PITTSBURGH - Penn State University President Rodney Erickson faces a crowd of alumni Wednesday in Pittsburgh, some of whom aren't happy about the way the school handled the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the firing of football coach Joe Paterno and a lack of transparency over the case.
Erickson is attempting to repair the school's image with alumni, faculty, staff, and students, more than two months since Sandusky was arrested, bringing with it controversy, criticism and contemplation.
Some alumni have criticized the school failing to conduct a complete investigation before firing Paterno and ousting Erickson's predecessor, Graham Spanier, while decrying the school's leadership as secretive and slow to act.
Erickson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday that former president Spanier informed members of the board of trustees about the Sandusky grand jury investigation months before he was charged in November.
He said he did not know details of what was discussed when Spanier met with board members in May or July when Erickson was the university's provost.
"I have no idea, because I wasn't there," the paper quoted Erickson as saying. "Nor did I know it was taking place."
Spanier was ousted amid the scandal and replaced by Erickson, who said Tuesday he will step down when his contract ends in 2014.
The sessions in the three cities are being sponsored by the Penn State Alumni Association, which has received and responded to thousands of emails and phone calls about the scandal, association president Roger Williams said.
Some attending are eager for answers and explanations about the university's actions since early November.
Monica Thomas, who graduated with an architectural engineering degree in 1985 and has two children enrolled at Penn State, will attend the Pittsburgh town hall but has low expectations. She watched a similar event in State College for students and staff and was not impressed.
"I don't think they really gave any answers," Thomas said. "But we shall see you're allowed to submit questions. They're reaching out, but I don't think it's going to do much."
Alumni want transparency, said Virginia A. Feinman, a television news assignment editor who plans to attend the New York forum.
"I hope that they listen to us," said Feinman, a 2003 college graduate with a degree in English and journalism. "I hope that they come in with an open mind and actually listen to what the students and alumni have to say and truly hear why we are so upset. It has nothing to do with football it has to do with the veil of secrecy that's been operated under for what appears to be numerous years."
Thomas and Feinman are both members of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a group that believes Paterno's firing and the ouster of Spanier were mishandled. The organization hopes to back candidates to run for elected alumni seats on the Board of Trustees.
Some university trustees like the meetings.
Trustee Marianne Alexander said it's good that Erickson is providing an opportunity for alumni to weigh in on the scandal and give their opinion on the university's response to it.
"It's important for President Erickson to be able to hear what they have to say and also to explain his point of view," said Alexander, president emerita of the Public Leadership Education Network and a resident of the Washington area. "So I think it's very healthy. I'm glad he's doing it."
Sandusky faces 52 criminal counts that involve 10 alleged victims over 15 years. Gary Schultz, a former vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, are charged with perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse. All three have denied the allegations and await trial.
Longtime football coach Paterno was fired amid the scandal. He was replaced last week by New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
Trustee Linda B. Strumpf of New York, retired chief investment officer for the Helmsley Charitable Trust, praised Erickson's handling of the scandal.
"I guess what you don't want to see is people taking out their frustrations or whatever on him," Strumpf said. "He was not part of the investigation he's not part of the problem, he's part of the solution. So I just hope those people will be civil and treat him with the respect he deserves."
Strumpf said the focus at the meetings should be on plans for the future, and not on past events such as Paterno's firing.
"If people ask (Erickson) about it, he wasn't in the room and wasn't really involved," Strumpf said. "They're not going to get much out of him on that subject."