UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For the first time as president of Penn State, Rodney Erickson on Tuesday (Dec. 6) delivered remarks to the University Faculty Senate, discussing events of the past month that have put the University in the headlines. His remarks were followed by questions from Senators and a forensic session to discuss a resolution passed on Nov. 18 addressing issues stemming from the child sex abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky and charges of perjury against two administrators.
"My job is to help us heal, to help us move forward," Erickson said. "I want to reassure that the actions of any individual or individuals do not, and must not, define who we are."
Erickson said that the University is committed to confronting child abuse. He noted the recent announcement of a partnership with Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and National Sexual Violence Resource Center, adding that plans are under way for an academic initiative to make Penn State a national leader in the study, treatment and prevention of child abuse.
“We will not run away from this issue,” he said. “It is an issue that, in many ways, has been thrust upon us. It’s our responsibility now to be a national leader on the issue of child abuse … to hopefully create some good out of something that has been such a tragedy. We are prepared to do the right thing.”
He also said part of his job is to listen. After participating in a student-organized town hall forum last week and meeting with Faculty Senate on Tuesday, he also will speak to Staff Advisory Council this week and meet with legislators in Harrisburg next week.
Erickson added that the University must focus on its academic excellence and ensuring that academics is the face of Penn State, “because that’s what has made us a great institution.” He stressed the University's core values of honesty, excellence and a sense of community, values that Erickson said have long defined Penn State.
In response to a question about the impartiality of the Board of Trustees' special task force named to conduct an independent investigation into the University’s actions related to the allegations of child abuse involving Sandusky, Erickson said he believes the team led by former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh will produce an independent investigation. He described Freeh's time commitment to the investigation as "extensive."
“There are going to be no whitewashes, no sweeping under the rug,” Erickson said. “I firmly believe that the way this team is structured, the way it is drawn up … it will be a thorough and independent investigation.”
In thanking the senators for their continuing good work on behalf of Penn State and its students, Erickson said, “We will move ahead a better, stronger university.”
The Senate's forensic session centered on the resolution passed in a special meeting held on Nov. 18 and was guided by the question of "How might the Senate provide collaborative leadership (with students, faculty, administrators and trustees) to enhance transparency across the University and the effectiveness of shared governance?"
Senators raised concerns and suggestions about a variety of issues resulting from recent events. Most notably, senators suggested increased roles for the Senate in University governance and expressed concerns about the perceived and actual independence and impartiality of the Board of Trustees' special task force, as well as its scope and how it will function.
Some senators suggested more direct communication with the Board of Trustees, as well as a separate investigative committee comprised of a majority of individuals unaffiliated with the University.
Senator Anthony Ambrose made a motion for the Senate to take a vote of “no-confidence” in the Board of Trustees and request the resignation of the members of the board. The motion was seconded, and because it occurred during forensic session, will be brought before the Senate at a future meeting.
Senate Chair Dan Hagen will collect the comments and suggestions made during the forensic session and discuss with Senate Council for potential action or further discussion at the Jan. 24 Faculty Senate meeting.
The Senate also approved two legislative reports
• Senators approved revisions to Senate Policy 37-70 Academic Classification of Students by Semester. The revisions “readjust the semester classification credit thresholds” with most semester spans set at 15 credits
The legislative change will have no impact on how tuition is calculated, since the boundary between upper and lower division was maintained at 59.1 credits. For the full report, go to http://senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/dec2011/appc.pdf
• The Senate also approved revisions to Senate Policy 67-00 Athletic Competition to better reflect academic progress requirements of the NCAA and Big Ten. The revised policy will measure percentage of credits that count toward a degree rather than a count of total credits earned. For the full report, see http://senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/dec2011/appd.pdf.