Penn State trustees adopt anti-abuse measures

Gov. Corbett (left) speaks with fellow Penn State trustee Mark H. Dambly before the board's first meeting since it ousted football coach Joe Paterno and president Graham B. Spanier.
Gov. Corbett (left) speaks with fellow Penn State trustee Mark H. Dambly before the board's first meeting since it ousted football coach Joe Paterno and president Graham B. Spanier. (ANDY COLWELL / Associated Press)
Posted: January 22, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - At its first public meeting since November, when the child sex-abuse scandal broke, Pennsylvania State University's board of trustees adopted sweeping changes Friday to improve safety on campus and voted in yet another leadership change, this time appointing a new chair and vice chair of the board.

Throughout the meeting and at a news conference afterward, board members pledged to look at and investigate everything, including whether the board should agree to allow itself to be open to further scrutiny under the Right to Know Act.

The five-point plan unanimously approved by the board, including Gov. Corbett, who remained for the entire daylong meeting, was recommended by a committee appointed by the trustees to investigate the scandal.

The task force, headed by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, is still investigating, but the board said it wanted to make preliminary changes to safeguard the school against another scandal like the one involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was arrested in November and charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting young boys on and off campus.

Under the plan, the university will provide training to employees, starting with security and athletic department workers, to be sure they comply with federal law concerning the reporting of crime and the prompt reporting of abuse allegations. The plan also recommends better practices in dealing with minors on campus, including providing clear guidelines to staff and enhancing background checks of adults who deal with children.

The task force also called for new practices in the athletic department to better secure its facilities. They include restricting access to facilities by those no longer associated with the university, including former employees, such as Sandusky. It was in a campus shower that former assistant coach Mike McQueary saw Sandusky sexually assault a young boy in 2002, according to the account McQueary gave a grand jury. Sandusky was no longer employed by the university at the time.

The university also pledged to hire a chief compliance and ethics officer.

Corbett said he would support putting the state-related university under the Right to Know Act - which requires public universities to release information such as salaries - if it chooses to continue to receive public funding. The board agreed it would consider such action.

The board also agreed to create a compliance committee to make sure the new plans are carried out and to examine the board's own governance structure.

Friday's session was the first public meeting of the trustees since November, when the board fired head football coach Joe Paterno and forced the resignation of president Graham B. Spanier. The trustees' actions Friday came as the board continues to face mounting criticism from alumni and others for firing Paterno.

Some alumni have called for all 32 board members to resign. And some, including former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers football player Franco Harris and Anthony Lubrano, a 1982 graduate and major donor, continued to rail against the board Friday, holding a news conference at the Nittany Lion Inn while the board held its own conference in a nearby room.

It was the second such session held by Harris and Lubrano. They held their first "Real Talk" session last week in King of Prussia, after university president Rodney Erickson held a town-hall meeting with alumni. They have strongly criticized the board for dumping Paterno.

"It's going to take people like you here in this room spreading the word that this is not a Penn State sex scandal," Harris said. "It is not a Penn State football sex scandal. Not a Joe Paterno sex scandal. It's a Jerry Sandusky sex scandal. And what the board did was wrong. But they continue to support that position. If they support that position and we do nothing, what does that do?"

The board "hopes that we're going to grow tired and go away and that will be that," said Lubrano, of Glenmoore. "But I think they underestimate the resolve of the core Penn Staters."

While saying they appreciated what Paterno did for Penn State, board members Friday repeatedly expressed sympathy for the pain of the young victims and their families.

"The victims have suffered the greatest harm in this whole situation," said trustee Kenneth Frazier. "These were defenseless children. If these allegations are true, those are children who have had their innocence, their childhoods, in effect stolen from them. For that reason, we are determined as a board to understand fully what breakdowns occurred here and ensure that they never happen again."

Frazier said the board believed it was important to take steps even before the investigation was complete, as it is likely to take longer than initially thought. The investigative team has set up an office on campus and is going through all policies, procedures, and internal controls around the reporting of sex crimes and conducting a multitude of interviews, he told the other trustees.

"I expect it will take until the beginning of next academic year," he said.

But that's nothing compared to the impact that the case - laid out in "shocking detail" in grand jury testimony - is likely to have on Pennsylvania's flagship university, he said.

"It may take years . . . to fully come to terms with this tragedy," Frazier said.

At the board's news conference, newly elected chairwoman Karen Peetz, vice chairman of Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and chief executive officer of its financial markets and Treasury services group, said the university would "help the victims of this tragedy" and immediately offer to pay for abuse-related health costs and related counseling.

Of legal complaints over abuse, the university will "work out a process that does not take any victims through years of litigation. We want fairness for them, and we want healing for them," said Peetz.

Peetz replaced Steve Garban, chair for the last two years. John Surma, who has served as the board's lead voice in addressing the scandal, also announced he was stepping down as vice chairman. Replacing him is Keith Masser, president of Sterman Masser Inc., a potato business in Sacramento, Schuylkill County.

Frazier said Garban's and Surma's decisions to step down had nothing to do with the investigation being conducted by Freeh.

Also at the meeting, Erickson said in his report to the board that the university was moving forward and that the school would "learn from the past."

Applications are up 3 percent and donations to the school are on target, although it is too early to assess the overall impact on philanthropy, Erickson said at the meeting attended by dozens of alumni, journalists, and others. Nearly 300 employers have registered to participate in spring career days, a 12 percent increase over last year, he added.

"Key indicators suggest that our institution remains on solid footing," Erickson said.


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

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