If Penn State trustees didn’t know a segment of the university’s alumni base was seething with anger at them, they’ll have no excuse not to know now.
The board was assailed Friday by critics, including a group of former football players, who defended head coach Joe Paterno, called for the trustees to resign and the NCAA to lift its sanctions, and blasted Louis Freeh’s report, the source of the contention that to some has held Penn State hostage.
“It’s been 16 months, and we are no further ahead today than the night you fired Joe Paterno,” letterman Tommy Donchez told the board. “I’m here to tell something you already know, that growing members of alumni of this great university, who are members of the informed public ... will not move forward just because Freeh says this is how it was.”
By no means was Friday’s trustee meeting at the Hershey Medical Center campus the first time the board was besieged by negative reaction.
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But the rancor was kicked up a notch by the lettermen, such as Donchez, who tore into the board of trustees during a 30-minute public comment period and took to a news conference where they continued their attacks.
“Joe Paterno held us to a higher standard,” said letterman Mark Battaglia, of Pittsburgh, during the public comment period. “We’re here today to hold you, the board, to a higher standard.”
Mickey Shuler, of Marysville, said he’s not looking for the university to honor Paterno. Rather, he wants the board to get the scholarships restored that were part of the NCAA sanctions. Donchez said the board has left “so much wreckage on the road.”
Phil LaPorta, of Leesburg, Va., said he wants a majority of the trustees to step down.
A small number of board members got to talking about the Freeh report before the public comment period.
Ken Frazier reiterated the defense of the Freeh report he offered up during a committee meeting Thursday. That’s the meeting where the Merck & Co. CEO ripped into a trustee candidate who questioned the Freeh report, but Frazier did offer an apology Friday for his tirade.
Frazier went on to say the Paterno report was not independently done and that it did not provide the full historical record. Instead, it only focused on the late coach.
“We cannot put our heads in the sand and pretend that children were not hurt or that the documents do not exist,” Frazier said, referring to emails from 1998 and 2001 that appear to suggest senior leaders such as Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, Graham Spanier and Paterno discussed responding to shower incidents involving Sandusky and young boys.
Frazier said those emails show that the men at least knew about the 2001 incident, and the university has to “accept accountability” based on that.
But, Frazier said, his statements were not meant to judge Paterno.
That did not sit well with the crowd, which groaned and jeered with sarcasm.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano said he wants the board to invite to campus Freeh and former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, who co-wrote the Paterno family’s rebuttal to Freeh. The crowd applauded Lubrano.
“I have questions, and I suspect other trustees have questions, too,” Lubrano said.
“I understand that Ken says he doesn’t want to rewrite history, but I’m not sure history was correct.”
Trustee Alvin Clemens, who previously had voiced his support for the Paternos’ rebuttal and a review of the Freeh report, acknowledged the “big divide” that is growing between the alumni base and the board.
He questioned why the state Department of Public Welfare did not monitor the situation after 1998. Frazier did quickly clarify that the Freeh report’s role was to investigate the university’s role, not other organizations or agencies.
Trustee Adam Taliaferro supported Lubrano’s idea to bring Freeh and Thornburgh to meet with the board.
“I do believe that bringing in people and asking the hows and whys would help us, I think, move forward,” Taliaferro. “I think we all want to move forward, say when or how, for me, I know it would help me better understand each side.”
Now, the prospect of that could be a long shot.
After the meeting, Chairman Keith Masser said the board’s legal committee would have to take on that issue. It would have to be recommended by the committee to the board.
“Whether it comes out of committee, that’s another question,” Masser said.
Masser and board Vice Chairwoman Stephanie Deviney declined to discuss their thoughts on the Freeh report vs. Paterno report issue, saying that is not “appropriate for us to pre-empt committee discussion.”
But both Masser and Deviney promised that the discussion would find its way to the committee’s chairman, Keith Eckel.
The board’s discussion ended abruptly, as trustee James Broadhurst asked to stop discussion. The crowd again heckled and jeered.
The lettermen, though, promised to show up at May’s meeting or subsequent ones, until they get what they want.
Brian Masella said some lettermen are considering filing a lawsuit against the NCAA, but he did not know the details about what is in the works.