Penn State president reassures applicants

In light of scandal, letter says students have shown that the 'community is compassionate and strong'

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Penn State University President Rodney Erickson has reached out to tens of thousands of prospective students whose interest may have been dampened by child sex abuse allegations that have roiled campus.

Without directly mentioning the Nov. 5 arrest of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the dismissal of former head football coach Joe Paterno and resignation of President Graham Spanier, Mr. Erickson in a series of letters alluded to the challenges of recent days but said the university remains strong.

"Over the course of recent weeks, the character and resilience of Penn State have been tested in ways we never could have imaged," Mr. Erickson said in one letter mailed last week to students with offers in hand. "To their great credit, our students have reminded us that the Penn State community is compassionate and strong."

As evidence, he recalled a candlelight vigil outside Old Main attended by 10,000 students in support of child sex abuse victims days after the arrest, and he noted plans for this year's Penn State Dance Marathon, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, which he said raised $9 million last year to fight pediatric cancer.

And, he added, corporate recruiters "continue to rank Penn State students among their top choices for new hires" and he said the university's alumni network of 500,000 is still strong.

"I want you to feel a sense of pride in your accomplishments as well as a sense of excitement for the opportunities that await you should you become part of the Penn State community," he wrote. "Please continue to consider joining us in our commitment to teaching, service and research."

The letters, mailed with the admission season in full swing, carried language similar to statements that Mr. Erickson and other university leaders have directed in the scandal's wake to various audiences, including Penn State donors and job recruiters.

Geoff Rushton, a Penn State spokesman, said Tuesday that 25,000 applicants awaiting a decision from the admissions office received one version of Mr. Erickson's letter, and 10,000 others who have already been accepted received another.

"Obviously, there has been an enormous amount of media coverage on this issue with some strong opinions and conflicting information," Mr. Rushton said. "We wanted to provide students and their families with facts about the University and information related to our academic enterprise that have remained unchanged.

"We are still an outstanding university that offers students a quality education."

Mr. Rushton said applications to the university are running about 4 percent ahead of this same time last year.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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