Penn State president to face alumni

PITTSBURGH -- Penn State University President Rodney Erickson will face 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.

It's the first of three town hall meetings scheduled this week, two months into Erickson's tenure as president. The next will be in King of Prussia, a Philadelphia suburb, on Thursday followed by one in New York City on Friday. The New York meeting is to be broadcast live online.

Some university trustees like the meetings, but other Penn State supporters aren't so sure about them.

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 Joe Paterno was fired amid the scandal. He was replaced last week by New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.

Erickson is attempting to repair the school's image with alumni, faculty, staff, and students.

Erickson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday that his processor, Graham 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.

Spanier was ousted amid the scandal and replaced by Erickson, who said Tuesday he will step down when his contract ends in 2014.

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."

The sessions 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.

Monica Thomas, who graduated with an architectural engineering degree in 1985 and has two children enrolled at Penn State, plans to attend the Pittsburgh town hall but has low expectations. Thomas said she watched a similar event in State College for students and staff and was not impressed with Erickson and the other administrators.

"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.

The Penn Stater magazine, the association's bi-monthly publication for graduates, devoted most of its January issue to the topic. Coverage featured nearly two dozen stories or essays and included recollections of the scandal's tumultuous first week, highlighted by the departures of Paterno and Spanier.

Stories also covered issues related to child sex abuse and the scandal's lasting impact on the university.

The dark cover designed by art director Carole Otypka has the letters of the magazine's title jumbled along the bottom of the page, instead of the top. The black letters are against a slightly lighter background and next to a small headline in gray type that reads, "Our Darkest Days."

The cover "was just trying to capture the mood of Penn Staters ... which was a sense of collapse and confusion," editor Tina Hay said Tuesday.

The association is a quasi-independent arm of the university, but "at no time did anybody say, 'You can't do that,"' said Hay, citing what she called the magazine's tradition of candid reporting.

She plans to include one or two feature stories about the topic in each issue for the foreseeable future.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

College football video

Newsday Sports on Facebook

advertisement | advertise on newsday