PSU trustee: We had no choice over firings
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's trustees were as stunned as the rest of the world when news broke about the grand jury investigation of former Nittany Lions assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was arrested last Saturday and charged with 40 counts of child sexual abuse over a period of 15 years.
When it became clear coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier had failed to report Sandusky's alleged crimes to legal authorities, the board had no choice but to fire them.
"We felt the leadership had to be changed fairly quickly,'' trustee Linda Stumpf told Newsday. "We were shocked and saddened. None of us had any idea. We've known these people for 15, 30 years, but nobody had a clue.''
Shortly after a grand jury report was issued, Stumpf said the trustees had a series of conference calls leading to the Wednesday night meeting when the decision to fire Spanier and Paterno was made.
It was a gut-wrenching process, Stumpf said.
The grand jury report said that assistant coach Mike McQueary allegedy witnessed a sexual abuse incident in 2002, which he reported to Paterno, who passed it up the chain of command. Former athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz, who was in charge of university police, were indicted on charges of perjury in their grand jury testimony and for failure to report the incident to legal authorities.
The process following McQueary's revelation, Stumpf said, "was unacceptable.''
Paterno was in his 46th year as head coach and had just reached a record 409 victories while running a program with no major rules violations, and his philanthropy at Penn State was part of his legend. So the trustees were under extreme pressure to allow Paterno to go out on his own terms by finishing the season.
"It was a very difficult set of conversations because there was great loyalty to coach Paterno for good reasons,'' said Stumpf, a Sands Point resident who is the retired chief investment officer of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. "Like [interim coach] Tom Bradley said, he's been extremely influential in many lives at the university.
"He and his wife have donated a lot of money, and he's helped a lot of people. The library has his name on it. We knew it was going to be very upsetting. I've met Paterno a few times, but a lot of [trustees] have known Paterno for many years. But you have to do what's best for the institution.''
The firing demonstrated Penn State was bigger than one person.
"That was the clear message," Stumpf said. She added that it's important to show the outside world the school represents far more than a successful football program and said the board of trustees would like new president Rod Erickson "to stay as long as he wants to.''
On Friday, trustee Kenneth C. Frazier was named to head an internal investigation aimed at finding out how the system broke down and who might have known about Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse and failed to report it. Stumpf said the trustees are concerned about the university's exposure to civil lawsuits, which is good reason for the school to clean house in the football program to make a fresh start.
"It will be part of the investigation,'' Stumpf said. "What is the level of knowledge on the coaching staff? I don't think we know right now. It's to our advantage to wrap this up as expeditiously as possible. But don't whitewash it, and you can't step on the attorney general's [criminal] investigation.''
Why didn't McQueary go to legal authorities with his allegations when Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier failed to pursue prosecution of Sandusky? That is the multimillion-dollar question.
"There's a power structure,'' Stumpf said. "It's easy to say in hindsight, 'Why didn't anyone come forward?' In any work situation, hierarchy makes a difference. People are afraid for their careers.''
Stumpf compared it to newspaper crime stories where the neighbors say of the suspect, "He was a nice guy.'' In Penn State's bucolic corner of the world, Stumpf said, "People who have known them for many years never would have predicted anything like this.''