Penn State president says academics will be in the forefront in forthcoming year

At Old Main, Penn State president Rodney Erickson addresses how the campus will move forward in the fall.
At Old Main, Penn State president Rodney Erickson addresses how the campus will move forward in the fall. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: July 19, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Pennsylvania State University is taking steps to move beyond the crippling child sex-abuse scandal, but its effects will be felt at convocation for incoming freshmen next month - and that's by design.

"It's going to have a decidedly more academic tone to it this year," Penn State president Rodney Erickson said during a 20-minute interview at Old Main on Tuesday afternoon. "You may well see me in my purple and gold academic regalia. It will be a theme of academics, responsibility; of citizenship, of ethics, of values."

He said the university also would address head-on the scathing findings outlined in former FBI Director Louis Freeh's report on the scandal issued last week. It documented how senior university figures - including legendary football coach Joe Paterno and the former president, Graham B. Spanier - failed to take appropriate action after accusations of child abuse surfaced against Paterno's former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, allowing more children to be abused.

"I think we have to address that in some manner," at convocation and elsewhere on campus, said Erickson. "I'm sure it will be on the minds of many of our students, faculty, and staff and alumni."

While he spoke Tuesday afternoon, on-campus walking tours for potential students continued outside, amid signs that the university community was struggling to cope with revelations in the Freeh report.

At midday, a plane flew over the campus trailing a banner reading "Take the statue down or we will," referring to the Paterno statue that has a prominent place on campus.

And the encampment of students who wait outside for football tickets - previously called Paternoville - was renamed by its group officers Nittanyville after the team's mascot, the Nittany Lion.

The Nittanyville Coordination Committee told the Daily Collegian that the renaming was the result of "a culmination of factors" and not directly related to the Freeh report.

Whether Paterno's statue will be removed, or other references to his long-standing presence on campus should be erased, has not yet been decided, Erickson said.

"We're looking at a whole range of issues around those kinds of names," he said.

One of the most prominent buildings on campus - the library - bears the Paterno name.

Both the board of trustees and the administration will be involved in the decisions, which will come "sooner rather than later," he said.

Erickson, who held a series of interviews with Pennsylvania reporters Tuesday, agreed to answer any question asked, but his answers to several were the same as those to the Paterno references - that they were still under review.

On the minds of many are the fates of Spanier and suspended athletic director Tim Curley, also lambasted in the Freeh report and under indictment for perjury in the case.

No decision has been made on whether the university will seek to revoke Spanier's tenure as a professor, Erickson said. Spanier, who is on sabbatical, is due to return to his teaching position in the spring. He has not been indicted.

Of Curley, Erickson said: "That's under review."

With the Freeh report in hand, the university also is preparing to respond to the NCAA, which also is reviewing the university's actions in the Sandusky case.

"We're starting the process now of formulating that response," he said.

NCAA president Mark Emmert told PBS Monday night that he had not ruled out shutting the football program down in the wake of the abuse case and Penn State's failings in handling it. The regulatory body has broad discretion to penalize a university for lacking "institutional control" over its sports programs.

Emmert said he had "never seen anything as egregious as this, in terms of just overall conduct and behavior inside a university."

Some have suggested that Penn State should voluntarily shut down its football program for a year. Asked for his view, Erickson said the NCAA needed time to look at the university's response and make a decision.

"It would be a very difficult situation for us" if the team were suspended, he said.

"It would certainly have ripple effects though 27 other varsity sports and throughout the Big Ten Conference and beyond," monetarily, programmatically, and in other ways.

On campus, the Freeh report has elicited "great sadness," Erickson said.

"This is arguably one of the worst scandals that a university could have to deal with," he said. "We will have to deal with it at the outset. We'll have to take responsibility, be accountable to put the appropriate changes into place, and then we'll have to demonstrate by our actions every day that we are the world-class university that we've long been."


Penn State president Rodney Erickson discusses the school's reaction to the Sandusky scandal at www.philly.com/erickson


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq

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