The board of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program today gave board member Franco Harris a vote of confidence and passed a motion for him to return as board chairman.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had criticized Mr. Harris last month for his support for his college football coach, Joe Paterno, after Mr. Paterno was fired by Penn State University in the wake of a sex scandal there centered around a former assistant coach. The mayor said Mr. Harris' support for his coach showed "no regard whatsoever" for the alleged victims of sexual abuse.
Mr. Harris stepped down as chairman of the Pittsburgh Promise board during a Nov. 17 meeting but remained a board member. David Malone, president and CEO of Gateway Financial Services was named acting chairman.
Today, at the continuation of that meeting, members voted for Mr. Harris to return to chairmanship of the board.
In a news release, Mr. Malone said Mr. Harris' personal opinion on the Penn State situation shouldn't negate the work he has done for Pittsburgh Promise.
"The board acknowledges that Franco's service to The Pittsburgh Promise has been exemplary and we appreciate and applaud his significant contributions to the success of this nationally recognized program," Mr. Malone said in the release.
Mr. Ravenstahl released a statement tonight saying:
"I believed very strongly that Mr. Harris' public comments showed an insensitivity towards the children who were sexually abused. That insensitivity did not align with The Promise's principles and mission and as a founder of this scholarship program I did what I believed was right, not what was necessarily popular, by bringing this matter to the board," he said. "The Promise restores hope and confidence to thousands of young people, many of whom are at-risk youths, and as board chair Mr. Harris' public statements should have put the health and safety of our kids ahead of his loyalty to any coach.
"After bringing my concerns to Mr. Harris and the board, it has become clear that Mr. Harris is now more sensitive to these very serious issues," the mayor said. "At the end of the day, this is about putting kids first and protecting the weak, and I am pleased that Franco and the board recognize that. This matter is now behind us and we will continue the good work that all of us do every day to advance higher education for Pittsburgh's children."
Under the Pittsburgh Promise program, Pittsburgh high school students who maintain a minimum grade-point average can obtain college scholarship money donated by area businesses, foundations and organizations.
Ed Blazina: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1470.