State Senate Grills Erickson on Freeh Report
Penn State President Rodney Erickson testified in Harrisburg today at the state Senate’s annual higher education appropriations hearing, fielding tough questions from several state senators, including Penn State graduate John Yudichak.
Yudichak seemed concerned about the process for how the law firm Freeh, Sporkin, and Sullivan was hired by a special Board of Trustees committee to conduct the investigation, how their services were paid for, and if those meetings were open.
Erickson said he “wasn’t sure” if the meetings were open (hint: they weren’t) and that the $6.5 million paid to them came from a “rainy day fund.”
Yudichak also asked Erickson if he thought the Freeh report fulfilled the scope of its contract, to which Erickson responded with the company line, “The Freeh report presented us with 119 recommendations that were directed at improving our processes,” and directed Yudichak to the progress.psu.edu website to see Penn State’s progress in implementing those recommendations.
Yudichak asked Erickson about the Paterno report — citing a line from former Governor Dick Thornburgh that said the Freeh report was, “At best incomplete, at worst tragically inaccurate,” and questioned why Erickson didn’t discourage the NCAA from relying on the “flawed Freeh report” as the basis for its sanctions against Penn State.
“At that time there was little else to go on,” Erickson said. “Faced with a very difficult decision we said we accepted the Freeh report for the purposes of that consent decree.”
Erickson also conceded that he “has no problem” with the university president not having a voting seat on the Board of Trustees, although he did say that he has never seen a situation where that one vote would have made a difference. Presidential voting power on the Penn State Board of Trustees has been a central point of criticism for reformers who see it as a conflict of interest. The board is currently scheduled to vote on some potential structural changes in May, and Presidential voting power is likely to be a hot topic for debate.
Jake Corman, the Senate Appropriations Chairman, also got in on the action. Corman has been one of the Freeh report and the NCAA’s biggest critics, having filed lawsuits to keep the NCAA fine money in the state.
Corman asked Erickson if he thought the Freeh report conclusions were still accurate. Erickson said it was “not appropriate” for him to comment on that issue, but added that we should let the judicial process play out.
Corman knew Erickson was ducking, and responded forcefully according to this PennLive account.
“When Penn State decided to release this report without any review or due diligence it already entered into the fray of these criminal trials and to the public discourse of how this matter is treated,” Corman said.”I guess I wish you would have taken that same position prior to the release report, which has been used not only to punish Penn State but to frame the public narrative of the case.”
All in all, it probably wasn’t a fun day for Erickson at the Pennsylvania State Capitol.