A society fails when it cannot protect its own children. To me that is the bottom line from the tragedy at Penn State. What occurred could have been prevented at so many different levels from the prosecutor to the assistant coach to the coach, there is plenty of blame to spread around. The criminal justice system, civil justice system, and other investigations will sort through those facts and conclusions will be reached.
Joe Paterno apparently complied with "policy" by reporting what his assistant coach saw. Employment lawyers are in the business of creating policy through employee handbooks and contracts that attempt to address all sorts of situations and legal issues. The reality is that there is no handbook that can possibly address every scenario out there and we must rely upon the discretion and judgment of the individual executive or entry level employee to do the right thing.
We expected more from a man/coach/leader like Joe Paterno and he failed to live up to our expectations. But we also must maintain high expectations for ourselves, co-workers, superiors, and subordinates as we navigate through our day to day lives. It is incumbent upon employers to create an environment where employees can report wrongful conduct and it is incumbent upon employees to act when necessary. It’s a sad day for us all when complying with policy is all that is expected.