Penn State trustees act with emphasis on future
Penn State University's attempt to move past the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal advanced Friday with formal announcement of a presidential search, a new athletics code of conduct and word the school's accreditation warning had been lifted.
But school trustees, meeting on Penn State's University Park campus, nevertheless received yet another reminder that anger among school alumni and others over the board's handling of the Sandusky case has not gone away. The public comment period recently added to board meetings drew a fresh round of criticism and calls for resignations of board members serving prior to November 2011.
"You've proven time and again that many of you are liars, cowards and hypocrites," one man said, taking the microphone Friday inside the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.
University leaders did not respond to the criticisms but spent much of the meeting looking ahead.
Trustees said they hope to identify a successor to Penn State president Rodney Erickson by November 2013. To that end, the board announced a multi-layered search process for its 18th president that board chairwoman Karen Peetz said would seek guidance from all Penn State constituencies.
"I assure you we'll make it an inclusive process," she said.
A 16-member presidential search and screen committee will be formed to advertise the position, recruit candidates and oversee the initial round of screening, Ms. Peetz said. Its members will include eight faculty, two deans or chancellors, one member of the president's executive staff, three students, one alumni member and one staff member.
The committee will forward nominated individuals to a 13-member Trustee Presidential Selection Council, which will be chaired by Ms. Peetz and include 11 other trustees, as well as Peter G. Tombros, chairman of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students.
The council will conduct additional reviews and interviews before the choice is announced.
Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach at Penn State, was convicted in June of sexually assaulting 10 boys over a 15-year period, some on campus. The university's former president Graham Spanier and two other administrators have been charged criminally in connection with an alleged cover-up.
The scandal also led to the firing of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, triggering outrage from alumni and other supporters over what they called a rush-to-judgment on the board's part.
Despite publicity and fallout from the scandal, Ms. Peetz predicted there would be "great interest" in the presidency of the 96,000-student flagship public university.
Mr. Erickson, who became president a year ago after Mr. Spanier was forced to resign, has said he will stay until his contract expires in June 2014, or until the school's new president is in place.
Also at Friday's meeting, trustees adopted an intercollegiate code of conduct mandated by the consent decree imposed in July by the NCAA and accepted by the university. The document, intended to promote a broad range of ethical behavior, covers individuals from coaches and others directly involved with athletics teams to the university president and school trustees.
Mr. Erickson, in his remarks to the board, said the organization that accredits Penn State has lifted a warning placed on the school in August amid fallout from the Sandusky case. He said the Middle States Commission on Higher Education's review team "also acknowledged the university's resilience, fiscal stability and rapid change in the face of numerous challenges."
"After a thorough review, the team determined that Penn State is responding appropriately to the leadership, governance and financial challenges created by the scandal," Mr. Erickson said.
The board listened to a report that said despite a turbulent year, the university's finances were generally sound and its balance sheet for the first time exceeded $10 billion. But Penn State's operating margin has slipped, largely due to growing pension obligations, state funding cuts and costs related to the Sandusky matter.
Mr. Erickson told the board the university's total enrollment grew slightly to 96,562 students. He said undergraduate applications to date of 27,000 are slightly down from levels the previous two years and are roughly on par with 2009's numbers.
"As they say, even Harvard recruits," Mr. Erickson told the board. "And we have stepped up our in-state, out-of-state and international recruiting efforts this cycle to attract the best possible students."
First Published November 17, 2012 12:00 am