According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Penn State President Rodney Erickson had planned a tribute statement honoring Joe Paterno following his death, but the Board of Trustees canceled it.
The Post-Gazette obtained that information from records obtained by Board of Trustees candidate Ryan Bagwell, who also shared documents suggesting the Board of Trustees was coached on how to respond to questioning or avoid it altogether by media consulting firms.
Here’s the excerpt on Paterno’s tribute:
“The week Joe Paterno died, Penn State University president Rodney Erickson planned an elaborate campus statement honoring the iconic football coach as a family man and philanthropist who readied his players “to be lifelong learners and engaged citizens.”
But the day after he shared the five-paragraph tribute with school trustees via email, Penn State apparently reversed course, newly released records show.
“President Erickson asked that I advise that we’ve decided not to release the statement,” Paula Ammerman, then director of the board office, wrote trustees in an email dated Jan. 26, 2012, the day after Paterno was buried.”
Later, the story says that Erickson was to deliver the comments on Jan. 27, 2012. It was to be “elaborate” and mention the Grand Experiment, but it was later amended to only one paragraph added to the president’s update delivered the following week.
Here’s the excerpt on the Board of Trustees coaching:
“One privileged and confidential set of recommendations from Ketchum, among the consultants Penn State brought on board, suggested that any communication from nonspokesperson trustees be in writing from the entire board, according to the documents that Mr. Bagwell has shared with news outlets including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Ketchum recommended to trustees answers they could use if approached by reporters.
“My opinions are shared with the board of trustees,” read one. “Together, we make decisions and take actions.”
The firm even offered advice on the kinds of campus audiences trustees might speak to including faculty senate meetings and commencement — but only after vetting appearances first with Mr. Erickson or the board.
“Ideally, those opportunities would allow trustees to speak, but not expose them to questioning by the media,” read the memo dated Nov. 19, 2011.”
Those in Paterno’s camp now have added fuel to their Trustee fire following this news, but perhaps they will gain respect for Erickson, who signed the consent decree to the NCAA sanctions. It’s the second bit of this story that is most troubling. The board pledged transparency following the Sandusky scandal but has been criticized for a lack thereof ever since. A company that considered no media questioning ideal illuminates, at the least, how deeply flawed the board was during that year.