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'What Are We Hiding?' Penn State Trustees Cannot Turn Their Backs on Transparency

by on June 29, 2018 6:42 PM

Transparency is the buzzword in government, business and education so much so that it has become a cliché. It is so because everyone wants “transparency” for everyone else and only for themselves if it helps their own cause.

For the past six and a half years, after squandering hundreds of millions of university funds, many alumni and friends of Penn State have been calling for greater transparency from the university. During that time Penn State’s board and two university presidents have also stated transparency as a goal.

Now, as a member on Penn State’s Board of Trustees, I am part of that group and, as such, am part of the problem. Friday’s special meeting highlighted how far we remain from the elusive transparency that we espouse.

Three years ago new President Eric Barron publicly stated that he would review the Freeh report. Later he stated that as president he had a lot of important issues to address. To be fair, we completely understand that.

In his stead, seven trustees sued the university and won the right to review the Freeh source material. Now, years later, they prepared a report, through critical scholarly review of source materials that should have always been part of this process.

In reports like the Freeh report, it is often every bit as important to know what was NOT used as it is to see what was used. What if the report relies on minority opinions over majority opinions, or excludes evidence that does not fit the conclusions? How would we know?

Penn Staters owe a debt of gratitude to these trustees because, for the first time, someone took an in-depth look into how Freeh and his team wrote this report, and weighed the mountains of material.

In his report Freeh used the term that it was “more reasonable to conclude” that certain things happened, including a conspiracy. Now that the courts have proven that there was no cover-up, isn’t it time to see how that report came to a conclusion that was so terribly wrong?

To that end, the full board should review and then vote to release the report that our fellow trustees prepared. If we are committed to our fiduciary responsibility to transparency we should accept nothing less.

And for posterity, for a moment of such magnitude in our university’s history, we should also authorize that over time all the source materials be housed in the Special Collections of the University Libraries. This history should be given the proper context that can only be done through the type of research that has been done by the trustees who conducted this review.

The argument will come from lawyers and the administration that names of people interviewed should be protected. Releasing it over time allows redaction for people who were interviewed and were bystanders to these events.

In a parallel scenario at Baylor University, it was stated in court documents by former Athletic Director Ian McGraw: “Baylor regent J. Cary Gray would write a 'false' and 'misleading' finding of fact skewed to make the football program look bad and cover up the campus-wide failings.”

Is it possible something like that happened here?

In the 2009 original version of the song “Alexander Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, singing as Aaron Burr, states “in our cowardice and our shame we will try to destroy your name.”

In the cowardice and shame of the days of 2011 and 2012, were actions taken that threatened our name, Penn State, while ignoring the failings of The Second Mile and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to protect children?

Almost six years after Freeh issued a report, questions remain unanswered in the public sphere. For the first time a group of people have taken great personal risk and made personal sacrifices to answer those questions. 

If we as a board turn our backs on transparency and decide to conceal that report, we create the most enduring of all questions: “What are we hiding?”

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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Trustees Call on Full Board to Reject Freeh Report, Release 2-Year Review of Source Materials
June 29, 2018 5:17 PM
by Geoff Rushton
Trustees Call on Full Board to Reject Freeh Report, Release 2-Year Review of Source Materials
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