UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State trustees vowed Friday to bring reform and transparency to the university, starting by making policy changes stemming from its investigation into the child sex abuse scandal that continues to rock the community.
Trustees elected new leaders to spearhead those efforts, recommended by an independent investigator hired to look at how the university responded— or failed to respond— to allegations that a former assistant football coach sexually abused children.
Kenneth Frazier, the trustee who is leading the task force overseeing the investigation, reiterated that the findings will be made public, but not until the report is complete. He said that may be at the beginning of the next academic year.
“We understand the answers cannot come quickly enough for all concerned,” Frazier said.
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But Frazier said the board did not want to wait for the report to be completed before making changes that are possible now. They include strengthening the policy for programs that involve minors, including giving staff clearer guidelines and enhancing background checks; making sure the university is compliant with the Clery Act, which requires schools to report information on crimes on their campuses; and improving the athletic department’s security so that employees no longer with the university have to turn in their keys and access cards.
Sandusky had access to university athletic facilities long after he retired, and is charged with sexually abusing a boy in a campus shower.
When asked whether the recommendation means that Penn State is not in compliance with the Clery Act, Frazier said the recommendations were produced by the investigation being conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh.
“We don’t intend to make interim reports on factual findings,” Frazier said.
University President Rodney Erickson said the cost of that investigation and other such information will be made public in coming weeks.
The meeting, followed by a press conference, came as the university tries to regain its footing amid a barrage of criticism. Some alumni, unhappy with trustees’ Nov. 9 decision to remove Joe Paterno as football coach, demonstrated their feelings Friday by protesting outside the Nittany Lion Inn, where the meeting took place, holding signs calling for the ouster of the board.
“We’re here for a presence so they understand there’s a lot of people not happy with them,” said Tom Conner, a Penn State graduate who lives in Virginia.
Trustees Friday elected Karen Peetz to lead them through the turbulence. A vice chairwoman at Bank of New York Mellon, Peetz succeeds former chairman Steve Garban who, along with vice chairman John Surma, decided not to seek re-election to leadership roles.
“We are an institution of higher learning, and we have all learned a lot in the past few months,” Peetz said.
Garban had been the target of criticism for his support of Athletic Director Tim Curley and now-retired senior vice president Gary Schultz immediately after they were charged with perjury and failure to report abuse.
A grand jury concluded Curley and Schultz lied about their knowledge of a 2002 report that Sandusky had sexually assaulted a child on campus.
The board gave Garban a standing ovation.
The Sandusky scandal has implications beyond the University Park campus. Penn State, as a state-related university, is largely exempt from Pennsylvania’s open records law, and some lawmakers have called for eliminating that exemption, and requiring Penn State to make more of its actions available for public scrutiny.
“We have to decide, the board has to decide, whether they’re going to be a public entity that receives public funds or a private entity,” Corbett said at the news conference. He said if the legislature passes a law that covers Penn State too, he would support that.
Peetz said trustees had agreed to focus on three areas: change, reform and transparency. Peetz said that includes:
•helping the alleged victims of the tragedy. She said that means reaching out to them and seeking to pay for health costs and counseling. On the question of litigation against the university, Peetz said leaders will work to create a process that doesn’t take alleged victims through years of litigation.
“We want fairness for them, and we want healing for them,” she said.
The university has already been named in two lawsuits stemming from the allegations against Sandusky, said outgoing Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin.
•increasing board transparency. Peetz said she and other trustees will hold town hall meetings with students, alumni and faculty similar to those that university President Rodney Erickson held with alumni last week.
The board will form a task force to see whether it could make changes to improve oversight of the university, she said.
•ensuring a balance between academics and athletics.
The board has been criticized for being silent until the past few days when members have been doing interviews with multiple media outlets. When asked why they were quiet for so long, Peetz said it’s possible to “get over-lawyered and you can be concerned about the implications of things you say.”
She said that, in hindsight, board members wish they had spoken more. She said Erickson’s town hall meetings showed how strongly people felt.
One of the criticisms of the board that has emerged is that the 32-member body is too large, and that more trustees should be directly chosen by alumni. Alumni now vote for nine members.
Peetz said while the board is large, it is diverse — including representatives of agriculture, business and industry, alumni and the governor.
“I do think that leads to a lot of diversity of opinion, a lot of diversity of perspective, and I think it actually functions quite well,” she said. “However, we will be looking at the governance of the board. We are considering an outside review of that, and whether that is really the best practice.”
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648.