Penn State president meets with legislators

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Penn State University's new president, Rodney Erickson, met with legislative leaders and the governor in Harrisburg Tuesday, pledging to develop a "culture of openness" on campus following a child sex abuse scandal that rocked the institution.

Those legislators, in turn, briefed him on proposed reforms aimed at fostering such a climate, including three recently introduced House bills that would bring Penn State and three other state-related universities under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law.

The latest of those bills came this week from state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican who represents the State College area, home to Penn State's main campus, and state Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia. Mr. Benninghoff's legislation, House Bill 2066, has 49 Democrat and Republican co-signers; Ms. Josephs' House Bill 2076 has 13 Democrat co-sponsors.

Both bills followed by a week House Bill 2051, introduced by state Rep. Eugene Depasquale, D-York County, with 34 Democrat and Republican co-signers.

Tuesday's talks with legislators were billed partly as get-acquainted sessions. But they enabled lawmakers to ask questions both about Penn State's investigation of how child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky were handled, and Mr. Erickson's "vision for the university going forward," said state Rep. Michael Hanna Sr., D-Clinton County, the Democratic whip.

Mr. Erickson repeated a pledge that the campus investigation will be conducted openly, and legislators spoke of plans to examine if law changes are needed, said Mr. Hanna, describing the session he attended.

The meetings came the same day that Mr. Sandusky, 67, waived a preliminary hearing in Centre County Common Pleas Court. He faces 52 counts accusing him of abusing of young boys between 1994 and 2009.

Fallout from Mr. Sandusky's arrest last month led to the firing of famed Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the resignation of university president Graham Spanier. Both men faced growing criticism over Penn State's failure to report to law enforcement authorities allegations that Mr. Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy in a campus shower in 2002.

Regarding the right-to-know legislation, Mr. Erickson "did not dismiss it out of hand, nor did he endorse it," Mr. Hanna said. "He thinks it's a process that needs to work its way through."

Mr. Erickson last week pledged to make his own contract public once he gets one. In an email Tuesday, he said he hopes the contract of Penn State's new football coach, once the position is filled, is made public, too.

"I've promised to foster a culture of openness, and I intend to fulfill that promise," he said.

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977. First Published December 14, 2011 5:00 AM


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