PSU trustees explain Paterno's firing

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Faced with mounting criticism that now includes open alumni calls for their ouster, Penn State University's board of trustees gave a public explanation Thursday for why the board on Nov. 9 fired famed football coach Joe Paterno.

The joint statement by board chairman Steve Garban and vice chairman John Surma was issued a day after Penn State president Rodney Erickson fielded angry questions in Pittsburgh about Mr. Paterno's treatment during the first of three town hall-style meetings with alumni.

In the statement, the board leaders noted that Mr. Paterno already had announced on Nov. 9 plans to retire at the end of the 2011 football season. But they said the board felt it had to act nevertheless, saying in the statement:

"Given the nature of the serious allegations contained in the Grand Jury Report and the extraordinary circumstances then facing the University, the board's unanimous judgment was that Coach Paterno could not be expected to continue to effectively perform his duties and that it was in the best interests of the University to make an immediate change in his status."

Therefore, the statement continued, the board "acted to remove Coach Paterno from his position as Head Football Coach effective as of that date."

The grand jury mention was a reference to allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, 67, who has been charged with 52 criminal counts related to the alleged sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period. He has denied the charges.

The statement reiterated that Mr. Paterno, as a tenured faculty member, remains a university employee.

"The details of his retirement are being worked out and will be made public when they are finalized," the statement said. "Generally speaking, the University intends to honor the terms of his employment contract and is treating him financially as if he had retired at the end of the 2011 football season."

Some of the more than 600 alumni who gathered in the DoubleTree by Hilton, Downtown, confronted Mr. Erickson with questions about the beloved former coach, including why he was singled out for firing and not allowed to finish out the season.

"What you did to Joe is unconscionable," one woman told Mr. Erickson, referring to the board's decision.

The firing occurred as the university faced increasing criticism of officials' failure to alert law enforcement to an allegation that Mr. Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy in a campus shower in 2002.

Former President Graham Spanier resigned the same day, but the university has said it does not intend to release terms of his separation agreement with Penn State.

During Wednesday night's meeting, much of the room stood and applauded one questioner's call for replacing the board.

A group calling itself PSU Alumni for Reorganization of the Board of Trustees is asking for petition signatures supporting a faculty senate resolution of no confidence in the board, expected to be voted on Jan. 24.


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


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