Freeh report dominates PSU trustees meeting

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HERSHEY, Pa. -- Here on Friday at the Penn State University board of trustees meeting, everyone wanted their voice to be heard, their agenda met, their viewpoint demonstrated in some sort of fashion, whether they were present or chiming in from afar.

About 30 former football players sported buttons showcasing their membership in the "Grand Experiment" and accused board members of acting in their own self-interest and unfairly targeting former football coach Joe Paterno. Trustee Ken Frazier continued his defense of the Freeh report. Candidates for the next trustee election greeted media and guests in a hallway outside the conference room, chatting about reform. Scott Paterno and Paterno report co-author Dick Thornburgh called out Mr. Frazier through individual statements via email.

The chaos was only unique because of the volume and timing of the discord. Penn State trustees, of course, have faced scrutiny since November 2011. Friday illustrated that even if the same notes are being struck, they're playing every bit as loud and the anger among a sizable faction of the Penn State community is not receding and perhaps building.

"Your moral failure is cataclysmic," former football player Tom Donchez said, addressing the board.

The gist of this battle of words centered on the subject that has caused much consternation since last July: the Freeh report.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mr. Frazier defended the Freeh report against criticisms by alumni and others that the report was fundamentally flawed. Critics have said that the report unfairly tarred Mr. Paterno, other university leaders and Penn State because it provided selective information and investigators did not interview some key individuals.

Mr. Frazier said the firm directed by FBI Director Louis Freeh was charged with conducting an independent investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse matter and the university's response to it. Mr. Frazier said it was neither the intent nor the authority of the investigation to look into outside organizations, such as Children and Youth Services under the state Department of Public Welfare. He conceded the firm's inability to interview certain key potential witnesses, but insisted the report was "independent and complete" given evidence and individuals available and said the evidence pointed to former Penn State president Graham Spanier, administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, and Mr. Paterno having knowledge of at least a 2001 incident.

"The fact that these reports were not made to child authorities or police is the issue for which we have to accept accountability as a university," Mr. Frazier said. "Regardless of motivation, if individuals had knowledge and did not protect children on campus and those children were harmed, particularly on campus facilities, their motivation in my view makes us no less responsible."

Fellow trustee Anthony Lubrano said in response that "all of us want to understand the truth." He said he wants Penn State to move forward but said he cannot, with a flawed finding that the university has not adequately weighed.

"I understand, Ken, your point that we don't want to rewrite history," Mr. Lubrano said. "But I'm not sure that the history is correct."

He said the Freeh files should be released and that the university should take up Mr. Freeh on an offer made last summer to come to campus to address students, employees and others at an appropriate time.

Sandusky, a retired Penn State assistant football coach, is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence in prison for attacks on 10 boys over a decade, including some on campus.

The pulse of Friday's audience, so large an overflow room was needed accommodate the guests, could be measured audibly. Several people groaned when Mr. Frazier said the Freeh report had no agenda to attack Mr. Paterno. For Mr. Lubrano, they applauded and cheered so loudly that he had to stop speaking and told them he was not there to grandstand.

Board member Jim Broadhurst motioned to stop the exchange after several minutes, but that wasn't the end. Of the 10 members of the public granted permission to address the trustees, five were former football players: Mr. Donchez, Mickey Shuler, Mark Battaglia, Phil LaPorta and Dan Wallace.

Each of them shared a similar message. They said Mr. Paterno had been wronged because of the actions of the board.

"We need the leadership," Mr. Battaglia said. "You're painting yourself in the corner with the Freeh report and this move-on thing, it's not happening. The alumni are not buying it."

On a day when many people wanted to speak their minds, the last words belonged to Tara Merry, an alumnus from Lewistown. She didn't talk for long. Her lasting message was the oft-repeated one shared by Penn Staters for more than a year: moving forward. She said she did want to move on and to do so with the board of trustees.

But, as Friday's meeting proved, agreeing on how to reach that single goal hasn't gotten any easier, even 16 months later.

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, Twitter @mdent05. Bill Schackner contributed.


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