Penn St. prez tries again to calm alumni

Penn St. prez tries again to calm alumni

Published Jan. 13, 2012 12:00 a.m. ET

Penn State President Rodney Erickson is facing university alumni for the third time in as many days.

Erickson opened his final town hall Friday night in New York, where about 300 people packed a hotel ballroom in lower Manhattan. He previously made stops in Pittsburgh and suburban Philadelphia, answering questions from the audience in sometimes heated exchanges.

Meetings this week between Erickson and alumni were intended to calm anger about how the university has dealt with a child sex abuse scandal involving longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Instead, the sessions have triggered more anguish and another round of introspection for the people who love the school and its football program.


Troy Krone, Class of 1995, would have driven from his home in New Jersey to State College if it had meant the opportunity to attend such an event.

"What you hear over and over is `transparency,'" he said of alums' biggest concern before Friday's town hall in New York. "It didn't sound like that was coming out too clearly (in the first two meetings)."

Still, he understands why the university would hold the events now even if Erickson can't fully answer many queries yet.

"They'll probably have to do a second road show," he said.

Gene Burak, Class of 1967, said he wanted to hear about the future, not the past.

"I'm not looking for a rehash," he said. "I've read enough about that stuff in articles and blogs."

The harshest criticism at stops this week in suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have been reserved for the school's Board of Trustees and its actions in the immediate aftermath of the criminal charges against Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator. Among the critics' top grievances: the firing of longtime coach Joe Paterno.

And Friday night, that was the first question asked by the audience Friday night — "where is the due process for Joe Paterno?"

The teary-eyed young woman's question was greeted with about 30 seconds of applause.

Many alumni are seeking redress for the closed-door firing of Paterno, who was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after being fired and was re-hospitalized Friday.

"Certainly my best wishes go out to Joe and his family," Erickson said. "I was very sad to hear that Joe was back in the hospital for complications from his chemo. We certainly wish Joe a complete recovery."

When asked about plans to honor the Paterno family, Erickson said there no timeline for such a celebration and encouraged alumni to submit their ideas.

In his opening remarks Friday night, Erickson said he "bleeds blue and white" and that these meetings with alumni are evidence of his commitment to create an atmosphere of greater openness and communication.

It's that perceived lack of communication by trustees in the two months since Paterno's firing on Nov. 9 that has roiled many graduates.

On Thursday night, Erickson withstood the heat of perhaps a dozen heated questions over 90 minutes. He frequently said the questions could only be answered by the Board of Trustees, though he also said he supported the decision to fire Paterno.

"I think the board felt that they had to take very decisive action under very difficult kinds of circumstances," Erickson said.

The 67-year-old Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He maintains his innocence and remains out on $250,000 bail while awaiting trial. A charity he founded called The Second Mile, through which he met many of his alleged victims, said Friday it was selling a 60-acre property where it had been building an educational center.

Two Penn State administrators are facing charges they lied to a grand jury investigating Sandusky and failed to properly report suspected child abuse. Gary Schultz, a former vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, have denied the allegations and await trial.

Paterno in early 2002 passed along a report of alleged sex abuse by Sandusky to his bosses but did not notify police. However, Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation.