Freeh Report, NCAA Sanctions Dominate Forum
First off, this is for the students of University Park who failed to attend yesterday’s Town Hall Forum.
UPUA, CCSG, and GSA hosted the third ever town hall forum for students to address concerns to Penn State administrators. These community discussions began last December because students felt there was a disconnect between themselves and university leaders. This talk was the first time that Rodney Erickson was joined by other members of the Board of Trustees.
Marianne Alexander, an alumni-elected trustee, sat in the front of the HUB auditorium with Vice-Provost Robert Pangborn, Vice-President David Gray, who replaced Gary Schultz, Vice-President Madlyn Hanes, Acting Athletic Director David Joyner, and the aptly named Sir Not-Appearing-In-Our-Film, née Damon Sims.
After his opening remarks, Dr. Erickson turned over the microphone to Katie O’Toole, a professor from the College of Communications. The first question asked how students will be chosen to serve on the committee to find the new Penn State president. Trustee Alexander said that it would be a fairly large search committee that would include faculty and students, but she had no idea how students would be selected.
I have two reactions here. One, the Board should probably decide on whom will select the selectors. Two, it takes guts to stare down a mob and tell them, “I don’t know.” I give some praise to Alexander for avoiding the artful dodge there.
A Pittsburgh Pirates fan questioned why Erickson and Joyner accepted the sanctions based on the Freeh Report instead of having a standard NCAA investigation. Erickson said that the maximum penalty from an NCAA investigation would have been a multiyear death penalty against the football program. He couldn’t bear to see the implications that punishment would have on all intercollegiate athletics. “It was the most difficult decision I ever had to make,” Erickson stated, in typical form. “It was the best decision under difficult circumstances.”
“It was unthinkable to think about the death penalty. Not only for athletics, but for the student body as a whole,” said Joyner. “Bill O’Brien is glad to be playing football Saturdays and to be on TV. Penn State can win the division, but not the Big Ten Championship Game…We’re playing in a smaller box than other people to play in, but we’ll play tough in that box.”
When asked about Penn State’s accreditation status, Erickson replied that we are not in danger of losing our accreditation. He said that he has been in contact with the Middle States Commission who is charged with accrediting Penn State. It is a standard practice for the certification body to issue a warning when a major malfeasance takes place, Erickson said.
Then the crazies came out.
Aaron Dillan, the student who spoke at least week’s Board of Trustees meeting, asked the panel if they would look into Louis Freeh’s ties to Penn State through Ric Struthers when he was the general counsel for MBNA. Dillan also wanted to know when the Board of Trustees would “take responsibility for its actions, like Joe Paterno did.”
Craziness loves company, and Dillan received a short burst of applause from the audience. Trustee Alexander said the Board accepted the Freeh Report to the point that the Board received it. “We accepted the failures noted in it and are confident of its recommendations,” said Trustee Alexander. “I look forward to the day when we can acknowledge Joe Paterno’s contributions to the community…We’re not at that point yet…But we will be.”
The next person to speak was a defender of Joe Paterno, and one of the people who set up a pseudo-Paternoville at the statue before it was torn down. He questioned why Joe Paterno’s portrait was removed in the HUB, and how the board plans to seek due process.
“There are times when due process does not apply, such as the hiring and firing of people,” Trustee Alexander said, which probably wasn’t the best answer to that question. At least she was honest.
Penn State, like other corporations, couldn’t operate if it had to use due process in all of its decision-making. She added that there are a lot of inconsistencies in this world. Her answer did not quell the anger from the student.
“You guys have torn this university apart! You have torn his name apart!” the student said. Alexander stated that Trustees have the responsibility to look out for the long-term interests of Penn State and that they can’t make decisions on popular demand. As he walked off, the student muttered, “The only trustee I’ll follow is Lubrano.”
When asked if the Board and administration agrees with everything on the Freeh Report, President Erickson responded simply “no.”
“I wouldn’t trade our culture for anything else,” Erickson said. “I wouldn’t trade our students for students for any other university…I wouldn’t trade our student culture for anything.”
The next questioner asked Erickson simply who is lying, Mark Emmert or himself, in regards to the threat of the death penalty. Erickson said Emmert told him the death penalty was real. He recommended Don Van Natta’s “On Death’s Door” as the most accurate account of what happened.
Another student asked if the NCAA issued sanctions to protect its image, as there are inconsistencies between the Freeh Report and Freeh’s public statement. The President replied that the NCAA is a membership organization, and Penn State agreed to adhere to its charter and bylaws. This also applies to the Big Ten Conference, an affiliation that Erickson says he would not trade with any other in the country.
O’Toole read an index card that asked since the Freeh Report would have received an “F” from a professor, why did the Board of Trustees accept it. Marianne Alexander responded that the Board agreed not to comment on the investigation upon its commission. They saw it when the public saw it. “Everyone is going to have to draw their own conclusions,” Alexander said.
Over an hour into the forum, we had our first University of North Carolina moment. How did Penn State get punished for seemingly not have violating any part of the NCAA bylaws, but the Tar Heels got away with cheating?
Erickson responded the situation at UNC was different because it was a limited number of people, who were not representative of the university or its leadership. Do you hear that Penn Staters? Five Penn Staters are more numerous than dozens of North Carolinians. This remark was without a doubt Erickson’s largest faux pas of the evening, as he implicated the entire university in the cover-up of Jerry Sandusky.
Another student asked why Penn State was reluctant to comply with Right-to-Know laws. Erickson cited the university’s semi-public status that allows the university to receive private endowments and conduct research with corporations.
An angry man demanded that Penn State stand up for itself and stop allowing itself to be shoved around, as no one currently at the university was involved in the crimes of Jerry Sandusky. “We should stand up for ourselves,” said Erickson. “Wear your Penn State colors with pride.” When the man asked if the Board would stand up to the US Education Department, Erickson said that we can’t poke our fingers in their eyes and say, “No. It didn’t happen.”
After ninety minutes of questions and answers, the Town Hall Forum concluded. However, given that fewer than one hundred students attended the event, and fewer than one hundred watched it online, was it even worth it?
These forums were established to break the disconnect between students and administrators, but a majority of the students who attend these sessions are student leaders as evidenced by nearly the entire UPUA Assembly in the audience. They already have frequent contact with administrators.
Last week, I interviewed Ben Novak who spoke how Penn State students in his day were involved in a republican democracy and would engage the President and Trustees. He envisioned students organized to light Mount Nittany in memory of Joe Paterno.
I am afraid that this will always be a dream, because if student won’t walk to the HUB for a couple hours, what are the chances they drive to Lemont?