UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State trustees haven’t accepted the entire Freeh report as gospel, but instead are focused on its recommendations for improving the university. That was one of the board’s messages Friday at a meeting that included a public comment period for the first time.
The board has come under fire for embracing the findings of the investigation it paid former FBI director Louis Freeh to conduct into the university’s role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
But board member Mark Dambly said it isn’t accurate to say the board has accepted all 267 pages in the report. Instead, the board is looking at the report's 119 recommendations and going through a thoughtful process of whether they should be adopted and how.
“We haven’t carte blanche accepted everything in the Freeh report,” he said.
Dambly said the board accepted responsibility when it received the report in July because it’s the highest power at the university.
“People misinterpreted that we were accepting all of the conclusions that he drew in the report,” he said.
“I don’t think any of the trustees or the public believes that the entire culture of the university is flawed,” he added later.
Dambly said the board hasn’t taken a position on the guilt or innocence of the four leaders the Freeh report accused of trying to cover up Sandusky’s child abuse — Joe Paterno and administrators Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
Chairwoman Karen Peetz said the 119 recommendations are the most important part of moving forward.
“I think it’s very healthy ... every 160 some years you should probably take a look at how you’re governed and what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” she said. “I think it’s extremely productive and will take us into the next century as the best governed university in the world.”
She said there will always be people skeptical of what the board says.
Most of their remarks came during a press conference after Friday’s board meeting at the Nittany Lion Inn.
The meeting started with a public comment period, which caused a few sparks, including when several speakers were told their three minutes were up.
Patty Kirschner, the first person to address the board, asked why the board is implementing the recommendations in the Freeh report without determining its validity.
Chairwoman Karen Peetz said the board is focused on the section of the report with recommendations for good governance. She said the board doesn’t plan to do a detailed review of the rest of the Freeh report, sparking snickers from some in the audience.
Penn State graduate Cecelia Masella asked about the NCAA sanctions and discrepancies between what President Rodney Erickson said and what the former chairman of the NCAA executive committee said.
Erickson said he stands by his previous statements about what happened — that if Penn State hadn’t accepted the sanctions, it would have faced the death penalty.
“I still believe that was the best course of action given what we were faced with,” he said, adding it was the toughest decision he’s had to make in his career.
The board approved a state budget request of $289.5 million for 2013-14 or $10.6 million more than Penn State is getting this fiscal year.
The university has a $4.3 billion budget overall. This year funding from the state remained flat, following an almost 20 percent decrease the year before.
Penn State makes the budget request to the state each year, but it’s unclear if it influences the governor or General Assembly when they’re trying to balance the state’s books.
“This appropriation request is the first step in a lengthy and complex state budgeting process,” Erickson said.
Peetz said she has decided to leave the open alumni board seat unfilled. Steve Garban stepped down in July amid criticism for his role in responding the Sandusky allegations.
She said the fairest way to fill the seat would have been a special election, and logistically by the time the person was on the board, he or she would only have two meetings left. The seat expires in 2013.
Instead, she said, the board will gather alumni feedback other ways, including an alumni advisory group along with current trustees.
“We also have 22 alumni on the board, so we do feel the alumni are represented,” she said.
Penn State isn’t making money on the Freeh report, despite its presence on Amazon.
In response to a question, Dambly said someone is apparently packaging the report — which is a public document — and putting it up for sale.
Dambly said the university has asked the company to donate proceeds from the sale to charity.
Jim Broadhurst said the governance committee is discussing establishing rules for public statements made by board members regarding confidential and university matters.
“We all felt we should move forward in trying to develop those guidelines and policies ... with remedies embedded in the policy,” he said.
He said they will probably be ready for board discussion in November. It wasn’t immediately clear if the new policy is related to media leaks surrounding the Sandusky scandal.
The board plans to begin looking in November for Penn State's next president, who will take over when Erickson retires at the end of June 2014. Broadhurst said the process is expected to take at least a year, and the board wants to leave six months between when a decision is made and the date that person steps into the position.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @AnneDanahy