At yesterday’s third Student Town Hall Forum in the HUB-Robeson Center Auditorium, students and even some parents came out to ask questions to Penn State administrators.
The administrators on the panel were Penn State President Rodney Erickson, Board of Trustees member Marianne Alexander, Acting Athletic Director David Joyner, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray, Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses Madlyn Hanes and Acting Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Pangborn.
Students were able to ask questions by speaking into one of two microphones at the front of the room, writing their question down on an index card to be asked by a moderator, or sending them in via email for Commonwealth Campus students watching a livestream.
A large portion of the questions asked were in regards to the effects the NCAA sanctions levied against the school in July and the investigative report of former FBI Director Louis Freeh would have for the University’s future.
The Freeh Group’s report, released July 12, implicated former Penn State President Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley and late former head football coach Joe Paterno, saying the former Penn State leaders covered up allegations of child sex abuse against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky to prevent bad publicity for the university.
The NCAA sanctioned the football team based on Freeh’s report, levying an unprecedented series of punishments, including a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, a loss of scholarships and a vacation of all wins from 1998 to 2011.
One student had a question for Erickson and Joyner, asking why the consent decree agreeing to the NCAA’s sanctions that Erickson signed was “preferred rather than the traditional NCAA investigation.”
Erickson said “it was the most difficult decision” he could make, but it was best to avoid a potential “death penalty,” which would have cancelled football for several seasons.
“I could not see us dealing with the implications of [the death penalty] in terms of what it means for the program, as well as for all of intercollegiate athletics,” Erickson said. “There were unprecedented and severe sanctions. But I and others, including our outside legal counsel and Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees that I concurred with felt that it was the best decision under very difficult circumstances.”
Jesse Steinberg (junior-communications) asked Erickson if the signing of the consent decree was a choice or a requirement.
“There’s always a choice, but the other choice was much worse as we viewed the alternatives,” Erickson said.
Another student asked when the administrators would start taking responsibility for their actions like Paterno did.
“I look forward to the day when we can acknowledge Paterno’s contribution to this University. I think at this point, we need to let some more court cases play out, but I’d like to see the community come together on that at some point,” Alexander said.
Another student asked about Paterno’s name being “tarnished” before due process even took place.
“There are times when we have to make decisions where due process does not apply,” Alexander said. “We couldn’t operate if we had to go through due process in everything that we did…As far as I know, we have not eradicated Joe [Paterno] on this campus.”
Alexander also said that as trustees, decisions must be made for “the preservation of the University for generations to come.”
One question asked if students should know where their tuition and taxpayer money is going.
“I certainly think that students have a right to know everything we can reasonably share with them about how the budget of the university is constructed,” Sims said.
Erickson also commented on the Freeh report’s finding that Penn State had a culture of reverence for the football program.
“I wouldn’t trade our students for students at any other university. I wouldn’t trade our culture for anything,” Erickson said about how Penn State is viewed as having “one culture in football.”
Rather, Erickson believes Penn State is a school of many cultures, not just one.
“We’re not taking [NCAA sanction fines] from facilities, it’s going to be taken primarily from an internal loan within the University,” Joyner said in response to a question about how NCAA sanction fines will be handled.
The entire forum was co-sponsored by University Park Undergraduate Association, Council of Commonwealth Student Governments and Graduate Student Association.