Penn State's president says the university is trying hard to put a child sex abuse scandal in its rearview mirror less than a week before former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky heads to trial.
President Rodney Erickson made his case before a pair of newspaper editorial boards on Wednesday and Thursday, talking up Penn State's response to the massive scandal, which tarnished its image and led to the ousters of Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno and Erickson's predecessor, Graham Spanier, whose presidency ended days after Sandusky was charged in November with dozens of sexual assault counts.
Erickson said Penn State is seeking to become a leader in the fight against child abuse, pointing out the school donated $2.6 million in bowl revenues to a group that operates rape crisis centers and to its new center for child abuse research and treatment.
"The university really has been moving ahead. Sometimes it's hard to get that message out," Erickson told Harrisburg's The Patriot-News on Thursday, adding: "It's been a difficult time, but I think in many ways we continue to heal."
A day earlier, Erickson told State College's Centre Daily Times that Penn State has created a "degree of separation" from the scandal through the academic, athletic and charitable achievements of its students and faculty.
"I think there was a time early on when the emotions ran so high that everybody wanted to put everything in the same basket," he said. "... We've done a remarkable job in spite of the matters related to the Sandusky charges and investigations and emotions of all of that, coach Paterno's passing and so on."
Many alumni were infuriated when Paterno was fired a few days after Sandusky was charged with dozens of counts of abuse, saying the university board of trustees rushed to judgment. Paterno died in January at age 85, and his family has been critical of the way the school handled the situation.
But Erickson told the Harrisburg newspaper that he has a "good relationship" with Paterno's widow, Sue Paterno, and son Jay Paterno.
"Sue and Jay have never left the fold. They have been strong supporters over many months," said Erickson, who also praised new coach Bill O'Brien's efforts to win over fans.
Erickson also said he took part in a "broad-ranging" three-hour interview with Louis Freeh, the former FBI director hired by Penn State's board of trustees to investigate the Sandusky scandal. Erickson declined to provide details of what he told Freeh. He said he isn't getting regular updates on the probe and will see Freeh's report when it is released to the public.
Erickson briefly addressed a lawsuit filed last week by Spanier, who said he wants to force the school to release emails related to the scandal so he can be better prepared to assist the Freeh investigation. Erickson agreed with Spanier's attorneys that Penn State was instructed by the state attorney general's office not to divulge the information, "so that's the position we took."
Though Erickson has been subpoenaed, he said he has not testified before the grand jury.
Sandusky is accused of abusing 10 boys, some of them on campus. He was charged after a former Penn State graduate assistant said he saw him in the football team shower with a boy a decade ago.
Sandusky, 68, has maintained his innocence, acknowledging he showered with boys but saying he never molested them. His trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday with jury selection.
Two other university officials are charged with failing to report suspected abuse and perjury related to their grand jury testimony.
Apart from the Sandusky scandal, Erickson also repeated a commitment to keep the 2012-13 tuition increase at or below the rate of inflation if lawmakers succeed in their effort to roll back Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal to cut 20 percent from the school's annual share of state aid.