As emotions continue to swirl around Penn State’s larger-than-life statue of Joe Paterno, the university president is methodically seeking input from trustees, alumni and others about the fate of the monument.
The statue has become a lightning rod since an investigation concluded the Hall of Fame football coach and other top university officials concealed child sex abuse allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago.
President Rodney Erickson is expected to announce his decision next week.
Predictably, it will be unpopular no matter what.
Many of Paterno’s supporters will be incensed if the bronze statue comes down. But critics say it would be unseemly to leave the statue in place in the wake of an internal investigation that found Paterno, ousted President Graham Spanier and two other Penn State officials covered up a 2001 allegation against Sandusky to shield the university from bad publicity.
Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after felony convictions of abuse involving 10 boys.
Paterno’s family and lawyers for Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz vehemently deny any suggestion they protected a pedophile and call the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh inaccurate.
The statue, nearly 7 feet tall and weighing more than 900 pounds, was erected in 2001 in honor of Paterno’s record-setting 324th Division I coaching victory and his ”contributions to the university.”
As he weighs its fate, Erickson must also consider how the NCAA will react if he leaves the monument in its current location outside Beaver Stadium. The governing body is investigating whether Penn State lost ”institutional control” of its athletic program, and it could level harsh sanctions – including a complete shutdown of the lucrative football program – depending on the outcome of the probe.
In a conference call Thursday night, Penn State trustees asked Erickson for an update on the statue. Erickson replied that he is continuing his outreach, and he invited board members to share their thoughts with him, either on the call or privately, a trustee told The Associated Press. The trustee spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because the board discussion was private.
On the same call, trustees learned that former board Chairman Steve Garban had tendered his resignation.
Garban was harshly criticized over his handling of the Sandusky scandal, and last week’s explosive report by Freeh significantly increased the pressure on him to resign with its revelation that Garban knew that Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were about to be charged, but failed to alert the entire board.
Garban’s resignation letter contained no apology. It said that Garban had ”devoted” his adult life to Penn State, but his continued presence on the board had ”become a distraction” as the school tries to move forward from the Sandusky scandal.
His resignation leaves vacant one of the nine alumni seats on the 32-member board. The board’s bylaws empower Chairwoman Karen Peetz to appoint a replacement to fill Garban’s unexpired term. She also has the option of leaving it vacant until the regular election next spring. Peetz did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Friday.
Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group that pushes for strong trustee leadership, said Garban’s resignation should have come a long time ago.
As a former university vice president and treasurer who reported to Spanier, Garban failed to exercise oversight, she said.
”Steve Garban underscores one of the central problems of the Penn State Board – the insularity and lack of independence!” she said via email. ”Boards shouldn’t be a revolving door for university employees.”
Garban did not immediately return a phone message.
Neal also faulted the board for deferring to Erickson – a former university provost who once reported to Spanier and approved emeritus status for Sandusky upon his 1999 retirement – on the statue and other matters. ”Is the board afraid of its shadow?”