HERSHEY Penn State trustee Ken Frazier is fed up — to put it lightly — with the criticism of the Freeh report and the board of trustees.
The fiery Frazier exploded with a verbal assault Thursday at a man running for a spot on the board who called into question the board’s use of the Freeh report and the report’s conclusions. The intense exchange came during a board committee meeting on legal matters in a Hershey-area hotel.
The man who posed the question was Bill Cluck, a Harrisburg lawyer, who said some of the questions over university leaders’ knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s shower incidents in 1998 and 2001 might be answered at trial. The Freeh report turned up emails that suggest university leaders, including the late head coach Joe Paterno, knew in 1998 but did not report another incident in 2001.
That’s when Frazier, the CEO of Merck, went off on Cluck:
“I believe that we are entitled to look at the words and contemporaneous emails and other documents that draw the conclusions that we need to draw as a university,” said Frazier, who oversaw the special task force and said they interviewed several law firms to investigate and then hired Louis Freeh’s.
“We are not subject to the criminal beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard, and you’re a lawyer, so you can stop pretending that you think we are,” Frazier told Cluck.
“We can take employment actions, we can take corrective actions without any need to resort to the so-called due process, reasonable doubt standard, and I don’t care if they are acquitted. And you know the difference.
“If you cared about that, you are one of the few people in this country that looks like you who actually believes the O.J. Simpson not guilty verdict was correct.
“The fact of the matter is, those documents say what they say, and no amount of hand-waving will ever change what those documents say.”
Frazier also told Cluck that attempts to rewrite history — presumably an implicit reference to the Paterno family’s report that sought to refute Louis Freeh’s findings — will damage the university.
“It is crystal clear that we, as a board, cannot and should not reinvestigate the Freeh investigation,” Frazier said.
Trustee Keith Eckel, the legal committee chairman, tried to smooth over the tone and asked that folks work together.
“This is a great university, and it’s great because we have great people, students, alumni faculty and a commonwealth that’s served by this land-grant institution,” Eckel said. “I urge all of us to come together for the purpose of this university serving every constituent.”
The tirade came after a much calmer — though equally incendiary to Paterno sympathizers — speech from Frazier that dismissed the Paterno family’s rebuttal to the Freeh report.
Frazier called the report by former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh and sex abuse expert Jim Clemente “just that — a report.”
Frazier said the Paterno report was not an independent investigation, it did not introduce new facts, and it did not provide the full historical record of what happened.
“In my personal opinion, the Paterno report strains to interpret the 1998 and 2001 emails and other documentation in ways that are at odds with the plain language of those documents,” Frazier said.
The Paterno report said there could have been other explanations about the 1998 email, which was written days after Penn State police received a report that Sandusky had showered with a young boy after a workout. Former athletic director Tim Curley wrote to then-administrator Gary Schultz that “coach is anxious to know where it stands.”
The Paterno report said the email could have been about Sandusky trying to start a football program at Penn State Altoona or about Sandusky’s retirement.
Other trustees have spoken out in defense of their actions, though they haven’t come off as fired up as Frazier.
Last week, trustees Paul Suhey, Paul Silvis, Stephanie Deviney and Keith Masser said they want to open up channels of communication. They apologized for the way Paterno was removed as head coach, but insisted his coaching had to come to an end given the circumstances and allegations. The trustees also said they have taken time to sit down with angry alumni and explain the decisions, which has helped reduce people’s ire.
Frazier also said people are wrong if they think the board has not reviewed the Freeh report, which has cost the university $8.1 million. The board reviewed it together in Scranton, where trustees were for a meeting last summer, the day it was released.
Frazier defended the board’s decision to release the Freeh report to the public before reviewing it. Frazier said internal reports are always first reviewed by boards or whoever the stakeholders are, but the board opted for a public release to assuage concerns it would not be independent.
Deviney nodded her head in agreement.
Alumna Wendy Silverwood questioned why the report was released via a news conference in Philadelphia.
The committee meeting was more, however, than the Ken Frazier show.
David Gray, the senior vice president for finance and business, said the university has implemented 83 of the 119 recommendations that came out of Freeh’s report. The recommendations include hiring a compliance and ethics director, a Clery Act coordinator, securing athletic facilities, instituting mandated reporting training to employees, among others.
Frazier said the recommendations are an “invaluable North Star” that will make the university stronger and more accountable.
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4611. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.