After a semester of highs and lows, Penn State President Rodney Erickson will spend his holiday break with his family in Scranton and some time in sunny Florida.
Then he’ll arrive right back on campus soon after New Years, ready to begin his third full semester as president of the university.
Erickson sat down with The Daily Collegian on Tuesday and reflected on some of the issues and progress Penn State has seen this semester.
Last week, Erickson issued a letter to the community, addressing a controversial photo depicting women affiliated with the Chi Omega sorority. When he met with student leaders last week to discuss the issue, it became one of the best discussions with student leaders he has ever been a part of, he said. Erickson commended the student movement to combat the issue, saying that the silent walk scheduled for Thursday is evidence of good discussions on campus.
“We’ve had a lot of expressions of support for our students of color, for the desire to see the university become a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone,” he said.
Five months after the release of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s report in July, over half of the 119 recommendations have been said to be complete, as previously reported. The half that is completed include 44 that are marked “complete” and 17 that are marked as “ongoing.”
Erickson said the university plans to have “most of the recommendations” in place by the end of this academic year and all of them implemented by the end of the 2013 calendar year.
In the most recent progress report on the recommendations, none were specifically marked that they will not be implemented. However, Erickson said some will not be followed completely.
“There are a handful of recommendations that we will probably not implement exactly as has been suggested because they don’t really fit the best with our overall type of structure,” he said. “But we’ll be discussing those more as time goes on.”
The university also recently released the updated costs relating to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case, which have reached more than $23.5 million as of Sep. 30.
With some of these costs coming from legal fees and defense, Erickson said some of that money will eventually be reimbursed. He also said he expects the crisis management and public relations fees to be “reduced significantly in the future.”
“I spend time every day on some aspect of the aftermath of the Sandusky crimes,” he said.
Through Rally for Resignations this semester, alumni and other members of the community continued to show their dissatisfaction with the administration. Erickson said that he now receives many more positive messages than negative ones, but that he is aware of the displeased alumni.
“The amount of mail that I receive from alumni has fallen off greatly over the course of the fall semester,” he said.
Erickson also discussed many highlights from the fall semester, including the first ever Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Conference, which was held in October.
“I thought there were so many perspectives that came out and I learned a great deal from attending that conference,” he said.
Preliminary discussions have been held regarding another conference, which appears to be heading to sometime in spring 2014, he said.
The single most positive part about this past semester, Erickson said, has been the students.
“In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen a group of students who were more enthusiastic, who were more focused, who were more excited about being at Penn State,” he said.
From the opening of the Penn State Hershey Children Hospital to success in athletics to the $350 million raised so far this year in external funding, there have been many positives, he said. Other ones include the extremely focused faculty and the above-average graduation rates for athletes at Penn State, he said.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear about something that’s really special that somebody’s doing,” he said.
Erickson said he has had an individual breakfast or lunch with about two-thirds of all athletic coaches and has plans to meet with the rest in the next semester. He said he reaches out to them when they’ve been successful or needed his help.
The football team, which went 8-4 this season under new head coach Bill O’Brien, was a team that Penn State should be especially proud of, he said.
“I thought they played with character and class throughout the season,” he said. “They were really a unifying force in many ways for the entire university.”
As for next semester, after he spends a few days fishing over winter break, Erickson said he looks forward to continuing the progress Penn State has made in a challenging year.
“We’re going to do our very best to make sure that students who continue to come to Penn State get the best possible education,” he said. “That’s what we’re all about.”