Facing pressure to mount an independent investigation, a campus committee dominated by Penn State University trustees Monday tapped a former FBI director and his law firm while promising an objective look at child sex abuse allegations.
The special committee has hired Louis J. Freeh to serve as special investigative counsel. Mr. Freeh, who also is a former federal judge, will lead a team of former prosecutors and FBI agents trying to ascertain what campus leaders knew about allegations involving a former assistant football coach and if they responded properly.
In announcing the move during a news conference Monday in Philadelphia, the committee's chairman, PSU trustee and Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, pledged a comprehensive and unbiased investigation that will review policies and procedures and consider actions by all employees, including the board of trustees.
"No one is above scrutiny," he said.
Mr. Freeh said the investigation will stretch back to 1975, much earlier than the period covered by a state grand jury report that led to the Nov. 5 arrest of the former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.
The inquiry will encompass most of his time at Penn State and the entire tenure of a charity he founded, The Second Mile, a group for at-risk youth that investigators allege is how Mr. Sandusky, 67, came to know boys he abused.
Although Mr. Freeh's team will lack subpoena power, he said attempts will be made to interview all relevant parties before a report is submitted to the committee. He pledged to notify law enforcement immediately if additional victims or evidence of criminality is unearthed.
To that end, a hot line (1-855-290-3382) and an email address, PSUhelp@freehgroup.com, were established for those to offer tips confidentially.
"Most importantly, we will make recommendations to the board of trustees, which will ensure that we rectify such failures of leadership and control environment at Penn State that allowed anyone to prey on children with impunity," Mr. Freeh said.
The university's Faculty Senate on Friday called for an independent investigative committee whose chair and majority of members had no affiliation with Penn State. But the university instead settled on a nine-member panel, six of them Penn State trustees.
Asked why Penn State included trustees considering that they are among those being scrutinized, Mr. Frazier replied, "Someone has to receive the report. Someone has to implement the recommendations."
Mr. Freeh said the decision by his Washington, D.C., law firm -- Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan -- to take the job hinged chiefly on assurances he received from the committee's leadership that his team would have total independence. He could not estimate likely costs.
"We have been asked to investigate the matter fully, fairly and completely," he said.
The committee is charged with seeking answers in a deepening scandal that has shocked the campus and made national headlines. It involves allegations that Mr. Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy in a campus shower in 2002 and that the university failed to relay those accusations to law enforcement officials.
In all, a state grand jury has charged Mr. Sandusky with abusing at least eight boys between 1995 and 2009.
Fallout from the scandal has led to the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the resignation of university President Graham Spanier, both of whom faced criticism for the way they handled the matter. Two other university officials face charges of perjury before a grand jury and failure to report allegations of child sex abuse.
In addition to Mr. Frazier and fellow trustee and state Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis, who is the panel's vice chair, committee membership will include four other trustees: Mark Dambly, president of Pennrose Properties LLC; attorney Jesse Arnelle; Keith Eckel, owner of Fred W. Eckel Sons and president of Eckel Farms, and board chairman, Nationwide Insurance; Karen Peetz, vice chairman, chief executive officer, Financial Markets and Treasury Services, Bank of New York Mellon, Penn State said.
Guion Bluford Jr., an engineer and former space shuttle astronaut, is the alumni representative. Also serving are Daniel Hagen, Faculty Senate chair, and Rodney Hughes, a doctoral student in higher education.
Mr. Frazier and Mr. Freeh briefly took questions at the news conference in which Mr. Frazier called the grand jury report "shocking and horrendous" and expressed deep sympathy for the victims.
"Each of us in the Penn State community read that report with the same sense of dismay, betrayal and anger that has stunned and shocked our entire nation and the wider world," Mr. Frazier said. "Society is rightly outraged about reports of innocent children being preyed upon and for so long."
"We are especially heartbroken that some of those unspeakable acts could have occurred on the campus of Penn State," Mr. Frazier said.
He said the matter has done irreparable harm and Penn State is determined to make sure such a situation is never repeated. The committee has pledged to make the report public but will not comment during the investigation, Mr. Frazier said.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Penn State trustee, called the choice of Mr. Freeh "a very good one."
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977. Laura Olson contributed. First Published November 22, 2011 5:00 AM