NEW YORK CITY - In a packed ballroom, full of emotional alumni Friday night, President Rodney Erickson responded to the third and final Alumni Association-sponsored town hall forum at the New York Marriott Downtown, addressing a wide range of questions regarding recent events at Penn State.
The atmosphere, while both tense and emotionally charged at times, was fairly calm compared to the past two town hall meetings -- one was held in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and the second in Philadelphia on Thursday evening.
Though only a fraction of the 300 in attendance were able to make comments, express concerns and ask questions, alumni remarks covered diverse topics. The most popular topics held true to the previous two forums and remained the actions of the Board of Trustees' surrounding the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case and the the firing of Joe Paterno.
One alumnus wanted to hear Erickson’s reason for agreeing with the board’s decision to remove Paterno from the head coaching position he had held since 1966.
Erickson said he supported the board’s decision, calling it “courageous.”
“You have to look at the legal issues and the ability to lead,” Erickson said. “And at that point the ability to lead was compromised.”
Differing from many attendees, one alumnus stood and said he not only agreed with the board’s decision but resented the media’s portrayal of alumni saying Paterno is a “victim.”
“I loved Joe Paterno, I probably still do, but he needed to go,” he said. “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.”
Alumni also had a lot to say about the board's decisions, policies and governance. While Erickson did not speak for the board itself, he did try to explain certain aspect of their governance and its composition.
One alumnus asked Erickson why the state has a higher proportion of representatives on the board while it continues to reduce its annual appropriations to the university.
Erickson pointed to the university’s historic status as a land grant institution and explained the difficulties of having to change that charter. Erickson said Penn State is still seeing the investments from the Morrill Land-Grant Acts in 1862.
Other topics covered at the meeting included academics, student opportunities in the professional world, the hiring of head coach Bill O’Brien and an update on Proud to Be a Penn Stater’s contributions to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.
But before the forum drew to a close, one last speaker took the microphone.
Softly addressing the crowd and Erickson, William O’Bryan introduced himself as the father of Courtney O’Bryan, a Penn State freshman who died in a car crash during an Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon canning trip in November.
After referencing the impact of THON, O’Bryan said, "There are great things going on at Penn State. There are great people at Penn State. Have the faith, let’s keep the ball rolling.”
Lisa Jones, Class of 2002, attended the forum and thought it was effective, adding that change doesn't happen overnight.
“You have to start and keep the dialog going,” Jones said. “You can’t just expect everything to be fixed in one or three town halls."