Vicky Triponey knows all too well the power Penn State's late football coach, Joe Paterno, held for more than half a century over the insular slice of central Pennsylvania that calls itself Happy Valley.
She experienced firsthand the clubby, jock-snapping culture, the sense of entitlement, the cloistered existence. It's what drove her five years ago from her job as the vice president who oversaw student discipline.
She was told she was too aggressive, too confrontational, that she wasn't fitting in with "the Penn State way."
She clashed often with Paterno over who should discipline football players when they got into trouble. The conflict with such an iconic figure made her very unpopular around campus. For a while, it cost Triponey her peace of mind and her good name. It almost ended her 30-year academic career.
Another person might have felt vindicated, smug or self-righteous when former FBI Director Louis Freeh delivered the scathing report on his eight-month investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. But Triponey sensed only a deep sadness.
The inquiry, commissioned by the board of trustees, exposed how the personal failings of Paterno and three other Penn State leaders -- along with the university's football-first culture -- empowered an assistant football coach who molested fatherless boys for more than a decade.
"There's no joy," Triponey told CNN as she sat down for an interview Friday, the day after the Freeh report was released. She said she found solace in the public recognition of Penn State's "culture of reverence for the football program," as the report phrased it, and that it "ingrained at all levels of the campus community." Freeh found that the culture contributed to the Sandusky scandal.
She agrees with Freeh's suggestion that the university's trustees lead an effort to "vigorously examine and understand" Penn State's culture, why it's so resistant to outside perspectives and why it places such an "excessive focus on athletics."
"It's comforting to know that others can now understand," Triponey said. "It didn't have to happen this way."
Her former boss at Witchita State University described Triponey as "a dedicated, ethical professional" who was devastated by her experience at Penn State.
"Vicky knew that she had attempted to do the right thing in disciplining the football players, but she was unable to do so in the Penn State environment," said Gene Hughes, a president emeritus at Wichita State and Northern Arizona University.
At Penn State, Triponey was among the few who stood up to Paterno, the legendary "JoePa" who for 61 years was synonymous with a football program that pumped millions of dollars into Penn State. And she paid dearly for it. At the end, nobody at the top backed her. And it didn't seem to matter to anyone whether she was right, or even if she had a point.
At the heart of the problem, the Freeh report stated, were university leaders eager to please Paterno above all else, a rubber-stamp board of trustees, a president who discouraged dissent and an administration that was preoccupied with appearances and spin.
Triponey has been saying that since 2005.
Sandusky, as the mastermind of college football's legendary "Linebacker U," enjoyed insider status and used Penn State's sporting events and athletic facilities to lure victims even after he retired in 1999. When he was indicted and arrested in November, the report said, Sandusky still had his keys to the Penn State locker room.
Triponey, a slim blonde who dresses preppie and carries herself with the reserve of an academic lifer, was always an outsider at Penn State, even though she grew up in central Pennsylvania. She was not involved in the Sandusky matter; she says she never met him. But she is keenly aware of the campus culture that allowed him to prey on boys for years, virtually unchecked.
"The culture is deep," she said. "The culture is making decisions based on how others will react, not based on what's right and wrong." It focused on the interests of those at "the top of the chain," she added. "Others at the bottom didn't matter."
Triponey was just one of the 430 witnesses who spoke with Freeh's investigators; her story, which she laid out for them over several hours in March, was supported by e-mails uncovered among the 3.5 million electronic documents the investigators examined.
"When I visited with them, that's when I started to be more hopeful," she said. "They got it, and they were determined to expose it. They found evidence of the culture that allowed Jerry Sandusky to exist.
"Now I can articulate it," she said. "That is what I was railing against."