happen here.
As we corrected well–intentioned relatives and proudly proclaimed that “We are not Penn State” we nearly lost sight of the fact that, for all practical purposes, it has happened here before. Not just sexual assault carried out by a member of Penn’s prestigious faculty, but that University officials had knowledge of an alleged sexual assault and may have failed to act accordingly.
• • •
Tracy McIntosh was a world–renowned brain researcher and one of Penn’s rising stars. The 52–year–old husband and father of two daughters was quickly climbing the ranks since joining Penn’s faculty in 1992. By the fall of 2002, he had already achieved tenure for his cutting edge work on brain injuries and had picked up several awards and substantial grant money along the way.
According to court records, his victim was the 23–year–old niece of his college roommate who had recently moved to Philadelphia to study at the Vet School. The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s description of the charges against McIntosh is chilling:
On the evening of September 6, 2002 the two met at his lab, and from there he took her to three campus bars where they started drinking. By the time they reached the second bar at White Dog Cafe, the victim reported feeling “strange” after consuming two ciders and one Irish whiskey. They moved on to Pod where she said she became disoriented, had blurred vision and began projectile vomiting. Rather than take her home, McIntosh directed the victim, who was unable to walk on her own, back to his office at 105 Hayden Hall. On the way, he offered her some marijuana, which she smoked, to settle her stomach.
In statements given to the police, she recalled kissing McIntosh at some point, and then later observing McIntosh with his penis in his hand, and then finally, she recalls McIntosh placing his penis inside her vagina. She testified that she was physically immobilized and unable to act.
On November 15, 2002, more than two months later, she filed a complaint with the University. Three days later, she alerted the police.
• • •
Despite the fact that sexual assault is a felony in Pennsylvania, a civil lawsuit subsequently filed by the victim showed that the University opted to conduct an informal inquiry into the matter. It also tapped Arthur Asbury, a long time colleague of McIntosh, to lead the investigation. Court documents show that at no point did Asbury interview any female students, lab employees or colleagues of McIntosh.
In late February 2003, then–President Judith Rodin informed the victim’s family of the results of the University’s informal investigation. She told them that Asbury’s inquiry was “unable to corroborate fully either party’s recitation of the actions that transpired the night of September 6,” and specifically that “Dr. Asbury was not able to find any evidence supporting the allegation the Dr. McIntosh had a history of predatory conduct.”
However, the President’s letter concluded that McIntosh had acted inappropriately and therefore had been sanctioned. The University ordered a pay freeze until 2009 but allowed McIntosh to remain on the faculty.
• • •
On April 23, 2003, McIntosh went on leave from the University. The next day he surrendered himself to the police and was charged with rape, sexual assault and possession of marijuana, among other charges. With McIntosh formally charged, Penn ordered a second investigation into his behavior at the University in July, this time led by Victoria A. Mulhern, executive director of faculty affairs for Penn’s medical school.
It was not until after McIntosh pled no contest to sexual assault and the possession of marijuana in December that he was asked to resign. On March 2, 2004, McIntosh was found guilty of both charges and sentenced to house arrest for 11 and a half to 23 months.
• • •
After the sentencing, details from the second investigation, which included interviews from 11 women who worked in McIntosh’s lab, became public. While several of the women praised McIntosh as a supportive mentor and dismissed claims of questionable behavior as rumors, a memo outlining Penn’s internal investigations provided testimony from others subject to unwanted sexual advances.
The memo detailed several stories of McIntosh’s inappropriate behavior toward his female employees and students. Three women working in his lab conducted an intervention in November 2002, after receiving several complaints about McIntosh’s behavior toward young women employees, students and lab techs. This occurred around the same time that McIntosh was accused of assault, though none of the women involved in the intervention claimed to know anything about the alleged assault.
The report also included testimony from a lab technician who quit after complaining that McIntosh tried to pursue a romantic relationship with her and began raising “work performance issues” when she rebuffed his advances. Another story involved a lab janitor whom McIntosh paid, sometimes picked up marijuana from and tried unsuccessfully to hire as a temporary lab manager, though she was not qualified; and a female post–doctoral researcher whom McIntosh tried to kiss after a lab group dinner at which there was “a lot of drinking.”
• • •
Two weeks after the report went public, the victim slapped Penn, the School of Medicine, Arthur Asbury and Tracy McIntosh with a civil lawsuit. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported on March 18, 2005 that “the civil case was intended to draw attention to Penn’s alleged failure to supervise and contain McIntosh,” according to the victim’s lawyer, Jack Meyerson.
The complaint alleged that the University of Pennsylvania and the Medical School, as well as many of Tracy McIntosh’s Medical School colleagues, knew prior to his encounter with the victim that Tracy McIntosh had a lengthy history of utilizing his prestigious position with the University of Pennsylvania Medical School to perform acts of sexual aggression, manipulation, intimidation and harassment against women with whom he came in contact.
