Ousted university president seen at raquetball court, eateries, bus stop
July 21, 2013 8:00 AM
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier looks down the court during Penn State's men's basketball game in January against Nebraska at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Alex Robinson/Onward State
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier was at the campus recreation building July 12 to play racquetball.
By Mark Dent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- He looks strangely familiar, this pale man at the Penn State recreation center wearing a powder blue Penn State T-shirt and thigh-hugging shorts, wielding a racquetball racket. He has silver hair, wide eyes and an odd yet worldly smirk. But surely that can't be him, can it?
As many people in State College have found out, that is him. That is Graham Spanier. Just your average ousted university president preparing to work up a sweat.
That's him on campus, that's him walking downtown, that's him at the Waffle Shop, that's him ... everywhere and always.
In his previous life as a respected university president, Mr. Spanier was known for being a goofy everyman, popping up in random places. He'd perform magic tricks for new students and play music at the popular student bar the Phyrst.
In his present life, facing a preliminary hearing later this month for his criminal charges related to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, these random appearances haven't gotten any rarer. They just strike with the thick air of peculiarity and novelty, eliciting a "who invited him?" reaction.
Mr. Spanier still visits State College's best-known restaurants, such as the historical Corner Room and The Tavern, where employees say he has eaten lunch twice in the last six weeks (the Turkey Bacon Deluxe, if you must know). Mr. Spanier came to the Allen Street Grill for dinner about two months ago, also ordering a turkey sandwich. He arrived before his dining companion.
"It was kind of awkward," said a server, Sean McGuire. "He walked in and sat by himself and everybody stared."
But Mr. Spanier is clearly not afraid of being center stage, even now, even when the stage is his former place of employment and even when the stage is literally a stage.
Last weekend, The Deacons of Dixieland, an eight-piece traditional jazz band, performed at Arts Festival, State College's biggest event of the summer. Mr. Spanier, a member of the band since he became president in 1995, played the washboard on a stage situated on the lawn of Old Main. As he performed, he was looking at the exact building in which he worked as university president until November 2011.
"I think he just enjoys it," said Jim Ressler, the group's trumpet player and front man. "It's an outlet. He's been doing it for quite a number of years and there's no reason to quit."
Students have used Twitter to catalog their encounters with Mr. Spanier, often taking pictures. In the past few months, Mr. Spanier has been seen at Penn State volleyball games, men's basketball games, the Olive Garden, the Penn Stater and the Autoport hotels, among other places. This summer he was seen browsing for Penn State tank tops at an outdoor festival. He looked kind of sunburned.
Seeing him like this suggests a conundrum once expressed by The Clash: Why would he stay, but where else would he go? Mr. Spanier has other options, including a residence in New York City and family in Iowa. State College must hold some appeal.
After all, he does always have racquetball companions here. Squash and racquetball players say he usually comes to play racquetball with friends at Rec Hall, Penn State's recreation center, once or twice a week, usually in the afternoon. Mr. Spanier is a past intramural champion at Penn State.
He declined a request to talk about his life around State College for this story. Mr. Spanier said via email, "Thanks for reaching out to me, but I'm unable to do any media interviews now."
He has not spoken publicly since he was charged in November with perjury, endangering the welfare of children, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Before then, Mr. Spanier spoke with Louis Freeh's investigative team for the Freeh Report and did an interview with The New Yorker. On July 11, he filed notice in Centre County Common Pleas Court that he intends to file suit against Mr. Freeh and his law firm for slander and defamation.
As university president, Mr. Spanier earned $3.2 million in 2011, although much of that is deferred compensation, severance and retirement pay. He made $600,000 this past school year as an on-leave, tenured professor.
A reporter mentioned this to a group of servers at The Tavern. They weren't happy. His tipping skills apparently weren't commensurate with his income.
Perhaps Mr. Spanier just hasn't adjusted to life as a former president facing felony charges. He no longer resides at the president's Schreyer House mansion, he lives in a condo at the south end of town, according to court documents. Rather than drive a university car, he has been spotted at a bus stop, a switch that hasn't come without complication.
On Twitter in February, student Brian Salvesen posted that he saw Mr. Spanier boarding a bus. Mr. Spanier, he wrote, "cut the whole line."