Penn St. trustees split on sanctions

Trustee chairwoman Karen Peetz: We must not, and will not, waver in accepting responsibility and reality.
Trustee chairwoman Karen Peetz: We must not, and will not, waver in accepting responsibility and reality.

A meeting showed they are far from accord on tough NCAA penalties. "It's time to stand up," urged one.

Posted: August 27, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Despite assurances that Pennsylvania State University's trustees uniformly backed a decision last month to accept crippling NCAA sanctions, their first public meeting since then has exposed a board very much divided.

At their annual weekend retreat, trustees grappled Saturday with the existential debate likely to loom over the campus in the coming academic year:

Will Penn State continue to seethe over blows endured in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal or accept them and move on?

And if trustees needed foreshadowing of lashings to come, a 19-year-old Centre County man late Friday became the first Sandusky accuser who testified at his trial to file suit against the university.

As the meeting began, board chairwoman Karen Peetz left no question where her priorities lie.

"Let me be clear," she said, addressing the board. "We must not, and will not, waver in accepting responsibility and reality."

But a faction of members, including AccuWeather president Joel Myers, planted their feet in protest.

"Shame on them all," Myers said, referring to those trustees who share Peetz's view. "I'm tired of being told we have to focus on practicality. I believe it's time to stand up against this, not stand down."

In a petition filed late Friday in Philadelphia, the man whose allegations launched the Sandusky investigation in 2008 said that the university "intentionally and deliberately concealed . . . information concerning Sandusky's sociopathic pedophilia" and that its decision led to his abuse.

The man, identified during Sandusky's trial as Victim 1 and in his civil filings as John Doe C, filed suit in Philadelphia because Sandusky molested him there during at least two trips to attend Phillies and Eagles games, his attorneys Slade McLaughlin and Michael Boni said.

The suit is the first of many expected from the eight young men who testified before the Centre County jury that convicted Sandusky of 45 counts of child sex abuse in June. Two accusers not included in the state's case against the former assistant football coach have also sued.

Legal experts estimate Penn State's liability could exceed $100 million.

University spokesman David La Torre declined to comment on the litigation Friday but maintained that trustees "have publicly emphasized that their goal is to find solutions that rest on the principle of justice for the victims."

The two months since Sandusky's conviction have proven almost as fraught with anguish for Nittany Lions diehards as those that immediately followed his arrest.

Last month, a university investigation led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh accused top administrators - including former president Graham B. Spanier and beloved head football coach Joe Paterno - of burying early allegations against Sandusky, fearing bad publicity.

Within weeks, Spanier's successor, Rodney Erickson, tore down the iconic Paterno statue that stood outside Beaver Stadium and the NCAA announced an unprecedented package of punishments for what it described as a "stunning failure of leadership."

The penalties include a $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban, and the voiding of all team wins from 1998 to 2011.

Although a handful of university trustees openly questioned Erickson's decision to accept the sanctions without a fight, the board twice convened meetings at which it drafted statements backing the university president.

"As we understand it, the alternatives were worse," read one statement, issued July 25. "The university and board resolve to move forward together to recognize the historical excellence in Penn State's academic and athletic programs."

Saturday's discussion revealed that rifts remain. Trustees were to take up how best to implement a number of oversight reforms suggested in the Freeh report. But before that work began, Myers attacked the board leadership's lack of fight and referred to the NCAA as everything from "a petulant child gone wild" to an organization that had "lost its moral compass."

Trustee Anthony Lubrano, an outspoken Paterno loyalist and Chester County resident, agreed.

"For us to just say we are blindly moving forward . . . we are destined to fail," he said.

Their remarks elicited a heated response from trustee Keith Eckel, a Clarks Summit farmer.

"It's time for this board and this university to stop looking back and start looking ahead," he said. "Many times, we have to live with unfairness."

McLaughlin, the attorney for Victim 1, said that continued infighting is what had prompted his client to file his lawsuit now.

Minutes after Sandusky's June conviction, the university issued a statement saying it was eager to begin settlement negotiations with the victims and to put its past behind it. But two months later, McLaughlin said, his client has not heard a word from Penn State.

"We haven't seen any action. We haven't seen any movement on the so-called swift resolution of these claims," he said. "If we sit around and wait, we're never going to get anywhere."

The trustees' retreat is scheduled to resume Sunday.


Conact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218 or jroebuck@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @jeremyrroebuck.

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