Paterno legacy hovers over Penn State trustees meeting

Posted: March 15, 2013

Pennsylvania State University's trustees appear headed for another battle at their meetings in Hershey this week, as backers of Joe Paterno continue to try to discredit the probe that found him culpable of a cover-up in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.

Thirty lettermen plan to appear in support of Paterno at Friday's meeting, and there is a continued call for a reexamination of the trustee-commissioned investigation conducted by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

This also will be the first trustee meeting since the Paterno family released its own report, which absolved the coach of wrongdoing in the scandal.

One trustee, Anthony Lubrano, has urged the board to honor the late coach and has called for a refund of the $8.1 million the university paid for the Freeh investigation.

But a majority of the board, including those in leadership, appear to remain firmly in support of Freeh's work and the resulting course. And they're prepared to defend their position.

"In some ways, these are ships passing in the night," said trustee Kenneth Frazier, the board liaison to the Freeh investigation. "One group of people is interested in vindicating Coach Paterno's legacy. There's another group of people who are interested in finding out why things in the university didn't work the way they should have for the protection and safety and welfare of children going forward."

Frazier - a lawyer and president and CEO of Merck & Co. - this week defended the Freeh investigation, noting that it unearthed e-mails among senior administrators about abuse allegations against Sandusky, Paterno's former assistant coach, that became the basis for legal proceedings. Former president Graham B. Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of campus police, face prosecution on charges of failure to act on early allegations.

"The most important service that Judge Freeh did was to produce that documentary record for us. We didn't have that," Frazier said. "But for his competence, I don't believe we would have it."

That work, he said, also led to more than 100 recommendations that the university is implementing to improve operations and prevent such a scandal from occurring in the future.

The university retained Freeh to conduct an independent investigation into Penn State's response to the abuse charges. Some, including Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, have questioned how independent it was if the trustees commissioned it.

Freeh's "ethical obligation was to the board of trustees and not to the university," the group said in a statement.

Frazier said there is no legal distinction between the board and the university and that it was appropriate for the trustees to act on behalf of the university. To satisfy concerns that it was an independent investigation, Frazier said, the report was released without review by the board.

He said he was open to a thorough discussion about the Freeh investigation and report this week. At a meeting of the board's legal and compliance committee Thursday afternoon, trustees plan to do just that, he said. And he expects both the Freeh report and the Paterno family report - commissioned by the coach's widow, Sue, and led by her attorney - to be brought up at the regular board meeting Friday.

"It's completely healthy to have a discussion about the two reports," he said. "People can choose to believe whatever interpretation they choose to believe."

He maintained that the Paterno family report was not an "independent investigation" but had the sole purpose of vindicating Joe Paterno.

"I don't think it provides that much guidance for the university going forward," Frazier said.

The e-mails, according to the Paterno report, show that "Paterno knew few details about Sandusky, that he acted in good faith and that he did what he thought was right based on what he knew at the time."

Frazier said he found that "at odds with the plain language of those documents."

The Penn Staters group and several members of the board say the Freeh report is the one that draws flawed conclusions. They're miffed that it was used by the NCAA as the basis for harsh sanctions against the football program, including a loss of scholarships and multiyear prohibition on bowl play.

Maribeth Roman Schmidt of the Penn Staters group noted that some of the lettermen are coming from as far away as Chicago.

"They're very upset," she said, "about the way the board's decisions have reflected so negatively on their program."


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq. Read her blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/campus_inq

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