PSU's Erickson says school is tarnished but it can rebound


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WASHINGTON -- There are a lot of things Rodney Erickson would have rather focused on Friday: his faculty's advances in killing leukemia cells, the credentials of this year's freshman class or the $89 million a campus dance-a-thon has raised for pediatric cancer.

The crowd at the National Press Club, wanted something else from the president of Penn State University: answers about how the campus would move on from a child sex scandal that victimized many young boys.

Mr. Erickson's remarks here were supposed to come Wednesday, but Hurricane Sandy delayed Mr. Erickson's trip to D.C., putting him in the uncomfortable position of speaking just 25 hours after charges were announced against his predecessor, Graham Spanier, who is charged with covering up the sex crimes of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

His prepared remarks focused not on the well-documented inaction of administrators like Mr. Spanier but on outreach by students, faculty, staff and alumni after the Sandusky scandal.

He acknowledged the school's reputation is tarnished, but the school can emerge from the scandal as a leader in safety, security and compliance.

"Indeed, other universities are closely watching Penn State's actions so they can strengthen their policies, mitigate risk at their institutions and make their campuses safer," he said.

He also talked about more stringent policies the university has adopted to ensure better compliance with federal requirements for reporting crimes. He said the changes will make Penn State a model for other schools that already are calling for advice.

"It's one thing to know the rules, regulations and policies; it's another thing to create a culture where every employee wants to do the right thing, and feels encouraged to do the right thing the first time, every time," Mr. Erickson said. "We're trying to help people understand the how, when, where and why of reporting."

He said the university has made a strong commitment to doing the right thing moving forward, and that the campus takes its responsibility very seriously.

"That's not a glib promise," said Mr. Erickson, a former Penn State vice president who stepped up to become president after Mr. Spanier resigned..

Undergraduates organized candlelight vigils, a pair of graduate students raised $126,000 and distributed ribbons at a football game to symbolize awareness of child sex abuse, alumni raised $550,000 for the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, and 35 faculty members formed the Penn State network for Child Protection and Well-Begin to accelerate research into child sexual abuse.

"As administrators, we tried to balance the need to move ahead with the need to reflect on, and correct, the underlying issues that brought us to the crisis in the first place," Mr. Erickson said.

That included sponsoring a Child Sexual Abuse Conference this week in State College.

Since the Sandusky scandal came to light, states including California and Florida have introduced legislation to strengthen child-abuse reporting requirements, he said before changing gears to talk about academic and charitable successes of students and faculty engaging in important research, winning national recognition and volunteering in their communities.

"These successes define who we are and where we're going," he said.

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292. First Published November 3, 2012 4:45 AM


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