Penn State “is off to a very good start” in reforming its athletic department after the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal cast scrutiny on how the university was run, the former senator appointed to oversee the reform reported Friday.
In his first report on Penn State’s progress, George Mitchell said the university’s work has been significant in making changes to the athletic department such as restricting access to facilities like Rec Hall or the IM Building, creating a policy requiring background checks for employees working with children, and making some 9,600 employees go through mandated reporting training.
“Based on our work to date, Penn State’s (b)oard of (t)rustees and its administration appear determined to implement, swiftly and in good faith, the recommendations for reform that were identified in the Freeh report and to fulfill the commitments that the university made in the (athletics integrity agreement),” Mitchell said in a news release. “Penn State has dedicated substantial time and resources to accomplishing these objectives.”
Penn State signed the athletics integrity agreement with the NCAA and the Big Ten in August.
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The agreement requires Penn State to implement all of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s recommendations for the athletics department, appoint an athletics integrity officer and a council, and develop a code of conduct for athletics students and employees.
The agreement was part of the punishment given to Penn State that included a $60 million fine and a four year post-season bowl ban.
Mitchell, a former U.S. senator from Maine, was brought in to oversee Penn State’s progress. Mitchell and his team met with more than 150 campus officials and sat in on workshops and training sessions to get the vibe of how Penn State’s work was playing out.
“This report indicates the strength of Penn State’s continuing commitment to integrity, responsibility, institutional control and ethical conduct, as well as the significant progress that Penn State has made since July,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said. “We are proud of our (u)niversity, including most specifically our students, faculty and staff, and we also are proud of our efforts to date in complying with the Athletics Integrity Agreement.
NCAA Mark Emmert said in a statement Friday he was pleased with the progress report.
Among the items in Mitchell’s 60-page report were details of the numerous policies that Penn State developed in response to the Sandusky scandal.
There’s a policy that requires a background checks of new employees. One policy provides that employees who purposely do not report suspected child abuse could be fired.
Another policy lays out guidelines for adults supervising and interacting with children at campus events. For instance, adults cannot pick up or drop off the children at their homes, they are forbidden from giving them drugs or sexually explicit material, and at least two adults need to be present when children are around.
Mitchell said it is apparent that Penn State is demonstrating a commitment to addressing child sex abuse. Penn State has said it wants to become a national leader on the subject, and in late October the university hosted a conference featuring clinical and academic experts on child sex abuse.
“There appears to be unanimity within the Penn State community that one outcome of this tragedy should be greater awareness of the prevalence of child abuse in society generally and the devotion of more university resources to prevent it where the university can play a role in doing so,” Mitchell wrote in the report.
As laudatory as Mitchell’s report was, he said there remains much work to do. Some parts of the athletics integrity agreement need to be completed within 120 days of the agreement signed in August, and the deadline is Dec. 26.
Those reforms include appointing an athletics integrity officer, making the person the chair of a new athletics integrity council, and implementing the university’s athletics code of conduct.
The code of conduct was approved the board of trustees two weeks ago and will be distributed to the people who are subject to it, like student athletes, trustees, coaches, athletics staff and athletics administrators.
Penn State spokesman David La Torre said the university expects they will be finished by the deadline.
Penn State has implemented 61 of the 119 recommendations from former FBI director Louis Freeh, according to an update the university announced Thursday. The list includes revamping human resources policies, having trustees meetings be more open and hiring a compliance officer.
Freeh laid out 12 recommendations for the athletics department, and one is not done. The one outstanding, conducting national searches for coaches and key staff, is still in the works. The university said a policy is being revised to set forth those provisions, with some exceptions that can be approved by the university president.
Penn State is required to pay the fees and expenses for Mitchell’s work, but the costs were not yet known.
Mitchell’s next report will be due by the end of February.