President Erickson Officially PSU’s #17

Over the last couple weeks, understanding has been hard to come by. Why did the Board of Trustees act in the way that it did? Why did President Spanier resign, and Coach Paterno seek a resignation without the consent of the Board? That’s not even to mention the sea of knowledge yet untouched regarding the true evil of Jerry Sandusky’s actions.

Yet there are some issues now beginning to make sense. We are discusingg why our community reacted as it did, with spurts of violence surpassed by sympathy and support in the days that followed. We have started to see how the student, faculty, and staff at Penn State will need to be the ones who pick up the torch and restore the glory of Penn State. And, now, I’m happy to report we have additional clarity regarding our new man at the top, President Rodney Erickson.

When the Board of Trustees announced the resignation of President Spanier, Penn State Live initially stated that then-Provost Rodney Erickson had been named interim president of the university. Since then, their story has changed. President Erickson’s the real deal. But before I get into that, I want to quickly explain Penn State’s history with interim presidents.

Penn State has had three interim presidents to date: James McKee (1881-1882), James Beaver (1906-1908), and James Milholland (1947-1950). Seriously, they were all named James.

Those three presidents make up just a fraction of Penn State’s overall administrative history though (I’ve bolded and italicized the interim presidents).

  • Evan Pugh (1859-1864)
  • William Henry Allen (1864-1866)
  • John Fraser (1866-1868)
  • Thomas Henry Burrowes (1868-1871)
  • James Calder (1871-1880)
  • Joseph Shortlidge (1880-1881)
  • James Y. McKee (1881-1882)
  • George W. Atherton (1882-1906)
  • James A. Beaver (1906-1908)
  • Edwin Erle Sparks (1908-1921)
  • John Martin Thomas (1921-1927)
  • Ralph Dorn Hetzel (1927-1947)
  • James Milholland (1947-1950)
  • Milton S. Eisenhower (1950-1956)
  • Eric A. Walker (1956-1970)
  • John W. Oswald (1970-1983)
  • Bryce Jordan (1983-1990)
  • Joab Thomas (1990-1995)
  • Graham Spanier (1995-2011)

Over the past two weeks, the exact nature of President Erickson’s presidency was hard to pin down. University Relations staff had indicated at the time that though President Erickson was technically interim, the Board of Trustees had made a semantic decision to not refer to him as such. They were said to have wanted to indicate their full faith in his ability to execute the duties of the job. Had that official explanation of what the Board of Trustees decided that night at the Penn Stater been true, then President Erickson would have been Penn State’s 20th president and its 4th interim one.

However, last week Penn State officials seemed to begin changing their story about whether President Erickson was an interim leader. As journalists began dropping the interim when referring to him, and administrators began to say that he was not interim at all and here for the long run, I went back to that initial press release and realized I had no idea what the truth was.

So, I got in touch with someone who does know what the truth is — or, the “truth” at least. In a series of emails exchanged with Penn State Director of Public Information Lisa Powers this morning, I found out that in fact the Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees has decided to make Rodney Erickson the 17th president of Penn State.

Powers explained,

The board and the administration is focused on providing the leadership for the University that is needed at this time, and President Erickson is committed to staying on for as long as the board deems necessary. Unlike other interim presidents, no date for a search committee has been set and no timeframe for finding new leadership has been determined, since they have named Rod Erickson president. He is not in an acting or interim capacity. He is the president.

Powers also noted the reasons behind the board’s “unusual action”:

Under our current situation, which is obviously unprecedented, the board has taken the unusual action to name the president who they believe will lead us forward. It is not hard to understand why the board has taken this decisive action — Penn State needs to continue its mission with focus and purpose, under the direction of a strong president.

All together, it’s an explanation I can get behind. From what we have seen so far, President Erickson has been present and vocal during a time when Penn State needs a leader most. There’s a lot of work ahead of him, though, and time will tell whether the board’s decision was a wise one. Until then, let us know what you think in the comments.

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About the Author


Creator of @OnwardState. Big fan of sweaters.

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