Penn State's interim president tries to get university moving again in wake of scandal
November 11, 2011 5:00 AM
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Penn State University students gather Thursday at Old Main, the school's administration building at the center of the campus, to express solidarity for the victims in the child abuse scandal involving former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Their vigil was a contrast to the rioting by students Wednesday night in reaction to head football coach Joe Paterno being fired as part of the university's reaction to the scandal.
By Laura Olson and Michael Sanserino Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In his first major action since taking over as interim president of Penn State University, Rod Erickson outlined to trustees and administrators his plan to "get the university back moving again."
Less than a day after that board dismissed football coach Joe Paterno and forced the resignation of president Graham Spanier amid a child sex abuse scandal that has drawn national attention, Mr. Erickson said the university needs to learn from its mistakes as it moves forward.
"That was very much the tone of my remarks: concern, humility, resolve to make things right, to restore the honor of Penn State," he said.
Leaders of the Penn State student government also hoped the university could move on, expressing regret on Thursday over raucous student demonstrations that turned violent one night earlier.
Late Thursday night, the university issued a statement that assistant football coach Mike McQueary, a key witness in the abuse case against former coach Jerry Sandusky, will not be coaching at Saturday's game against Nebraska because of threats that have been made against him.
Mr. Erickson met with trustees in a closed-door meeting that lasted most of Thursday afternoon. The board will hold its previously scheduled public session today, during which they are expected to provide more details on the special investigative committee it will be appointing.
Others in attendance, including Gov. Tom Corbett, an ex-officio member of the university's governing board, offered only sparse details on what to expect as the school begins the process of replacing several key figures.
The search for a new permanent president -- and what that search might look like -- was not discussed by trustees, said W. Terrell Jones, vice provost of educational equity.
He indicated that the university could survive an extended stretch with an interim leader while that search is under way. "I guess it depends on how good the interim is," Mr. Jones said.
He expressed support for Mr. Erickson, describing him as a personable and focused leader.
"We had hoped he would be in charge," Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Erickson said he's focused on short-term changes for the university and not on his potential as a future permanent president.
Mr. Jones said he believes the former provost would not be interested in the top job.
In addition to Mr. Jones, all of the university's other vice presidents were in attendance at the afternoon meeting, and he confirmed that all still hold their positions.
Steve Garban, who currently chairs the board of trustees, declined to comment on any issues, including whether he plans to seek re-election as chairman.
While there were no immediate personnel changes following Wednesday night's announcement of Mr. Spanier and Mr. Paterno, there were continued calls on campus for the dismissal of Mr. McQueary and former athletic director Tim Curley.
According to the grand jury presentment released last weekend, Mr. McQueary witnessed Mr. Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the locker room shower. Mr. Curley, who now is on paid administrative leave, was charged with perjury and failure to report that alleged crime to law enforcement.
The governor was tight-lipped on details of the child abuse investigation, which started when he was attorney general.
Mr. Corbett did, however, have a clear message to those who attend Penn State.
He described those who rioted throughout downtown State College, toppling a news van and several light poles, in one word: "knuckleheads." He urged students to remember that the nation's eyes are on them.
"I do not believe in your right to violence. There is no such thing," Mr. Corbett said. "When you chant 'we are Penn State,' be sure that you are demonstrating Penn State at its best."
Student leaders on Thursday also condemned those violent responses during a midday rally, where student-body president T.J. Bard urged his classmates to not let frustration guide their actions.
"We are what makes this university thrive," said Mr. Bard, a junior from Waynesboro. "We are the ones who must restore glory to Penn State."
Mr. Corbett, who had waited to offer his view on potential personnel changes until the board had acted, also expressed his support of the trustees' decision to sever ties with Mr. Paterno and Mr. Spanier.
"Their actions caused me to not have confidence in their ability to lead," he said.
He said the poor decisions of a few should not tarnish the university's overall excellent reputation, he added, noting the thousands of excellent graduates who have come through the school's classrooms.
"I believe the special committee that is being put together by the board has a mission to determine how it happened, how that power was centered in a few," Mr. Corbett said. "We need to learn not only as a board but as an administration, as students, as a society. We need to protect children. We need to act."