STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — One of the great paradoxes of the Penn State scandal is evident on the face of Graham Spanier, the university's ousted president.
"You know how he's got that prizefighter's nose?" asked Michael Oriard, an associate dean at Oregon State and a close friend. "It's from his father breaking it for him several times."
Spanier earned academic renown with research on family relationships. Oriard said he has seen his friend lose his composure just once, after witnessing one child hurting another. A man like that, then, might be keenly attuned to protecting the powerless, the downtrodden, and Spanier's defenders say he is.
Yet Spanier and other administrators have been blamed for failing to act to stop Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who has been charged with 40 counts of child molestation, including rape.
Two top Penn State administrators were charged with perjury, accused of lying about what they knew about Sandusky. Spanier and the school's longtime head football coach, Joe Paterno, have not been criminally charged, but on Nov. 9 both Spanier and Paterno were fired.
Spanier, who did not respond to interview requests, told a grand jury in the spring that he was never told how serious the allegations against Sandusky were.
With the Pennsylvania attorney general, the NCAA and the university's Board of Trustees all conducting investigations into the sexual abuse allegations and the possibility of a cover-up, the actions — or inactions — of Spanier and others remain to be fully examined and made public.
In his 16 years as president, Spanier and his administration had a history of circling the wagons in the face of criticism or scrutiny, fitting into what many say was an insular culture at Penn State that preceded his tenure.
It occurred when high-profile Penn State employees came under fire, when student actions threatened to embarrass the university, and when people sought to obtain information that almost any other public institution would be required to release.
That instinct may have accelerated Spanier's downfall. On Nov. 5, when Gary Schultz, a senior university vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, were charged with perjury, Spanier released a statement saying he had "complete confidence" in their handling of the accusation against Sandusky — a statement that incensed university trustees, according to people briefed on their deliberations.
Paul McLaughlin says he experienced a prime example of that habit of closing ranks.
A decade ago, he says, he told Penn State officials, including Spanier, a horrific story: Years before, when he was a boy, a professor had sexually molested him repeatedly, sometimes on the Penn State campus. He even said he had a tape recording in which the professor, who still taught at the university, admitted to the abuse.
But McLaughlin says he was rebuffed.
"He told me whatever I wanted to get from the school, I wasn't going to get it, and this was a guy with an impeccable reputation, and unless he was convicted of a crime, they weren't interested," McLaughlin, now 45 and a private investigator in Phoenix, recalled of his short phone conversation with Spanier. "When I offered to send him the tape, he said, 'Don't bother.' That was his exact words."
The professor was charged in 2005 with abusing McLaughlin, but the charges were dropped.
The revelations of recent weeks were especially chilling to McLaughlin, and not just because of the horrible allegations, or the suggestion that the university had shielded its own.
It was also the timing: The most explosive accusation — that Sandusky raped a pre-adolescent boy in the locker room showers and that university officials who were told about it failed to report it to the police — occurred in March 2002, just days after McLaughlin says he spoke with Spanier.
Until this month, there was a consensus, not only here on campus but among higher education experts nationally, that Spanier was a good president, according to interviews with dozens of students, alumni, faculty and administrators, including some who butted heads with him.
He greatly expanded student enrollment and oversaw a campus building boom, elevated the university's academic reputation, raised an enormous amount of money, and was tapped by fellow university presidents to lead a series of intercollegiate bodies.
Born in South Africa, Spanier grew up in the Chicago suburbs and was the first member of his family to go to college, graduating from Iowa State University in 1969. By 25, he had a doctorate in sociology from Northwestern and a faculty position at Penn State.
At 42, he became chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At UNL, Spanier raised admissions standards and pressed for equal treatment of gays, drawing criticism that he was too liberal for the state.
He also clashed there with a powerful and legendary football coach, Tom Osborne, during the 1992 search for a new athletic director.
Osborne, according to news reports at the time, wanted to make the choice, in effect picking his own nominal boss. Spanier defied the coach and hired Bill Byrne. Three years later, Spanier returned to Penn State.
In 2004, as is now well-known, Spanier and Penn State's athletic director, Curley, went to Paterno's house near campus to tell him that the previous season, with its 4-7 record, should be his last. Instead, Paterno told his superiors that he had no intention of going.
"It's not really a boss-employee relationship with these power coaches, not at all," said Byrne, now athletic director at Texas A&M. "Someone like Paterno, he's helped choose the trustees, he owns the community. When a popular coach gets fired, usually pretty soon the president and the athletic director are gone, too."
When Spanier returned to State College in 1995, Penn State had a star coach in women's basketball, Rene Portland, who had a reputation for not allowing lesbians on her team, which she denied. The university had a policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Portland, many believed, continued to operate by her own rules.
A former player sued, accusing Portland of harassing her and dropping her from the team because of her perceived sexual orientation. Several former players came forward to say they had seen or experienced similar treatment, prompting questions about whether the administration knew of Portland's actions and tolerated them.
The university investigated and found that in 2006 that the coach had created a "hostile, intimidating and offensive environment." She was fined and forced to undergo diversity training, but she kept her job.
Portland resigned a year later, shortly after the university settled the lawsuit on undisclosed terms.
That and other court settlements have been kept secret because Pennsylvania's public colleges are exempt from state law on open government records. As president, Spanier went to some lengths to maintain such secrecy.
When the Patriot-News of Harrisburg obtained the salaries of Penn State's highest-paid officials, including Paterno, from the state retirement system, Spanier spent five years trying to block the release. The university lost before the pension board, the Commonwealth Court and, in 2007, the State Supreme Court.
Craig J. Staudenmaier, the lawyer who represented the Patriot-News, said he was amazed by how hard the university fought.
"It just made no sense," he said. "Penn State guards their information very closely and jealously."
While that case was under way, state lawmakers were drafting a tougher right-to-know law. Spanier lobbied personally — and successfully — against a proposal to end the colleges' exemption.