Penn State gets okay from accrediting group

Posted: November 17, 2012

Pennsylvania State University got some good news this week: the Middle States Commission on Higher Education found the school in full compliance with requirements and took it off the warning list.

"Our university's accreditation is solid," Penn State President Rodney Erickson told the board of trustees at a meeting Friday afternoo

The commission gave Penn State a warning in August in the wake of a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh's group that found top university administrators conspired to cover up child sex abuse allegations by its former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison in October.

In addition to academic quality, the agency also requires universities to meet other standards regarding financial health, adequate board governance and institutional integrity. It also must comply with federal laws, such as the Clery Act, which requires that universities provide accurate and timely reports of crime on their campuses. The U.S. Department of Education is looking into the university's record on Clery compliance.

In addition to looking at the Freeh report, the commission also issued the warning based on NCAA sanctions that the university accepted July 23and insufficient evidence that the university was meeting some middle states rules.

Erickson told trustees at its regular monthly meeting that the commission noted the university's "resilience, fiscal stability and rapid change in the face of numerous challenges." The commission's decision to remove the warning followed a visit to campus in mid-October by Middle States evaluators.

The report, Erickson told trustees, noted that the evaluators were "impressed by the degree to which Penn State has risen, as a strong campus community, to the sad events that led to its placement on warning status." It also said the university's response to the Freeh report was "thorough, inclusive, systematic and timely."

Officials at the meeting said that Penn State had reached the halfway mark at meeting the Freeh recommendations. A total of 46 recommendations have been implemented.

The university must give the commission a follow up report in a year, Erickson said.

Also at the meeting, the board affirmed a process for the university's presidential search, which will include input from faculty, students, staff and alumni.

And, it approved a comprehensive code of conduct for athletics. The code doesn't contain any new rules, according to Frank T. Guadagnino, an outside lawyer assisting the university with the code. It merely brings all existing regulations and rules under one document, he said.

In addition to student athletes, coaches and other employees, the board of trustees also are subject to the code requirements, Guadagnino said. The university was required under the NCAA agreement to create the comprehensive code, he said. It includes guidelines, such as prohibiting board members or coaches from interfering with admissions or compliance.

"Its emphasis is on the principles of respect and integrity," Guadagnino said.

The measure passed though some board members expressed concern that it would indicate they were supportive of the NCAA sanctions. Board member Joel Myers said he would be satisfied if his concern is noted in the record.

Also at the meeting, Erickson noted that undergraduate applications are down this year. The university has received about 27,000, about on par with 2009.

The board continued its practice of accepting public comment and again was criticized for accepting NCAA sanctions against the university and Freeh report recommendations. Board Chair Karen Peetz declined to answer questions or address the comments.


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

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