An Emotional Meeting of the Board of Trustees
For more than two and a half hours, everyone fidgeted in their seats, and the tension built. The Board of Trustees meeting plodded along. Through a long informational report on the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Through a time-lapse video of the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital construction. Through a PowerPoint presentation about residence halls, one that touched on room and board fees.
The time scheduled for public comment, 3:45 p.m, came and went. Media checked their watches. Alumni speculated on Twitter about the board’s motive for dragging out the proceedings for so long.
And then, finally, what everyone was expecting—waiting for, really—happened.
Trustee Ken Frazier ’75, chair of the board task force that commissioned the Freeh report, defended Louis Freeh’s investigation in a full, public board meeting—and trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82, elected to the board 10 months ago because of alumni anger over the Sandusky scandal and how Joe Paterno was treated by the trustees, questioned the report’s validity.
Minutes later, during the public comment portion, five football lettermen, each wearing a sticker proclaiming himself “Member of the GRAND EXPERIMENT,” suggested that the trustees were driven by a hidden agenda, that they had failed in their leadership role, that they had opened the door to NCAA sanctions, that they had fractured the university community.
“The good news here,” said Mark Battaglia ’82, a center on the 1982 national championship team, “is that we’re losing. We didn’t lose. We’re losing badly. We need to change the strategy. You guys can do that. There’s still time.”
It was a moment that had been building, really, since the scandal broke 16 months ago, even before the Freeh report was released in July. Alumni anger intensified with the Freeh report, and then the release of the Paterno report last month seemed to mark another milestone. After more than a year of near-silence about the situation on Twitter, Jay Paterno ’91 and Scott Paterno ’97 began engaging with followers. More lettermen organized.
And Lubrano pushed his case harder Friday in the board’s public meeting.
First, Keith Eckel, chair of the legal and compliance committee, invited Frazier to “remind us what the thought process was surrounding the Freeh report.” Frazier largely repeated his defense of the report from Thursday’s separate committee meeting (the Centre Daily Times has a good summary here), although he did apologize for making an O.J. Simpson analogy: He had referred to Bill Cluck ’82, who had questioned him, as “one of the few people in this country that looks like you who actually believes the O.J. Simpson not guilty verdict was correct.”
On the Freeh report, Frazier said in part: “The facts are the facts. And the contemporaneous emails and other documentation are among the most important evidence produced. … The documents appear to show, in varying degrees, by date and by individual, that people who were in a position to protect kids did not do so.” And he reiterated his desire to not re-examine the Freeh report because that would be “rewriting history.”
Which prompted this response from Lubrano, who wants Louis Freeh and Dick Thornburgh, the former U.S. attorney general and Pennsylvania governor who wrote part of the Paterno family’s report, to meet with the board: “I understand that Ken says he doesn’t want to rewrite history. But I’m not sure history was correct.”
“This isn’t grandstanding,” Lubrano added. “This is a serious matter. This is a very, very serious matter. Like the rest of you, I love this institution. What I understand in dealing with the alumni community is this very simple fact: They too love Penn State. And they don’t feel that due process and truth was something we had here.”
That was the crux of the discussion between the two men. Among the other points they touched on was whether the engagement letter promising that Freeh investigators would turn over evidence to the state attorney general was irregular; Lubrano questioned it, but Frazier said such a clause is standard procedure when an investigation overlaps in time with an ongoing criminal investigation.
And then former football player Adam Taliaferro ’05, who has rarely spoken in full board meetings since he was elected 10 months ago, chimed in:
“I’ve been an active listener since I joined the board,” he said. “As you can see, we’ve got very smart people on this board and very different positions on the hows and whys. We all know what the ‘what’ is. I do believe that bringing in people and asking the hows and whys would help us, I think, move forward. I think we all want to move forward. For me, I know it would help me better understand each side. Because I come here with my own preconceived notions. It’s hard for me not to.”
This prompted Alvin Clemens ’59 to speak: “The problem here is there’s a bit of divide between the alumni and the board. We all won’t be on board until we somehow smoke this out.” He said he wanted to know why NCAA president Mark Emmert has repeatedly mentioned the 1998 incident, which was investigated by the authorities, and why state authorities weren’t monitoring Jerry Sandusky after that 1998 investigation, although no charges were filed.
At this point, 29 minutes after the legal committee report began with Frazier’s Freeh report explanation, Jim Broadhurst ’65 suggested that it was time to move on to the next item on the committee’s agenda. Many of the public in attendance booed, but the board did move on.
So what’s next? Will Freeh and/or Thornburgh be invited to address the board? Will the discussion continue?
Board chair Keith Masser ’73 said afterward that the way to bring any such item to the full board is to go through the appropriate committee—in this case, legal and compliance—and ask the committee chair to have the committee vote. (That’s what the governance and long-range planning committee did during its Thursday meeting with the changes to the board structure. But that’s a subject for an upcoming blog post.) He and vice chair Stephanie Deviney ’97g said they would assure that that would follow up with the appropriate chair, Eckel.
I feel like I end a lot of scandal- and trustees-related posts like this, but it’s always appropriate: Stay tuned.
Lori Shontz, senior editor