UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State trustees said that Joe Paterno had not met his moral duties when responding to allegations of sexual abuse by a former coach and that Graham Spanier had lost the ability to lead as scandal erupted from those charges.
“When you’re coaching youth and you’re representing a university, you need to hold yourself to a higher standard, and Joe didn’t do that,” said Mark Dambly, one of four trustees who sat down for an interview with the Centre Daily Times on Thursday.
Dambly said that Paterno met his legal obligations for reporting an incident of suspected abuse that a graduate student had told him about. But, Dambly added, “When you came to Penn State as a football player you were expected to have a higher set of standards to abide yourself by, both personally and professionally and athletically.”
He said it was clear from the grand jury report outlining charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky that Paterno “did not meet his moral obligations.”
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Dambly and trustees Joel Myers, Peter Khoury and Stephanie Deviney sat down for a 20-minute interview Thursday with the CDT at the Nittany Lion Inn. It was part of trustees’ effort to tell their side of the story to the public. Lanny Davis, a well known crisis manager who has advised Bill Clinton and others, is coordinating the effort.
Trustees defended the way they handled the events that unfolded after Sandusky was arraigned Nov. 5 on charges of sexually abusing boys he met through a nonprofit organization he started to help at-risk youth. Former athletic director Tim Curley and now-retired senior vice president Gary Schultz are charged with failure to report abuse and perjury for testimony they gave to the grand jury investigating the allegations against Sandusky.
Coach Mike McQueary testified he had walked in on Sandusky naked in a shower with a boy who appeared to be 10 years old, and that it looked like Sandusky was raping him. McQueary said he told Paterno about what he saw, although he didn’t use the word sodomy. Paterno passed the information on to Curley and Schultz, who also testified that they were not told that it was sexual in nature.
Trustees said Thursday that the university’s inhouse attorney Cynthia Baldwin had told them in a very brief report in May about the grand jury investigation. But they said the way the information was presented made it seem that the investigation did not relate to the university and that they did not hear or know anything more about it until Nov. 5.
“I think if there’s any regret that we had it’s that the administration didn’t better prepare us for what happened,” Dambly said.
Baldwin did not return messages seeking comment.
Trustees met the week of Nov. 7 and announced at a late night press conference Nov. 9 that Spanier and Paterno were being terminated. They explained their reason for delivering the news to Paterno over the telephone rather than in person.
Deviney said there isn’t a single board member she has spoken with who doesn’t regret the way the news was delivered to Paterno. But, she defended the board’s action, saying they had no options. The decision to terminate Paterno was made at 9 p.m. Once the decision was made, trustees had to get the news to him, so he didn’t hear it from someone else, she said.
“He deserved to hear it from us,” she said, adding that they didn’t think it would be fair to ask him to come to the trustees’ meeting in The Penn Stater Conference Center or for them to go to his home given the mass of media outside his house and at the conference center.
“We were really left with no other option,” she said.
Dambly also cited several reasons for not having a meeting with Paterno, including that Paterno issued his own press release saying he was going to retire.
“You know what, we need to think about the best long-term interest of the university, and you are an employee of the university, and it’s inappropriate for him to tell us or, for that matter, the president of the university, how and when we should think,” Dambly said.
He said Paterno and Spanier were terminated, not fired. He also said there were no minutes from the meetings when the decisions were made.
“Over the course of Saturday evening to Tuesday night, Graham had lost the support of the board, and it was clear to both Graham and to the board that he was no longer going to be the president of the university,” Dambly said.
He said the option in the contract that was selected was to terminate Spanier without cause. He and Paterno are still tenured professors at Penn State. Similarly, Dambly said Paterno had already negotiated a retirement package for the end of the year.
“So from our perspective, we didn’t fire Joe Paterno. We relieved coach Paterno of his coaching duties, and we honored and intend on honoring his contract,” Dambly said.
When asked why they are talking now, having being nearly silent since charges were filed against Sandusky in November, Myers said trustees had been advised that, because of lawsuits and legal issues, they shouldn’t talk.
“But we finally reached the point that it’s become a point of controversy and distraction to the university’s mission,” Myers said. “And we felt it was in the best interest of the university community to explain what happened and why we made the decisions we made.”
Khoury, a student who sits on the board, said trustees were under extreme pressure, and that he thinks they had to do what was appropriate.
“The university was virtually leaderless at the point in time that the board had to step up and make some decision,” Khoury said. “And I think that the board tried to do what was in the best interest of the university given the situation we had.”
Penn Staters For Responsible Stewardship, a group that has been critical of the trustees’ decision to fire Paterno and is hoping to unseat elected members, issued a statement Thursday responding to the trustees’ interviews with newspapers, starting with The New York Times.
“While this obviously long-planned and well-rehearsed series of interviews may have sought to quell growing criticism about the board’s ability to lead, the article conversely shines the spotlight brighter on how the trustees were blindsided because of their failure to engage in responsible and effective risk management from the time they were first informed,” the statement reads.