Peetz, Erickson Answer Questions from Alumni Council
Six months after the Sandusky scandal broke, there are still questions. Lots of them. And, as Penn State president Rodney Erickson told Alumni Council, “There may be some questions we’ll never have answers for.”
That said, Erickson and Karen Peetz, chair of the Board of Trustees, answered as many as they could Friday afternoon from members of Alumni Council. They touched on everything from the relationship between the trustees and the president (something they agreed is not well enough understood) to what Peetz called “the super-positive of the enduring spirit of Penn Staters.” And they fielded several questions about Joe Paterno, including one that’s been asked at just about every opportunity: When and how will Penn State honor its late football coach?
Peetz said, as she has previously, that Penn State must wait until the Freeh report, more formally known as the findings of the trustees’ special investigations task force, before moving forward on plans to honor Paterno. She called the upcoming report “the ultimate in transparency.”
Former FBI director Louis Freeh was hired by the trustees just weeks after the scandal and charged with looking into all of the issues surrounding the scandal since. His findings—which Peetz said will not be edited by the board—are expected in August or September.
The task force does not have subpoena power. But Peetz said she spoke with Freeh’s investigators for three hours, that more than 200 people have been interviewed, and that Freeh is working with the state attorney general. “These people are not kidding around,” she said. “This is the FBI incarnate, and I don’t think anyone’s lying, I’ll tell you that.”
She also said, again, that board’s biggest regret is firing Paterno via phone call, but that the trustees were concerned that he would hear the news from another source. “Of course, it didn’t go well,” she said.
For most of the session, however, she and Erickson focused on moving forward. Peetz detailed the board’s five new standing committees, including one focusing on risk, compliance, legal, and audit. She mentioned the Board of Trustees election, in which 86 candidates are vying for three alumni seats, and said that she and vice chair Keith Masser (who also attended the Alumni Council session) would attend Saturday’s Meet the Candidates event, which is being facilitated by the Alumni Association. (Click here for more information, and here for candidate responses to questions from The Penn Stater magazine.)
Other notes on the scandal:
—Everyone seems to agree that one lesson from the scandal has been how little Penn Staters know of how the university is governed. At his town hall meetings with alumni in January, Erickson noticed that many alumni seemed to think that the trustees report to the university president, which is not the case. The Board of Trustees runs the university and, as Peetz put it, “delegates power” to the president.
One council member said that the trustees should publicize such information more widely, and Peetz noted that much of the information about the board’s composition is on its website. Also in the works, she said, are videos from the trustees who are chairing the five standing committees.
—In response to a question from a council member who said he was “confounded and embarrassed” by the way Penn State’s settlement with the Paterno estate was handled, Erickson said, “A lot of times, if you could just sit down at the table across from each other, we could get a lot of problems sorted out.” The details of the settlement, which was announced Thursday, can be found here.
Erickson and Peetz addressed some non-scandal issues, too:
—Penn State’s state appropriation was another hot topic. Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a 30 percent cut in the university’s 2012–13 state appropriation (and that of the other state-related universities), on top of last year’s 19.6 percent cut. Erickson called this year’s battle “a watershed.”
Some in the state government want to stop all state funding of higher education, Erickson said, but he was encouraged by the response to his testimony before two legislative committees, in which he explained how Pennsylvania residents would suffer with the cuts.
In particular Friday, he discussed students at the non-University Park campuses, The family income of these students, he said, is 10 percent smaller than that of the typical Pennsylvania, and two-thirds of students at those campuses work at least 20 hours a week. Many are raising families, as well. “To expect them to be able to take care of the full cost of their education,” he said, “is just not going to happen.”
In response to a question about the trustees’ role in the appropriation fight—the questioner noted that former president Graham Spanier’s public advocacy seemed to rankle Corbett—Peetz said that much of the lobbying is done behind the scenes, and that the governor’s appointees to the board can play a key role. She added, “I don’t think it helped to engage in a public tete-a-tete—Rod is handling this in a much better way. It’s much more positive.”
—Both speakers talked about “good news” from Penn State, with Erickson saying he’s been “buoyed” by students in the past six months. He called TJ Bard, president of University Park’s student government; Peter Khoury, president of the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments and the student trustee; and Jon Lozano, president of the Graduate Student Association, “three of the most outstanding student leaders I have seen here in all my years at Penn State.”
Erickson also noted that despite early concern from rating agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s that the scandal would lead to a decline in research grants, the number of grants is up 15.5 percent from last year, and that the total of $620 million “at this point in the year is unprecedented.” Admissions, he said, are up 1.5 to 2 percent over last year’s record pace.
Lori Shontz, senior editor