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Imagining a Post-Scandal Penn State: Transparency Reigns

on November 28, 2011 2:06 PM

Note: This column is the latest in an occasional series in which Adam Smeltz imagines the future for State College and Penn State. One of his earlier pieces is available here.


Good day, State College. Today is Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 -- and here are your top local stories:

The NCAA on Saturday gave Penn State the formal go-ahead to resume its football program in the 2014 season. Suspended for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the program can now enter a formal rebuilding period as it prepares for next year, university President Rodney Erickson told reporters.

He said the Beaver Stadium turf, used for non-football purposes since late 2011, will be restored soon to a football-level quality.

The stadium has hosted a variety of outdoor concerts, agricultural expositions, political rallies and other community events since early 2012. Erickson said such functions will continue at the stadium, as it would "defy logic to let this landmark venue sit unused for more than 95 percent of the calendar year."

In fact, those large-scale, non-football events have become critical fuel for the State College-area economy in the absence of Penn State football. The attractions have helped reinvigorate faltering revenue streams at numerous local businesses, many under heavy financial stress since the football program's suspension.

NCAA officials have long acknowledged the suspension would impose a steep economic toll. When they made the decision, shortly after child-sex-abuse and cover-up charges emerged at Penn State, they said the economic side effects would be "unfortunate but inevitable for State College."

Their top priority, NCAA officials said then, was not only to take punitive action against Penn State; it also was to send an unambiguous message nationwide that protection of children carries paramount importance.

In other news, Penn State trustees are preparing a formal recognition ceremony for the January meeting. There, they will honor Erickson for his 36-year career at Penn State.

Elevated unexpectedly into the presidency in 2011, Erickson has received widespread praise for his leadership during one of the most tumultuous periods in Penn State history. He announced plans last month to retire by the spring.

A university board committee has been charged with finding and hiring a successor. Committee members have already demonstrated a strong preference for candidates previously unaffiliated with Penn State, sources have said. The committee is expected to meet in open session this week.

As recently as three years ago, holding such a meeting in open session would have been unthinkable at Penn State. But fallout from the 2011 scandal prompted a sea change in political thought in Harrisburg, bringing new transparency requirements to the university. Its budget is now fully public. And some key internal deliberations, once confidential, have been opened to visitors from the public.

The push for transparency has extended to A Step Up Pa., the nonprofit youth-service organization formed after The Second Mile's collapse. Its board -- comprising educated professionals in child and family psychology, youth development, nutrition, literacy and nonprofit fundraising -- has insisted on complete openness in governance and record-keeping.

In a press conference late last week, A Step Up's leadership emphasized that it will be not a mirror of The Second Mile, but a reformed and rethought organization. It will avoid the culture of local celebritydom and not pursue a public-relations spotlight, focusing exclusively -- instead -- on youth services and accountability, leaders said.

The organization will host a board meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in its new offices, inside the repurposed former A&P supermarket in Patton Township.

It will be open to the public. A period for public comment is included on the agenda.

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