Penn State trustees say changes are well under way
NEW YORK (AP) – Members of Penn State’s board of trustees on Wednesday outlined the changes the school has implemented as result of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, reforms they said have improved the university and might help them persuade the NCAA to reconsider its crippling penalties.
In an hour-long interview Wednesday in New York with The Associated Press, board Chairman Keith Masser and longtime board member Joel Myers touted the steps taken at Penn State since Sandusky’s arrest in November 2011, including training staff in child abuse recognition and reporting, as well as cutting the governor and university president from the board.
They said the school is still working to implement a long list of governance and oversight changes suggested a year ago in a report from the team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
As examples of the improvements, Masser said Penn State has hired an athletics integrity officer, trained 16,000 people on child abuse reporting and 3,000 on the federal law that requires reporting campus crime.
He said Penn State has already fully implemented 76 recommendations in the Freeh report and is working on 27 others.
“All these things we’re implementing and applying (are) to reduce the possibility of it ever happening again,” Masser said.
They also said they hope their record might persuade the NCAA to reconsider the penalties against the university before they are due to expire in 2018.
They did not offer a time frame for approaching the NCAA, but they noted the university’s consent agreement with the NCAA allows it to be reopened if both sides agree.
“You’ve got to serve some jail time before you get probation,” Masser said. “Everybody wants to get this behind us as soon as possible, so we want to do whatever we can do to get this behind us as soon as possible.”
He said the school is now trying to demonstrate “to the NCAA and the entire world” that it aims to embody the highest moral and ethical standards in college sports.
The NCAA agreement, signed in July, includes a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on post-season play, a loss of scholarships and the invalidation of 112 wins from the final years of the late head coach Joe Paterno.
Their public relations push comes a month after university alumni elected three trustees who were endorsed by an alumni group critical of university leadership, and less than a week after Paterno’s family and others with Penn State ties – including five current members of the board of trustees – sued in an effort to overturn the sanctions.
Masser, a farmer, said he was concerned the trustees’ participation in the lawsuit might run counter to that goal.
“The message we sent to the NCAA is that Penn State University is not a part of this lawsuit,” Masser said.
The board was studying the legal issues that the case has raised, he said.
“I believe there’s certain things you can do as individuals, but when you become a member of the board of trustees, there are other obligations you have,” he said.
Anthony Lubrano, one of the five, said they do not consider that to be a legitimate concern.
The five of them, he said, “believe that we are acting in the best interests of Penn State. It’s really that simple.”
Paul Kelly, the lawyer handling the lawsuit for the plaintiffs, said the NCAA’s record regarding relaxation of sanctions should not give the school much hope. He said the five support the reforms, but whether the NCAA penalties were proper is separate question.
Myers said the university needs to keep its focus on exceeding the terms of the NCAA agreement.
“We feel that we’re close, if not there, and other universities should and want to follow us,” said Myers, a 32-year trustee who founded AccuWeather Inc.
Myers described board critics as “a vocal minority that are extremely disappointed, discouraged.”
“I think the outspoken people do not represent the Penn State community,” Myers said. “And I think it’s important for all of us to get behind coach (Bill) O’Brien, get behind the university. Divisions don’t help.”
Sandusky’s arrest on allegations that he molested several boys over a period of years tarnished Penn State’s respected football program and led to the firing of Paterno, who was dismissed when the scandal broke in late 2011 and died of lung cancer shortly afterward.
One year ago, jury selection was well under way for Sandusky’s trial in the courthouse located several miles from campus, which ended with a 45-count guilty verdict against the Nittany Lions’ former defensive coach. Sandusky is currently serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence.
The trustees’ handling of Paterno’s firing soon after Sandusky’s arrest, the Freeh report’s findings and the NCAA agreement have generated a backlash from alumni. Masser said the decision to agree to the deal, and avoid a shutdown of the football program, was the better of two bad options.
“My sense is yes, there’s an ample majority of the board that supports the decision,” he said.
The two trustees said the school still intends to honor Paterno but hasn’t decided how or when.
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