Leadership & Governance

Pressure Mounts on Penn State Trustee to Resign

April 07, 2017

Nabil K. Mark, Centre Daily Times, AP Images
The chairman of Pennsylvania State U.’s board declined days ago to condemn comments by Albert Lord (pictured), who said he was "running out of sympathy" for Jerry Sandusky’s sexual-abuse victims. Now the chairman, Ira Lubert, is calling for Mr. Lord’s resignation.
The chairman of Pennsylvania State University’s board, who last week declined to condemn a fellow trustee’s inflammatory remarks about Jerry Sandusky’s sexual-abuse victims, called on Thursday for his embattled colleague to resign, and labeled the comments "offensive and embarrassing."

The chairman’s statement came eight days into a firestorm over the publication of comments by Albert L. Lord, a Penn State trustee, who told a Chronicle reporter that he was "running out of sympathy" for Mr. Sandusky’s "so-called victims."

"Trustee Al Lord’s remarks about the brave victims of Jerry Sandusky were offensive and embarrassing to the majority of the members of the Penn State Board of Trustees, the university community, and all victims of sexual assault. We strongly condemn them," Ira M. Lubert, the chairman, and Mark H. Dambly, the vice chairman, said in a joint statement.

"Members of this board must hold themselves to a higher standard and represent our university with respect for all," the statement continued. "While Mr. Lord has publicly announced he no longer intends to run for re-election to the board, he should do the right thing and step down immediately."

‘So-Called Victims’

Mr. Lord is a strong supporter of Graham B. Spanier, the ousted former president of Penn State, who last month was convicted on a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of children. Mr. Spanier and two of his lieutenants, who pleaded guilty to the same charge, were found criminally liable for the ramifications of failing to report a 2001 incident in which Mr. Sandusky, a former Nittany Lions assistant football coach, showered with a young boy.

That decision, prosecutors argued, may have allowed Mr. Sandusky, who is in prison for molesting 10 boys, to abuse more victims.

In the five and a half years since Mr. Sandusky’s arrest, Penn State has paid out legal settlements of nearly $93 million to more than 30 victims.

After the verdict in Mr. Spanier’s trial, Mr. Lord vented his frustrations in an email to a Chronicle reporter.

"Running out of sympathy for 35 yr old, so-called victims with 7 digit net worth," wrote Mr. Lord, a former chief executive of Sallie Mae, the student-loan company. "Do not understand why they were so prominent in trial. As you learned, Graham Spanier never knew Sandusky abused anyone."

Thursday’s statement by the board’s leadership is the latest development in a controversy that has escalated since March 30, when The Chronicle first published the remarks. Days later, Mr. Lord offered a parsing and defiant apology, suggesting a distinction between "real" and "alleged" victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse.

"Though quoted accurately it was too flippant and caustic; the comment conflates many deeply held sentiments in a sentence too short to reflect accurately my views about victims in this case," Mr. Lord wrote in a statement to the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper. "This quote was directed specifically at ‘so-called victims.’ It was certainly not intended to offend ‘real victims.’"

Mr. Lord, who did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Thursday, declared this week that he would not seek re-election to Penn State’s board.

Slow to Condemn

The trustees’ belated condemnation of Mr. Lord’s comments acknowledges divisions among the 38-member board, noting only that "the majority of the members" found his words offensive. More than that, the statement shows a university that is still struggling to craft an appropriate public response to a scandal that has pitted internal loyalties to Penn State officials against sympathy for abuse victims.

During Mr. Spanier’s trial, prosecutors fixated on how, in 2011, he neglected to say anything about Mr. Sandusky’s victims when he wrote an early public statement on the matter. He skipped over the victims in his first draft, a public-relations official testified, and focused instead on his unyielding faith in his two lieutenants, Timothy M. Curley and Gary C. Schultz, who were then Penn State’s athletics director and senior vice president for finance and business, respectively. Mr. Spanier later added a sentence about the victims, at the suggestion of the public-relations official.

Before The Chronicle’s publication of Mr. Lord’s comments, Penn State officials provided a statement that was attributed to Mr. Lubert, the board’s chairman, who said that Mr. Lord’s remarks were "personal and do not represent the opinions of the board or the university."

At the time, The Chronicle pressed Lawrence H. Lokman, Penn State’s director of strategic communications, on the statement, noting that it did not condemn Mr. Lord’s remarks or even characterize them as inappropriate or insensitive.

"Appreciate the question," Mr. Lokman wrote in an email. "They’ve said what they wish to say about this."

Asked why, days later, in the midst of public scrutiny, Mr. Lubert wrote a far-more-forceful statement, Mr. Lokman replied, "Speaks for itself. Nothing to add to it."

Jack Stripling covers college leadership, particularly presidents and governing boards. Follow him on Twitter @jackstripling, or email him at jack.stripling@chronicle.com.