PSU trustees shore up athletic program

University struggles to move past Sandusky scandal

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STATE C0LLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State University trustees Friday approved hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing, including $30 million to shore up athletic department finances, and cited progress on several fronts, including growth in new enrollment this fall.

But as happens each time the panel meets, reminders of a continuing divide over the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal were everywhere, from 200 protesters outside the meeting demanding that the board resign, to an alum and former football player who rose inside and told trustees "it appears you answer to no one."

Displeasure with the board's handling of the scandal and its decision to fire storied football coach Joe Paterno reverberated, even as trustees received updates on scores of reforms instituted in the scandal's aftermath.

"We are not giving up," former Steelers star Franco Harris, who played under Mr. Paterno while at Penn State, told protesters who like himself say Mr. Paterno was wrongly accused of helping to cover up child abuse by Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach now in prison.

Inside the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, board members already briefed on a $2.7 billion capital plan through 2018 authorized issuance of $750 million in debt, including $225 million for education and general projects and $525 million for self-supporting unit projects.

Among the borrowing is $30 million for athletics, which of late is facing financial pressure for various reasons, including the $60 million NCAA fine, lost bowl revenue, lower football ticket sales in 2012 and addition of two varsity hockey programs, officials said.

Also Friday, the board approved a state appropriation request for 2014-15 of $299.7 million, a 5 percent increase. If it is approved in full, Penn State president Rodney Erickson said he expects tuition next year to increase 2.85 percent.

Increases would vary by location, and on the main campus, the base in-state rate would rise 3.49 percent, he said.

Mr. Erickson said the school has worked to curb tuition increases. "And [we] continue to look at new ideas and be open to new ideas that we can ensure that Penn State will continue to be as affordable as possible for as many residents of Pennsylvania that we can support," he said.

He also said Penn State expects an increase in new student enrollment of 700 over last fall, and that overall enrollment should be stable.

During the meeting's public comment portion, Brian Masella, an alum who played football under Paterno, urged restoration of a wall near Beaver Stadium honoring decades of Nittany Lion players.

He said the campus landmark and source of university pride was taken down by Penn State on the ill-conceived notion that its presence prevented the university from moving past the Sandusky scandal.

Mr. Masella said players on that wall did nothing wrong. "They did not deserve to be disgraced and dishonored," he said.

Saying the board did not respond to his earlier request regarding the wall, Mr. Masella said: "You claim that you want to be open ... In fact, it appears you answer to no one, and you are accountable to no one."

Outside, the dissent was far louder. Protesters held messages like "Fire [athletic director] Dave Joyner and Rodney Erickson" and "We will not stop until we find out the truth."

The group, mostly alumni and State College residents, grew more vocal as some trustees and administrators left the building for their cars, with some protesters screaming profanities at them.

Most of the trustees and administrators left through a back door and did not see the gathered crowd. The march ended shortly after the conclusion of the board meeting at 4:30 p.m.

education

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.


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