Internal inquiry could target PSU trustees, aide says

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Current and former Penn State University trustees could face scrutiny from a campus investigative committee seeking to ascertain what university leaders knew about child sex abuse allegations and if they responded properly.

State Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis did not rule out that possibility when asked during a brief phone interview Wednesday if officials had explored or planned to explore whether word of the allegations flowed from Penn State's administration to the board of trustees.

"That's one of the things that the committee will be looking at," Mr. Tomalis, a Penn State trustee and vice chairman of the committee, said.

He declined to elaborate but said the panel is charged with exploring all aspects of the matter.

The committee will "look at the relationship[s] and culture that led us to this incident," he said. "The investigation will take us wherever it goes."

Penn State trustees announced the panel amid the child sex abuse scandal, which thrust the school into the national spotlight and led to the Nov. 9 firing of football coach Joe Paterno and the departure by mutual agreement of president Graham Spanier.

They and others faced growing criticism for Penn State's failure to alert law enforcement to allegations that retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy in a campus shower in 2002.

Mr. Sandusky is accused by a grand jury of sexually abusing at least eight boys between 1995 and 2009, individuals he knew through an organization he founded for at-risk youth, The Second Mile.

Penn State has not identified the full list of members who will sit on the special investigative committee, but officials have suggested in recent days that only members with ties to the university would serve.

Observers ranging from watchdog groups and ethicists to those who have sat on such committees say that having independent members with no ties to the institution can lend more credibility to findings.

Mr. Tomalis, though, said he would be comfortable with a panel whose members are limited to trustees, students, faculty and alumni at Penn State, noting that other inquiries are under way. He said the campus panel will employ investigative teams and other resources, including the work of outside counsel.

Mr. Tomalis said he only serves as a Penn State trustee because of his role as education secretary, and he noted that he did not attend the university.

The committee's chairman, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who is a Penn State trustee, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday regarding the committee's makeup.

Also Wednesday, Daniel Hagen, chair of Penn State's Faculty Senate, said trustees' plans to employ investigative teams and outside counsel to assist committee members suggest to him that the panel will include "those with ties to Penn State and outside."


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


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