On the day the police arrived at the home of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach, to arrest him on multiple counts of child sexual abuse, Graham Spanier was beginning his 17th year as Penn State’s president. It was an extraordinary tenure, and one that had seemed most likely to continue for many more years. A man of ceaseless energy and considerable ego, Spanier led the university as it grew from a remote outpost of American higher education into a top-tier public university.
His imprint was everywhere. Some of the world’s most-decorated architects designed the dozens of new buildings constructed on his watch, and Spanier had the last word on everything from the shape of the windows to the color of the brick. He performed magic tricks as the opening act at student events, played washboard in a Dixieland band and sometimes climbed into the costume of the school mascot, the Nittany Lion. At various times, he led the boards that governed the N.C.A.A., the Big Ten conference, the Bowl Championship Series, the Association of American Universities and the National Council on Family Relations. His TV show on the Big Ten Network was called “Expert Opinion With Graham Spanier.”