UNIVERSITY PARK — Rodney Erickson retires Sunday as president of Penn State, but he’s leaving with some nice parting gifts.
The university’s board of trustees voted unanimously Friday to rename Penn State’s food science building, home of the Berkey Creamery, for Erickson, and showered him with other accolades.
Most visible of those will be the Rodney A. Erickson Food Science Building, where visitors and students will line up for their Peachy Paterno Alumni Swirl.
“I can’t think of a better way to honor my roots in agriculture, and my love for ice cream,” Erickson told the Penn State board of trustees Friday after it bestowed the honor upon him.
It was one in a number of tributes Friday for Erickson in recognition of his 37 years at Penn State, including the past two as president and 12 before that as executive vice president and provost.
Board President Keith Masser praised Erickson on Friday for stepping into the role of president in a time of turmoil for the university, which was reeling from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
“He did so under unprecedented circumstances, and leaves behind a 37-year legacy of unwavering dedication, service and support of Penn State’s faculty, staff and students, as well as its educational mission,” Masser said. “I am honored to have had the privilege of working with Dr. Erickson for a small part of his exemplary Penn State career and to experience first hand his devoted leadership to Penn State.”
In addition to naming a building for him, the trustees voted unanimously to make Erickson president emeritus, tacked on an extra $50,000 to a $100,000 bonus he was to receive and awarded him a special medal it reserves for those who have made outstanding contributions to higher education.
The trustees gave Erickson the Penn State Medal, which has only been awarded three times since 1987. It has been handed out to two former presidents, Bryce Jordan and Joab Thomas.
Each medal is unique, and Erickson’s was made by Penn State carpenter Rob Knapik, who crafted it from a Penn State elm.
The university also has established a grant program in Erickson’s name, and private gifts totaling $500,000 have already been pledged from trustees, administrators, academic leaders and volunteers. The program will establish stipends to benefit the studies of undergraduate students, Penn State said in a statement.
Erickson received standing ovations throughout the meeting, and at one point, a video honoring Erickson was shown, featuring university leaders, incoming president Eric Barron and Erickson’s wife, Shari, among others.
“I am so grateful and touched by these wonderful acknowledgments of recognition,” he said. “But I have to say really that I accept these on behalf of the faculty, staff, students and alumni who have made Penn State the great institution that it is.
“I think Bryce Jordan said it best when he said Penn State is a university worth loving,” Erickson said.
Not all stood for Erickson, though. A group remained seated through the ovations and the honors. Several people who signed up to speak were critical of Erickson, the trustees and their handling of the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal.
Eileen Morgan, a Penn State graduate, said the board unnecessarily put blame on Penn State and scapegoated Joe Paterno by accepting the Freeh report, the internal investigation that implicated the late coach and top administrators in a cover-up of child sexual abuse allegations.
“History is being written,” she said. “Welcome to your legacy.”