Leadership & Governance

Penn State Board Accepts Blame and Pledges Change in Response to Freeh Report

Eric Thayer, Reuters

Rodney A. Erickson, Penn State's president, spoke at a news conference on Friday with Karen B. Peetz, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees. He later told the trustees: "I commit to loop you in on anything I think is important or deserves your attention."
July 13, 2012

[Updated (7/13/2012, 5:34 p.m.) with news of additional board action.]

The day after an independent review lambasted Pennsylvania State University's leadership and Board of Trustees for their responses to a child-sex-abuse scandal, the board's leader promised a new era of reforms and accepted "full responsibility for each of the failures that occurred."

Karen B. Peetz, chairwoman of the board, pledged during a Friday meeting of the trustees that the university would immediately take steps to put in place recommendations from the report, which exhaustively details the university's tepid response to allegations that Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach, had inappropriate contact with young boys on the campus.

Mr. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 victims over 15 years.

"It is sufficient to say that the investigation concluded that certain people at the university who were in a position to protect children or confront the predator failed to do so," Ms. Peetz said at the meeting, which was carried on a live Webcast. "What the report also concluded was that the Board of Trustees failed to provide proper oversight of the university."

The trustees commissioned Louis J. Freeh, a former FBI director, to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sandusky's crimes. On Thursday, Mr. Freeh produced a 267-page document that contains more than 100 bulleted recommendations to respond to weaknesses in "culture, governance, administration, compliance policies, and procedures for protecting children."

"The board takes these recommendations seriously, and I want you to know that they will result in changes beginning here and beginning today," Ms. Peetz said. "Today we will consider a number of immediate next steps with the objective of ensuring that a collapse in leadership of this magnitude never happens again."

Rodney A. Erickson, the university's president, said at the meeting that he would appoint a team of administrators to make operational changes in response to the Freeh report. The team will include Thomas G. Poole, vice president for administration; David J. Gray, senior vice president for finance and business; and Stephen S. Dunham, who has been named the university's next vice president and general counsel.

The board will also form a parallel task force to respond to the recommendations.

Mr. Erickson said it was imperative that the university go beyond reforming itself and emerge as a leader in research and outreach on matters related to child welfare. This fall Penn State will hold a national conference on sexual abuse. The university has also offered Mr. Sandusky's victims free counseling coordinated through Praesidium Inc., an abuse risk-management company.

"While yesterday's issuance of the Freeh report provides some clarity for our community, it does not undo the pain that the victims of Jerry Sandusky have experienced and continue to experience," Mr. Erickson said.

Mr. Erickson succeeded Graham B. Spanier, who was fired as president last November, following the release of a grand-jury report that detailed the allegations against Mr. Sandusky and the university's response.

The Freeh report is particularly critical of Mr. Spanier, who did not inform board members when he was told Mr. Sandusky had showered with boys on the campus in 1998 and in 2001. Moreover, he failed to tell the board about approving a plan not to report the 2001 incident to authorities, the investigation found.

In response to questions from trustees on Friday, Mr. Erickson stressed that the board had the "ultimate responsibility" for the institution. He also encouraged board members to freely contact members of his staff, rather than feeling "everything has to go through me as a funnel."

"I commit to loop you in on anything I think is important or deserves your attention," Mr. Erickson said.