KING OF PRUSSIA — One of the messages Penn State alumni had for President Rodney Erickson during a town hall meeting Thursday night was for the board: tell the trustees what we’re saying and that we want to talk to them.
“I think it’s important for the school to start healing, and I think it’s also important that the chairman of the board of the trustees come out and do the same thing with you,” one Penn State graduate told Erickson.
The graduate said that, for him, Joe Paterno was the brand of the university not just because he was a football coach, but because he was a man of character.
“It’s really put a knife through my heart, and I think the board really needs to step up and communicate and treat it better than they have,” he said.
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Erickson said he would convey the message.
The Penn State Alumni Association held the second of three meetings for alumni to ask Erickson questions about the university’s response to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. As with
the first meeting Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, Erickson fielded questions — and listened to sometimes angry opinions — for an hour and a half from about 650 alumni.
Thursday’s meeting in the Radisson Hotel was moderated by Patty Satalia, with Penn State Public Broadcasting. The third meeting will take place tonight in New York.
Anthony Lubrano, whose name is on the university’s baseball park and has been a vocal critic of the firing of Paterno, said that in order for the university to heal, it has to address the problem, not run away from facts.
“For you to suggest that we should be assured that you’re going to have a conversation about how the university properly acknowledges (Paterno’s) 61 years of service for me is rather shallow, because you haven’t even yet called the man,” Lubrano said.
He went on to ask Erickson whether his hiring as president shows the “transparency” the board said will be its new policy.
Erickson agreed to be president until June 30, 2014.
“I will do my very best during this period to lead this university forward, to help us be worthy of the respect and the confidence and the honesty of everyone around the country,” Erickson said.
He said the university will do a national search for a president, and that would have been difficult in the current circumstances.
He reiterated many of the points he made Wednesday, including that the trustees have commissioned a completely independent investigation into the scandal and that he is committed to being open.
But he referred some questions to the trustees, saying they are the ones who have to answer.
“I think there’s a lot of emotion out there right now about the board and the handling of the situation,” he said, later adding that “There’s a lot of questions the board yet to answer.”
He said he wasn’t a board member when the Paterno decision was made.
“I can’t answer questions about how the decisions were taken and what deliberation was in a room in which I wasn’t there,” Erickson said.
“I would ask you to question them, question them hard, talk to them about decisions that have been made, and to try to understand better the whole context in which those decisions were made, rather than rushing to judgment,” he said.
Defenders of Paterno have also spoken of a “rush to judgment,” and some in the audience booed.
Some alumni called on Erickson to tell the board that its composition — now 32 members, nine of whom are elected by trustees — needs to be changed. One man asked if he plans to issue an apology to Paterno.
Erickson said the board took that action and its members are the ones to talk to.
Trustees announced at a late-night meeting Nov. 9 they were terminating Paterno and president Graham Spanier. The decision came as the university was reeling from the Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The former football coach is charged with sexually molesting 10 boys. Two Penn State administrators are charged with perjury for testimony they gave to a grand jury.
Penn State graduate Chris Saello, of Downing-town, said what he heard was “the guy that’s taking the bullets is not the guy that we need to hear from. It’s the board of trustees.
“It speaks volumes that he’s up there and they’re not,” Saello said.
He said he would like to see a town hall-style meeting broadcast live that gives alumni a chance to question to the board about past decisions and future leadership.
“Until this kind of an audience regains their trust it’s going to be real hard to move forward,” he said.
Franco Harris, who played football for Penn State and the Steelers and has been critical of the university’s handling of Paterno, held his own meeting in the same hotel, drawing Paterno fans.
He questioned how all the trustees could have agreed with the decision to fire Paterno. The decision was presented as unanimous.
“Hopefully, one will come forward some day. Because they will not continually be able to hide the truth. The truth in the end is what wins,” Harris said.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648.