She alleged that the University and others obstructed justice and hindered the criminal investigation by withholding evidence from prosecutors and suggested that McIntosh’s continued employment was essential to enable the defendants to continue to profit from the research grants that he received for his work. In response, University spokeswoman Lori Doyle strongly denied the accusations and maintained that Penn had acted in a fully legal manner. Doyle told the Penn Gazette that “Penn at no time had any reliable information of sexual misconduct relating to Dr. McIntosh that it failed to act upon.”
• • •
On October 23, 2008, nearly three years after the civil suit was filed and over six years after the initial incident, Penn settled with the victim. The details of the settlement were kept confidential. By the time the two parties reached the settlement, only the claims of civil conspiracy and the intentional infliction of emotional distress had been dismissed. Counts of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress upon the victim were still pending.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the settlement, noted in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, helped to avoid a potentially embarrassing nonjury trial that was slated for later that year. Though no details about Penn’s settlement emerged, the court deposition indicated that a separate settlement was reached between the victim and McIntosh weeks later, which included a $500,000 judgment against the former professor “pursuant to and subject to a separate confidential agreement.”
• • •
Unlike the Penn State scandal that became an overnight media sensation, the University of Pennsylvania’s handling of its investigation slipped by without much media attention. For the most part, the civil allegations directed toward the University were overshadowed by several fiascos that occurred in the criminal proceedings. McIntosh was originally sentenced to 11 and a half to 23 months under house arrest, fined $20,000 and ordered to pay another $20,000 for the victim’s psychological treatment. The relatively lenient sentencing sparked criticism from women’s groups; sexual assault can carry up to 40 years in prison, in extreme cases.
That frustration was compounded when McIntosh gained permission in January 2006 from sentencing Judge Rayford Means to forgo part of his house arrest to take a research post in Milan, Italy. Following public outcry, McIntosh was removed from his post and ordered to return back to the country. Then, in October 2007, the state Superior and Supreme Courts vacated Means’ original criminal sentence as too lenient, and he was resentenced after an appeal from the DA. On February 13, 2008 McIntosh was sentenced to three and a half to seven years in prison, where he is currently residing.
All of this was happening in the middle of the civil litigation, alleging a mishandling by the University. The sheer amount of drama was exhausting, especially as media attention turned toward Rafael Robb, the Penn Economics professor who in 2007 pled guilty to beating his wife to death with a chin–up bar the year before.
As media attention increased, Penn State’s Board of Trustees appeared to be distancing itself from President Spanier after he promptly resigned following the outbreak of the scandal. On the other hand, Penn’s Board of Trustees celebrated Judith Rodin when she announced after a regularly scheduled Trustees’ meeting on June 20, 2003 that she intended to step down from office when she completed her 10–year term in June 2004. It was not even two months after McIntosh was formally charged.
Upon leaving the University, Rodin was appointed president of the Rockefeller Foundation and this year was named as #71 in Forbes’ annual list of powerful women.
• • •
“Penn is big enough to have criminals. We have survived murder, we have survived faculty plagiarizing, we have survived deviants, we have survived harassment and we have survived racism. There is an understanding this is the real world,” said Legal Studies professor Nick Constan.
The former executive assistant to Rodin’s predecessor Sheldon Hackney, he is familiar with what can happen when a potential scandal breaks out. “The first reaction is ‘Oh shit, how do we make this go away.’ And then you start to circle the wagon. At Penn State they were probably thinking ‘if that ever got to the feds, that would ruin his [Paterno’s] reputation.’ It’s all relevant to reputation. What Penn State is teaching people is that it is a black mark, but it’s going to be much worse if there is a perceived cover–up.”
The potential embarrassment to the institution is always an incentive to the way we try to handle ourselves when it comes to scandal. But it’s handling is not without consequences.
• • •
In light of the incidents at Penn State, President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli released “A Message to the Community on Penn’s Values” on November 18, rehearsing the “University’s deeply held values, and our determined commitment to ensure an environment of ethical, honorable and legal conduct in every aspect of our campus life.”
Penn does have the mechanisms and procedures in place to assist when faculty, staff and students encounter a problem. Acts of sexual violence are defined and there is a commitment from the University to thoroughly investigating charges on a confidential basis. The sanctions for individuals that violate the policy include prosecution by the United States District Attorney under Pennsylvania Criminal Statuses. According to Vice President of Communications Stephen MacCarthey, Penn’s policy — which was crafted in 1998 — is republished yearly as a reminder to the campus community.
Yet as the McIntosh and Sandusky incidents remind us, having the policies in place doesn’t guarantee that investigations will be conducted responsibly, especially when they are conducted behind closed doors. As Penn students, we can only hope that the current administration will follow the procedures when violations of Penn’s policies are reported.
After all, we are not Penn State.
Lauren Plotnick is Executive Editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian. She is a College senior from Potomac, Maryland.