Penn State trustees stand behind acting leader, vow investigation
Kenneth Frazier, a Penn State trustee since 2009, speaks to the media after a board of trustees meeting at the Nittany Lion Inn on Friday.
Students gather at Old Main on Friday night for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the sex abuse scandal.
Share with others:
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State University trustees Friday vowed to launch a rigorous, objective investigation of child sex abuse allegations, even as they took steps to move beyond the crisis, removing the word "interim" from their acting president's title as a gesture of support.
In a meeting culminating a tumultuous week for the state's flagship public university, the board named the leadership of a special investigative committee and pledged to make its results public.
Provost Rodney Erickson, who ascended to the presidency on Wednesday night, addressed the trustees Friday morning and devoted most of his time reassuring the campus, parents, alumni and others that the school would take the necessary corrective actions.
Later in the day, Mr. Erickson said the university will appoint an ethics officer who would report directly to the president. "We will cooperate fully and completely with any ongoing investigation," he said.
Board chairman Steve Garban echoed those sentiments, saying, "We are committed to restoring public trust in this university."
But many questions remained unanswered, including the status of former university president Graham Spanier. He and football coach Joe Paterno relinquished those roles amid criticism over the university's failure to relay to law enforcement officials that former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly sexually assaulted a boy in a campus locker room shower.
One question that was answered was regarding the status of assistant football coach Mike McQueary, who has been one of the central figures in the scandal.
Mr. Erickson said Friday that Mr. McQueary has been placed on indefinite paid administrative leave.
According to a grand jury presentment, Mr. McQueary saw Mr. Sandusky sexually assaulting a child in a locker room shower in 2002 and reported what he saw to Mr. Paterno.
Late Thursday night, the university said that Mr. McQueary would not be coaching at Saturday's game against Nebraska because of threats that have been made against him.
"It became clear that coach McQueary could not function in his role under these circumstances," Mr. Erickson said.
Mr. Erickson said he made the decision in consultation with acting Penn State athletic director Mark Sherburne.
The scandal exploded into public view last Saturday, with charges from a state grand jury related to a series of alleged incidents instigated by Mr. Sandusky and involving eight children over more than a decade.
Two top university administrators -- athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz -- were charged with providing false information to the grand jury and failing to report to law enforcement officials an incident of sexual abuse of a minor. Mr. Curley is on administrative leave, and Mr. Schultz has retired.
Police in San Antonio said Friday that they are looking into possible child sexual assaults by Mr. Sandusky during the 1999 Alamo Bowl. In the grand jury presentment, Victim 4 describes Mr. Sandusky -- who had taken the boy to the bowl game along with his own wife and children -- as threatening to send him home if he refused Mr. Sandusky's advances.
"We're investigating the possibility that an offense may have happened here in San Antonio," Sgt. Chris Benavides said.
San Antonio police declined to say if they had interviewed Victim 4 and whether they believe assaults might have happened in the Alamo Dome, at a nearby hotel or elsewhere.
Penn State officials confirmed after Friday's meeting that Mr. Spanier holds faculty appointments in the College of Health and Human Development and the College of Liberal Arts.
Bill Mahon, a Penn State spokesman, could not say whether Mr. Spanier continues to draw a paycheck. He also could not offer specifics about the separation agreements apparently being drafted for Mr. Spanier, who left his position under mutual agreement, and Mr. Paterno, who was fired.
Asked whether Penn State would disclose terms of those agreements, Mr. Mahon said the university would "do our best to get the details we can," but he said many of the provisions were still being worked out.
"We've got victims, we've got, really, other things that are higher on the to-do list right now," he said.
One of those next steps is the investigation. The board announced that trustee Kenneth C. Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., will chair the investigative committee, with state Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, an ex-officio board member, as vice chair.
They will employ resources, including use of outside counsel, in their review of how the Sandusky matter was handled.
"We're at the very beginning of this, and it's very hard for me to say what kind of time frame will be required in order to do this," Mr. Frazier said. "What I can promise you is what I said before, that we will do everything in our power to provide the university community -- the public, the parents, the students, the alums -- with the clearest understanding of what we're able to find out."
He said the committee will assess whether university officers and employees acted responsibly and consistent with internal policies, will hold parties accountable and will determine whether policies and procedures need to be changed to ensure protection of children.
Mr. Frazier declined to speculate on whether further personnel changes might be made before that investigation is complete.
Also unclear are plans to search for a permanent successor to Mr. Spanier. Though the matter was not addressed by the board publicly, Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, said the expectation is that a full search will be conducted.
The board, although it did not take a formal vote Friday, agreed to remove the word "interim" from Mr. Erickson's title.
"They wanted to show that their full support is behind him," Ms. Powers said.
The university, with an enrollment of more than 96,000 students and two dozen campuses statewide, has been reeling from a week of harsh national scrutiny.
"I want to help rebuild our confidence in who we are," said Mr. Erickson after he received a standing ovation upon his introduction at the trustees meeting. "I want all Penn Staters to know our future is still bright."
He continued, "My heart aches for the victims and the families and my mind searches for answers."
First Published November 12, 2011 12:07 am