University leaders answer questions on Freeh report

SCRANTON, Pa. -- Penn State President Rodney Erickson, Board of Trustees Chairman Karen Peetz and Board member Ken Frazier took questions from members of the media on July 12, several hours after former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh released a report detailing an independent investigation into the University's actions related to child abuse charges against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The press conference followed the release of an official statement from the Board.

The remarks can be viewed at http://goo.gl/Tdbq4 online.

The report, released after an eight-month investigation, indicates that University leaders in key positions failed to report suspicions of child abuse to proper authorities, and states that they concealed Sandusky’s actions from the Board of Trustees and the University community, as well as authorities.

“If there’s one thing that should be abundantly clear, it is that all responsible and caring adults have a responsibility to safeguard the children in our community,” Frazier said.

The report also contains 120 recommendations for consideration by the board and University leadership. They are designed to strengthen policies and procedures related to the identification and reporting of misconduct at Penn State, as well as recommending changes to the structure and operation of the board and improvements to administrative processes, among other recommendations.

The Board of Trustees, Freeh’s report states, failed in its oversight duties by not inquiring more extensively about University matters and not creating an environment where senior officials considered themselves accountable.

Frazier said the board failed to provide proper oversight, as trustees remained unaware of the allegations against Sandusky from when they were first reported in 1998 until 2011, though it acted decisively once information became public in November 2011. Administrative leaders -- including at the time President Graham Spanier, Coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz -- failed to protect children when they had the opportunity and failed to provide adequate information to the board, he said.

“Our hearts remain heavy and we are deeply ashamed,” Frazier said.

“The Board of Trustees, a group that has paramount accountability for overseeing and ensuring the proper functioning and governance of the University, accepts full responsibility for the failures that occurred,” Peetz said. “The board, in cooperation with the administration, is working to make sure an event like this never happens again in our community. We’re grateful to Judge Freeh for his report and its recommendations. We will be closely studying this report as we identify and implement necessary changes across the entire University.”

Beyond providing a greater understanding of what happened in the past, Peetz said Freeh’s report also offers a roadmap to help the University continue to move forward.

“We will set very high goals for ourselves,” Peetz said. “We must become a best-in-class standard of board governance and keep Judge Freeh’s recommendations as our north star throughout this process. Above all we must restore trust in our community. We don’t expect it to happen overnight. We will earn it back as we move forward and develop a culture of transparency and accountability.”

Peetz said work to fully digest, comprehend and grasp the wide-ranging nature of the 267-page report already has begun. She has directed the board’s individual committees to review all portions of the report that apply to their specific functions, and provide recommendations. In addition, President Erickson has named an internal team, comprising Tom Poole, vice president for administration; David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business; and new general counsel Steve Dunham, pending his approval by the board, to continue to analyze the report. This administrative task force will review and consider the report's recommendations and develop an action plan to translate Freeh’s applicable recommendations into a comprehensive program for the University.

Throughout the review and implementation process, Peetz pledged that University leadership would update the community on its progress at http://www.progress.psu.edu.

Erickson said he and other leaders realize that there are many challenges ahead for the University and its community, but he is certain that with the collective efforts of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, Penn State will emerge a stronger institution.

“With today’s report we can continue the process of addressing the most painful chapter in the University’s history,” he said. “We must work together as we begin picking up the pieces and rebuilding our community to ensure it is safer, stronger and more student-focused than ever.”

The president said since assuming office in November he and the board have worked together to significantly improve communication and shared accountability. Additionally, he promised to continue work to move the University forward as a leader in the national conversation about the prevention of child abuse.

“While in no way lessening our focus on our own failings, we also are committed to building greater awareness to the societal issue of child abuse,” Erickson said. “We are partnering with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and have created the Center for the Protection of Children at the Hershey Medical Center. This is a problem that plagues our nation, and we have a special duty to increase awareness, treatment and prevention of child sexual abuse.”

The University and the Board of Trustees already have taken steps to implement interim recommendations delivered by Freeh in January. University leadership has taken a number of actions, including strengthening policies and programs involving minors; ensuring a process for prompt reporting of abuse and sexual misconduct; hiring a new, full-time Clery Compliance Coordinator and providing Clery Act training for employees; establishing a position of, and commencing a national search for, a director of University Compliance; improving and clarifying policies related to background checks for employees; instituting a new policy to limit access to athletic facilities; and restructuring within the Board of Trustees to ensure stronger governance of the University and more communication with constituencies.

“We thank Judge Freeh for his diligence in uncovering the facts over the past eight months and issuing such a comprehensive and thorough report,” Frazier said. “The process we underwent with Judge Freeh was critical for all of us to move forward. We needed to understand what happened, to hold the appropriate individuals responsible for their failure to act and identify the changes that need to be immediately addressed in our community.

“This marks a new era for Penn State. With a mixture of humility and steadfastness we pledge to work closely and cooperatively with the administration in diligently facilitating open communication across all departments and levels of the University for the benefit of children on our campus and for the benefit of every part of the university,” Frazier added.

The University leaders said that the Penn State community will come together to improve and remain a top university.

“We are rightly proud of the many significant accomplishments of our faculty, staff, students and alumni,” Erickson said. “Penn State is a leading institution of higher education in the world. That will remain unchanged. With the help of our students, faculty, staff and alumni, Penn State will emerge from this as an even stronger and better institution.”

Contacts: 
Last Updated November 26, 2012