Penn St. trustees seek way forward amid scandal

A students walks in front of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in State College, Pa.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The arduous task of rebuilding Penn State's shattered image began Friday with a meeting of the university's board of trustees — the group that fired football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier this week amid a child sex abuse case against a former team assistant.

In front of an overflow crowd at a meeting that was moved from a hotel boardroom to a ballroom to accommodate more people, the trustees opened with Chairman Steve Garban welcoming interim President Rod Erickson. Gov. Tom Corbett was also on hand to help the board navigate a course through the turmoil.

Garban pledged to support Erickson as the board works "for the future of this institution that we respect and love."

Paterno and Spanier were fired Wednesday in the fallout of a shocking grand jury report alleging repeated, illicit contact between retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and boys as young as 10.

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Without mentioning Spanier or Paterno, Erickson told trustees that their deliberate and decisive action had set a course for the university's future.

Erickson said that his heart aches for the victims and their families, and that his role will be to restore confidence in the school's future, adhere to the highest standards of honesty and integrity and let Penn Staters know the university's future is still bright.

"I know we can do this. We are resilient; we are a university that will rebuild the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many years," Erickson said.

He also reiterated that the trustees will vote to form a special commission to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing, an initiative already announced this week.

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The board adjourned Friday without voting on the committee, but Garban said Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck, had volunteered to lead the committee. Ronald Tomalis, a trustee and state education secretary, volunteered to be vice chairman.

Paterno and Spanier were fired four days after a grand jury report charged Sandusky with a series of sexual assaults stretching back to the late 1990s.

The grand jury report alleges Sandusky assaulted eight boys, including one he allegedly raped in the university's football facility shower. Much of the alleged inappropriate contact with seven victims happened on Penn State's campus, where Sandusky maintained an office as an emeritus professor following his retirement.

The university expected such an overflow crowd that the trustees meeting was moved to the larger space — and it still didn't appear to be enough room for the throng of reporters and photographers who have descended on State College.

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But following the opening platitudes, the board began with routine business, discussing enrollment figures.

The university as a whole, however, has a long way to go before anything can be considered routine now that Paterno, whose 46 years leading the Nittany Lions turned him into an icon in the area known as Happy Valley and beyond, is gone. The school named defensive coordinator Tom Bradley interim coach on Thursday.

Sandusky served as Paterno's top defensive assistant for more than two decades and at one time was considered his heir apparent. But he abruptly retired in 1999, around the time the earliest assault in the grand jury report allegedly happened.

Authorities said Sandusky met many of his alleged victims through The Second Mile, a charity he founded to help at-risk youth.

Athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the 2002 assault to police, as required by state law.

All three maintain their innocence.

Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation, having fulfilled his legal requirement by reporting what then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told him to Curley and Schultz. But the state police commissioner called Paterno's failure to contact police or follow up on the incident a lapse in "moral responsibility."

Paterno has acknowledged that he should have done more but has not said why he didn't go to the police, nor has he said whether he was aware of any earlier alleged assaults. Aside from a few brief comments outside his house and two statements, Paterno has not spoken publicly since Sandusky was indicted.

According to the grand jury, McQueary told the grand jury that he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 in the showers at the Penn State football building in March 2002. McQueary later told Paterno, Curley and Schultz what he'd seen, according to the grand jury report.

Curley and Schultz — as well as Paterno — testified that they were told that Sandusky behaved inappropriately in that 2002 incident, but not to the extent of McQueary's graphic account to the grand jury.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly declined to say the same thing about Spanier.

The Nittany Lions face Nebraska on Saturday in an important matchup of Top 25 teams that will have postseason implications. Many fans are planning a "blue out" — rather than the usual "white out" — where attendees will don blue in a show of support for the victims.

McQueary, now the wide receivers coach, remains on the staff but will not work Saturday after school officials reported he has received multiple threats for going to his bosses instead of police.