HARRISBURG — The story being told by Penn State president Graham Spanier as he defends himself against accusations that he covered up a sex abuse allegation runs contrary into his own reputation as a detail-oriented manager.
But experts in university governance also suggest that if Spanier truly didn't know what was going on, he showed a willful ignorance and a disturbing lack of curiosity about a scandal that stood to ruin Penn State's reputation.
In a series of interviews this week and at a Philadelphia news conference, Spanier and his lawyers have repeatedly portrayed him as somewhat on the sidelines, completely unaware that complaints about former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky were serious enough to warrant much more than passing attention.
The experts acknowledge the job of president requires dealing with a continual stream of problems, but they are raising doubts that Spanier took a less than active role in investigating the scandal that engulfed two of his top lieutenants and longtime coach Joe Paterno.
"You can say I didn't know. You can say I was distracted. You can say they didn't tell me — up to a point," said Stephen Trachtenberg, who was president at the University of Hartford and George Washington University.
"But from what we have heard about what transpired, his vice president, his director of athletics, his coaches allegedly were concealing this bad news from him for such an extensive period of time that I find the story implausible," he said.
Spanier said he had no recollection of email traffic involving a 1998 police investigation of Sandusky, triggered by a woman's complaints that he had showered with her son. He also told The New Yorker he had little memory of a 2001 complaint about Sandusky in a team shower with a boy, and that a follow-up meeting on the topic was wedged into his schedule during a busy time.
Sandusky was convicted of various criminal counts in June.