The Board of Trustees has a regularly scheduled meeting in Scranton today and Friday, but they had a great deal more to talk about than at an ordinary meeting. With the Freeh report released this morning, having met and read through the details of the report, the Board addressed the media at 3:30 p.m. today.
“We are horrified, we are saddened,” said Chairwoman Karen Peetz, adding that there were “not enough superlatives” to describe Trustees’ emotions at the crimes committed.
Chairwoman Peetz, Trustee Kenneth Frazier, and University President Rodney Erickson all spoke at the conference. They began by taking responsibility for Penn State’s failures in handling the allegations of sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky, and the Board’s failure of properly overseeing administrators who dealt with those allegations. They also declared that this kind of tragedy would never again happen at Penn State.
Attempting to explain the Board’s course of relative inaction, the Trustees cited their extreme faith and trust in, and their very high regard for former President Graham Spanier. “We believed what we were being told was accurate,” said Frazier. Both he and Chairwoman Peetz invoked the familiar theme of hindsight, but neither used it as an excuse for the tragedy and ill judgment. Frazier repeatedly stated that he regretted that the Board did not “force the issue” when they first learned of a grand jury investigating Sandusky when it was reported in The Patriot-News on March 31, 2011, over seven months before charges were brought against the former coach. Both Frazier and Peetz said, like others have, that they wished they had done more.
In response to a question into whether individual members (former Chairman Steve Garban, and Trustee John Surma were mentioned) had any knowledge of the allegations, Peetz said that the Board was looking into who knew what and when. And when asked if the Trustees intended to resign, Peetz said that they did not.
The Board was asked about Joe Paterno’s legacy and reputation from now on. They left it in neither a positive or negative light, but offered a more nuanced perspective.” Trustee Frazier brought up Paterno’s excellent 61-year record of service to Penn State, and also his massive failures in this case. “You have to measure any human by the good they’ve done, and the bad they’ve done,” he said. However, he also echoed the main point of the Freeh report. Graham Spanier, Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz did not put the welfare of children first.”
But the Board expressed an optimistic outlook for the University. “Penn State’s best days are ahead of us,” said President Erickson. He also described plans to implement recommendations from the Freeh report into University policy, and shared his wish for Penn State to become “a constructive leader” in preventing and reporting suspected child abuse in the future.
The Trustees seemed to agree that change is needed at Penn State. Erickson said that he needed to reevaluate the administrative and governmental culture at Penn State, as Chapter 10 of the Freeh report outlined. And Frazier looked ahead, saying, “This marks a new era at Penn State.” Said Peetz, “Above all, we must restore trust in our community.”