Penn State trustees: Paterno didn’t do enough

Board of trustee members Linda Strumpf, Stephanie Deviney, Peter Khouy and Mark Dambly speak about the the firing of President Spanier and coach Joe Paterno. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer EDITORS NOTE: January 19, 2012, State College Pa., RRXTRUSTEE20 The Penn State trustees speak. 3 to 5 of the board members will be interviewed by Sue Snyder the day before the first public board of trustee meeting post the firing of Joe Paterno. Repoirter is Sue Snyder.
Board of trustee members Linda Strumpf, Stephanie Deviney, Peter Khouy and Mark Dambly speak about the the firing of President Spanier and coach Joe Paterno. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer EDITORS NOTE: January 19, 2012, State College Pa., RRXTRUSTEE20 The Penn State trustees speak. 3 to 5 of the board members will be interviewed by Sue Snyder the day before the first public board of trustee meeting post the firing of Joe Paterno. Repoirter is Sue Snyder.
Posted: January 19, 2012

Joel N. Myers, a member of the Pennsylvania State University board of trustees, was shopping on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia on that November day when details of a horrifying child-sex abuse scandal involving a former Penn State football coach were made public in grand jury testimony.

His son sent him a text about it.

"My reaction was, this can't be true. I'm on the board. I would have known about it," Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather and a longtime Penn State trustee, told The Inquirer on Thursday.

Within days, the board forced out president Graham B. Spanier and fired its beloved football coach, Joe Paterno - the latter move bringing a vociferous protest from alumni, students, and others who regarded Paterno as synonymous with all the glory that Penn State has enjoyed through its football program over the last six decades.

For the first time, board members this week sought to explain their decision-making process in a series of media interviews, including a 30-minute sit-down with The Inquirer at the Nittany Lion Inn in State College Thursday morning. The interview with five of the board's 32 members came one day before the board was scheduled to hold its first regularly scheduled public board meeting since November. Alumni are expected to turn out in force and express their dissatisfaction with the board.

During Thursday's interview, board members addressed the issues that alumni have been complaining about publicly in recent days and they emphasized the anguish they endured during those 100 hours leading up to the terminations, as they personally and as a group wrestled with the right steps to take.

They maintained that before November they knew little about the child-abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky other than that there was a grand jury investigation. They also explained why the board unanimously concluded that Paterno could no longer serve as head coach, though they said they were sorry the way they had to deliver the news to him and still were grateful for all he did for Penn State.

Paterno, said trustee Linda Strumpf, a retired chief investment officer from New York, met his legal obligation in reporting to his superiors what he knew about Sandusky's alleged 2002 sexual assault of a young boy in a campus shower stall, but that wasn't enough.

"We felt because of the nature of the events, the sexual nature against children, we felt there was a higher moral authority that people should be held to. He did not go as far as he could have gone at the time," she said.

"This is a serious sexual tragedy," said Myers. "I have a 9-year-old son, and I couldn't get the image of Sandusky and this boy out of my mind. It must have flashed in my mind 100 times."

The board also was offended that Paterno "unilaterally" decided to announce his retirement at the end of the season and told the board not to waste any time deliberating about him.

"We felt that was challenging the authority of the board to do its work," Strumpf said.

Board members said they also believed that Paterno no longer could be effective as head coach and that his continued presence unfairly would take the emphasis of the season off of the football program and players.

A man who answered the door Thursday at Paterno's house, which bears a Nittany Lion fixture on the door, said the coach, who is battling cancer and other health problems, was not home. His wife, Sue Paterno, appeared in the foyer. She declined comment.

The trustees emphasized that they would honor Paterno's contract and that he is still a member of the faculty, and they reiterated a promise by president Rodney Erickson that Paterno would be honored on campus eventually.

"We're enormously grateful for his years of service," said trustee Mark H. Dambly, a real estate developer from Media.

Board members said they felt compelled to explain their actions, especially after alumni unleashed bitter criticism against the board at town-hall meetings Erickson held last week in King of Prussia, Pittsburgh, and New York City.

"It's in the best interest of the university for the story to come out," said Myers, of State College.

"Our students, our faculty, our alumni deserve to know what we knew and when we knew it," added Dambly.

Trustees said they were not aware of the Sandusky matter until that fateful November weekend when grand jury testimony became public. They did not see and were not aware of an article in the Harrisburg Patriot-News in March about the matter, they said.

"Many trustees are not from the Harrisburg area, and it's not a newspaper that any of us read on a regular basis," said Stephanie N. Deviney, a lawyer from Glenmoore.

They acknowledged the board was briefed on the matter in May by university counsel Cynthia Baldwin, but said there was no indication that sex acts had occurred on campus or that Paterno and other employees may be called into question for not acting on reports.

"We perceived it as it was presented to us. It was a nonissue," Dambly said, noting that the briefing lasted five or 10 minutes.

"She spent most of the time talking about grand jury proceedings . . . what a grand jury does," Strumpf said.

Baldwin noted that there were three prior grand juries looking at Sandusky's behavior and none of them yielded any findings, Strumpf recalled.

"They didn't think there was much to come out of the fourth grand jury since the other three hadn't had anything," she said.

That's where Spanier could have stepped in and given the board details of his testimony to the grand jury and details of the incident in 2002, including the eyewitness account by former assistant football coach Mike McQueary, said Lanny J. Davis, a lawyer representing the board and the president.

"He had a choice. [He could have said] let me tell you what I told the grand jury. Let me tell you what happened in 2002," said Davis, who participated in the interview. "He could have said anything he wanted about his knowledge to bring them up to date."

Trustees faulted Spanier for not being more forthcoming.

"In retrospect, we should have been much, much better prepared for this," Myers said.

Reached at his condominium in State College Thursday afternoon, Spanier declined comment. He said only that he was not granting interviews.

Although Steve Garban, the board chairman, and John Surma, the vice chairman, were not at the interview, the trustees present said both maintained that they had no more details of the Sandusky case than their colleagues before November.

The board has launched an internal investigation to determine what occurred, how it was handled, and who was involved.

"The truth is what we all want," Myers said.

The board members said they fully intend to honor Paterno at some later date, though they are not sure how. They also said they regretted that he had to be told of his termination through a phone call, but many media members were surrounding his house and the hour was late.

"We were in a no-win situation," Deviney said. "It was very important to us that he hear this news from the board of trustees. . . . Due to the time of the evening and the crowd surrounding his house, it was impossible to ask him to come to us."

The board members didn't feel they could visit Paterno's home without causing a public commotion, she said.

"We really had no other options at that point. We wish we did," she said.

The board had hoped to communicate three messages to Paterno that night: that he was terminated as head coach; that the board regretted having to tell him in a phone call, but saw no other way; and that they would honor his contract and he would continue on the faculty.

But after the first message, Paterno hung up.

"He did deserve better," Dambly said.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|