Peetz, Erickson Address Alumni Council Again
Karen Bretherick Peetz ’77 didn’t waste any time. She didn’t beat around the bush. She stood up to speak Friday afternoon at Alumni Council, told members to “ask the questions you want to ask,” and began addressing the issues by saying: “Subject One. The Freeh Report.”
Which, of course, is one of the issues that has divided alumni the most in the past year.
The chair of the Board of Trustees hasn’t traditionally addressed Alumni Council. But this is the second straight session in which Peetz has given a report and taken questions from council members. Both times, she’s attended with President Rod Erickson, and both times, she’s said that doing so is an important part of the board’s outreach to alumni.
On Friday afternoon, she wanted to make a key point: That she understands that the recommendation to examine Penn State’s culture has been “one of the big sticking points” for some Penn Staters. But she added that the recommendation, controversial as it has been, is actually a good thing.
“I can recognize the discomfort it causes,” Peetz said. “We’ve all loved the culture. But let’s consider culture in the abstract first, and let me pose some questions. Do you, in your business, examine why your organization consistently succeeds in certain areas and maybe falls short in others? Do you ask yourself why you do or don’t retain certain types of employees? Or why everyone seemingly stays at work until midnight … or, alternatively, why you have to tread cautiously at 5 p.m. so you don’t get trampled by the mass exodus?
“These are the cultural issues of an organization. It’s the way an organization acts, and in my experience, the best of organizations have as an underpinning of the culture and their practice a process of continual improvement, which includes an examination of that very culture. As a world class institution, we need to continue to do this.”
Subject No. 2 for Peetz was whether the board understood that the Freeh report would be used by the NCAA as a justification for sanctions. She said she would not get into the NCAA’s rationale—“that’s unproductive at best, divisive at worst”—and encouraged anyone who doesn’t understand the decision to read the reasons Erickson gave for the decision and additional explanation from Gene Marsh, an NCAA expert who was retained by the university. The information is available on the Board of Trustees website in a transcript of the Aug. 16 meeting; you can get a PDF of the transcript by clicking here. Erickson’s remarks start on page 25; Marsh’s start on page 16.
She reminded everyone that “we were faced with catastrophe” and also that Erickson has called the decision the hardest he’s had to make in his entire career. “And he did not make the decision alone,” she added. “He consulted with the executive committee of the board.”
Peetz finished her prepared remarks by asking for two things from council members: their “understanding and tolerance” as the board and the university continue dealing with fallout from the scandal, and their “visible support” in continuing to “speak out for Penn State” as leaders in their communities.
When Peetz and Erickson finished speaking, there was time for a few questions. Greg Malone ’95, president of the Connecticut Valley Chapter, immediately asked the other question that has divided alumni: how and whether Joe Paterno will be recognized. He noted that the university has missed opportunities for a video tribute and for a moment of silence and added, “I believe this posture has been a real sticking point for alumni who are otherwise eager to move on.”
Erickson fielded this one.
“We’re hearing from a lot of individuals, a lot of alumni, on both sides of this issue,” he said. “And that suggests to me that there’s still a lot of divergence of opinion about what to do. I personally think that we need some more time, time for reflection. I personally think to do something right now will push us apart rather than push us together.”
Peetz added that any such commemoration would be university-driven, not trustees-driven.
Council member Liz Bligan ’91, ’98g asked another question that’s been on the minds of many alumni: “When will the Board of Trustees fight back, defend Penn State, demand due process? You have not done that, and we are anxious for you to do that.”
Peetz noted that Tim Curley ’76, ’78g and Gary Schultz ’71, ’75g will have due process; their trial is scheduled for January. “So, frankly, after all that is said and done, then we’ll have to say, ‘OK, what does that inform us about the situation, and what do we do at that point?’” Peetz said. “Who knows what will be at that point? I’m sorry I can’t give you a more definitive answer, but the answer is: There’s more to come.”
Other notes from the session:
—The Blue White Vision Council, a group that will be facilitated by former University of Illinois president Stan Ikenberry and chaired by Peetz herself, is ready to begin meeting. The council, which includes faculty and students as well as trustees, will broadly examine Penn State’s mission and goals.
—Much of Erickson’s talk centered on Penn State’s enrollment. The Sandusky scandal did not have an effect on the current freshman class; Erickson said the current freshman class has about 7,700 students. But applications for next year are down between 10 and 35 percent so far, although Erickson also noted that “paid accepts” are holding pace with last year, and he assured council members that the quality of students hasn’t waned.
Some of the decline may be from the scandal, he said. But he thinks bigger changes in higher education—particularly students’ climbing debt loads and the lack of economic growth in Pennsylvania; possibly the rising application fees, which may be causing students to apply to fewer schools–might be additional causes. “We’re in a totally different era,” he said.
—Erickson also touched on fundraising. The Campaign for Penn State Students passed the $1.65 billion mark a few weeks ago, he said, and there are still 20 months remaining for the capital campaign to reach its $2 billion goal.
Lori Shontz, senior editor