Members of the Penn State community got a surprise communication on Thursday evening: an email from President Eric Barron, talking about “challenges facing (the university) post-Sandusky.”
“Penn State University is an extraordinarily successful academic institution, highly ranked, with robust finances and applications for admission breaking all-time records, and with a dedicated faculty who are competitive with the best in the world,” Barron wrote, according to the text of the letter, posted on WPSU’s website.
“Yet these extraordinary accomplishments are rarely the focus of either national or local media ... Instead, recognition of our accomplishments is overshadowed by the actions and reactions that have followed the arrest and ultimate conviction of Jerry Sandusky and by the fact that so many issues of national discussion today are more focused on creating polarity and controversy than they are on providing clarity or finding solutions.”
He addressed the Freeh report and the indictments of former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz.
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“This “pre-trial” appears to have found our institution guilty. Further, the burden of this guilt has somehow been on the shoulders of tens of thousands of employees, students and alumni. The latter is absurd and undeserved. The guilt of the former administrators has not yet been determined in a court of law,” Barron wrote.
He also pointed to “significant problems” with the investigation by former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh. Barron promised in November that he would undertake a review of the Freeh report, after alumni-elected trustees had pushed for the board of trustees to conduct a review.
“The report was intended to create an independent assessment, as few would trust an institution’s self-assessment under such high-profile negative attention and serious allegations. Independent investigations are a frequent course of action in such cases. Consequently, this was a logical option for our (b)oard of (t)rustees. But, the report is limited in significant ways,” Barron wrote. “Unfortunately, nuanced acceptances and carefully worded messages are completely lost in the world of sound bites and headlines.”
Barron was not the only one questioning the Freeh report this week. In a deposition taken Dec. 15 and published by Ryan Bagwell, founder of the Penn State Sunshine Fund, on Thursday, trustee Kenneth Frazier said the report was not “as clear and irrefutable as some people seem to think.”
Barron stressed that he was “committed to compliance and ethics” but said he saw the limitations of the report was precluding it from “being the basis of any decision facing Penn State.” He also pointed to the recent settlement of the NCAA lawsuit with state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman as being “a good compromise.” The next step, he said, is moving on.
“Now we realize that Penn State has paid a great price, far greater even than those who imposed the sanctions realized. The (u)niversity is focused on our mission and we are serving students better than any time in our history, but the sanctions and the resulting drawn out process have created an enduring conflict between Penn State alumni,” Barron wrote. “Your (u)niversity will continue to set new achievement records for faculty, staff and students, but the level of conflict among alumni means that, even with the full reversal or approaching end of all sanctions, the healing process will continue to take time.”