PSU's Erickson says school's reputation tarnished, but it will recover

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WASHINGTON -- Penn State's reputation is tarnished, but the school can emerge from the Jerry Sandusky scandal as a leader in safety, security and compliance, the university's president Rodney Erickson said today.

Mr. Erickson, in a speech before the National Press Club, did not directly address the charges that were brought Thursday against former president Graham Spanier and two other administrators, but on outreach by students, faculty, staff and alumni in State College and around the country after the scandal.

Mr. Erickson was scheduled to speak on Wednesday, but Hurricane Sandy delayed his trip to Washington, putting him in the uncomfortable position of speaking just 25 hours after the charges were announced against of his predecessor, Mr. Spanier, for allegedly covering up the sex crimes of Sandusky, the former assistant football coach.

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 who 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 was forced out because of his alleged role in covering up the sex scandal.

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.

"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.

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292.


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