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Trustees Call On Full Board To Reject Freeh Report, Release 2-Year Review Of Source Materials

A group of Penn State trustees have concluded their review of the source materials used for the university-commissioned 2012 Freeh report on the circumstances that led to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But their findings on Freeh’s report can’t be made public without the full approval of the board.

The 11 trustees who attended a special meeting on Friday said they will seek to have the full board review their report and vote on a resolution to reject Freeh’s conclusions, make the trustees’ report public and consider seeking the return of $8.3 million paid to former FBI director Louis Freeh’s team for the investigation.

All nine current alumni-elected trustees and two gubernatorial appointees — Robert Capretto and Elliott Weinstein — were in attendance, but none of the other 27 members of the board were, citing short notice for the meeting.

After the university rejected requests by alumni-elected trustee Anthony Lubrano, he and six other trustees won a court order in November 2015 to receive the source materials for Freeh’s investigation. The order, however, restricted trustees from publicly discussing privileged or confidential materials, thus requiring board approval for the release of the report.

“Some have said the university’s interests are best served by putting this unfortunate chapter behind us. We think differently,” trustee Alice Pope said on Friday. “We believe the only way to move forward is from a solid foundation based on an honest appraisal of our history. How can we create effective solutions if we might be working with a fundamental misunderstanding of the problems to be solved?”

Freeh’s report claimed that a culture of reverence for football at Penn State enabled Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children, and it blamed administrators and former coach Joe Paterno for not taking action to stop Sandusky. Freeh’s report was damaging to the university’s reputation and led to NCAA sanctions, many of which were later repealed. 

In the nearly six years since its release, the report has come under scrutiny and been the subject of criticism by observers within and outside the university community.

While Pope did not discuss the conclusions of the trustees’ report, she did list “many credible criticisms” of the Freeh report that have emerged over the years:

– Conclusions that are not supported by the evidence in the report

– Factual errors within the report

– Flawed investigative methodology, including a failure to interview some of those directly involved with the matters under investigation and a subsequent failure to qualify conclusions that were limited by an absence of information

– No mention of any conflicting evidence gathered in the investigation

“It’s hard to imagine that every piece of information obtained through the investigation would have supported the conclusions of the report,” Pope said.

She cited a 2012 letter from 30 former chairs of the University Faculty Senate, which said “[A]s scientists and scholars, we can say with conviction that the Freeh Report fails on its own merits as the indictment of the University that some have taken it to be. Evidence that would compel such an indictment is simply not there.”

Pope also referenced criticisms of the Freeh report by former trustee Ken Frazier, who oversaw the Special Investigative Committee (“I just don’t think Freeh’s inferences … are as clear and irrefutable as some people seem to think they are.”) President Eric Barron, she noted, called the Freeh report “not useful” and said it created an “unwarranted” and “absurd” portrait of the university.

She also pointed to criticisms by ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who said the idea a football culture enabled Sandusky was “ridiculous,” and by Bob Costas, who said Freeh assigned to Paterno and others motivations that weren’t backed by evidence.

Pope said the trustees who spent two years on the report also wanted to know the degree of coordination Freeh’s team had with the NCAA and with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. Documents already made public indicated that Freeh’s team had worked with both during the investigation. State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman previously said that the coordination between Freeh and the NCAA was at best inappropriate and at worst “two parties working together to get a predetermined outcome.”

She also referred to the federal high-security clearance investigation of Spanier for a potential government position at the same time as Freeh’s investigation and said that investigator John Snedden found Spanier had committed no wrongdoing. Snedden later called the Freeh report “an embarrassment to law enforcement,” and Pope said the trustees wanted to understand the discrepancies between the two investigations. 

Both Lubrano and Pope noted that the board has never voted to accept or reject the Freeh report.

“Rather, the board adopted a don’t act, don’t look and don’t tell policy,” Pope said. That she said, was itself a “tacit acceptance of the report,” that resulted in “profound reputational harm to our university along with $300 million in costs so far,” referring to costs of settlements and fines.

“We believe the board’s inaction on this matter constitutes a fiduciary breach and we decided to conduct our own review in execution of our fiduciary responsibilities,” she said.

The 11 trustees called for the meeting on Monday. Lubrano said that they weren’t sure until then that their report would be done. Alumni trustee Bill Oldsey, who called the report “very detailed and extraordinarily researched,” said they felt it was important to discuss the report before Lubrano and fellow trustee Ryan McCombie, both of whom were instrumental in winning access to and reviewing the documents, left the board. Their terms officially end on Saturday.

“We understand why people are disappointed regarding timing,” Oldsey said. “We believe it’s important for people to understand that we have a longstanding disappointment regarding timing. We’re greatly disappointed that fully six years after the Freeh report was released, we as a board have yet to take a full review of the work that Freeh did, resulting in residual damage we believe the report has had on the university.”

Lubrano said the board owes the Penn State community and taxpayers transparency and accountability. 

“Why did the Board of Trustees not believe it had the fiduciary duty to verify the veracity of a report that has to date, in some part, cost the university more than $300 million? That is obviously a rhetorical question, one that I will ask myself for many, many years to come.

“I don’t have high regard for what [Freeh] did, and I look forward to the day when the work we just finished is released to all of you so you can understand what we did.”

Pope also said the Penn State has a “moral obligation to come to the best possible understanding of these events and to use that understanding to educate others. We owe it to survivors of abuse to use this knowledge to prevent future abuse.”

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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