Outgoing Penn State trustee Al Clemens regrets voting to fire Joe Paterno and vowed to continue fighting the sanctions imposed by the NCAA, he said Friday during what could be his last board meeting.
Clemens, a 19-year-member of the board, lobbed up the parting shots at his fellow trustees during a meeting Friday on the campus of the Hershey Medical Center. The words also come just weeks after he and the other plaintiffs in the Paterno family’s lawsuit added Penn State as a defendant.
“In joining the Paterno family and others in their suit against the NCAA, I have distanced myself from the board on this issue,” Clemens said. “I am determined to reverse all of the misguided sanctions, which were designed to punish a football program without blemish, and were aimed at student-athletes innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Clemens was on the board when it voted to fire Paterno the late the night of Nov. 9, 2011. Clemens said the meeting was called “hastily.”
“We had no advance notice and little opportunity to discuss and consider the the complex issues we faced,” he said. “After 61 years of exemplary service, coach Paterno was given no chance to respond. That was a mistake.
“I will always regret that my name is attached to that rush to injustice.”
Clemens said the board and alumni have been divided over the internal investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and the board’s acceptance of his conclusions that university administrators, including Paterno, conspired to conceal abuse allegations against Sandusky more than a decade ago.
“These two mistakes have created a chasm between the board and the alumni, which we’ve heard over and over,” he said. “... In the past, the alumni and the board always had a symbiotic relationship, and I call on the board in the future to try and heal this chasm.”
Clemens is joined in the lawsuit by trustees Anthony Lubrano, Ryan McCombie and Adam Taliaferro.
But Clemens is the only trustee who was given legal standing to sue the NCAA for defamation. The NCAA’s consent decree said the board of trustees in 1998 and 2001 failed to provide oversight, and Clemens claims that remark is defamatory.
The university has always held that Clemens’ and other trustees’ participation in the lawsuit is a clear conflict of interest.
Clemens was appointed to the board by then-Gov. Tom Ridge in 1995, and his last term expired in 2012. But Gov. Tom Corbett had not appointed a replacement until recently.
Corbett is proposing to replace Clemens and another governor-appointed trustee, Ira Lubert, with Cliff Benson and Todd Rucci. The state Senate must confirm the proposed appointments.