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Erickson: 'No Objection' to Releasing Penn State Employees' Salary Information

on January 13, 2012 6:46 PM

In an apparent break with his predecessor, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said Thursday he would have "no objection" to releasing university employees' salary information to the public.

It's a move "that many individuals want," he said.

"I think there are a lot of other publicly supported universities, at least in part, that have opened up that salary data," Erickson said in a town-hall forum outside Philadelphia. "And I think that's something that we could live with, too."

Salary information for about a third of Penn State employees -- those enrolled in the State Employees Retirement System, or SERS -- is already available to the public, thanks to a 2007 state Supreme Court ruling.

Penn State had objected to that access under then-President Graham Spanier, who stepped down Nov. 9 as criminal sexual-abuse and cover-up charges enveloped the university. Spanier also lobbied -- successfully -- for Penn State to receive exemptions from state Right to Know legislation.

Spanier had argued that the release of individual salary specifics could affect Penn State's competitiveness and "might influence certain aspects of attracting and retaining faculty," as Erickson recalled Thursday.

But Erickson, in his remarks, appeared to be less concerned about opening up the information.

"I have indicated that I really have no objection to providing salary information, which is something that many individuals want," he said. " ... We certainly would make contracts available and things of that nature that individuals may want to see that are of particular interest."

Penn State already lists thousands of pages of its budget information online via a special website, Erickson said. But he has asked staff members to make that website more understandable, he said.

His stated willingness to open university contracts for public inspection, too, appears to mark a departure from the Spanier administration, which typically guarded such documents.

"I've tried to be much more open, and, certainly, I hope you've felt that in a number of ways," Erickson told the more than 600 alumni at the Thursday forum.

He said he would carry alumni messages back to the university Board of Trustees for consideration.

"That's open; that's transparent," Erickson went on. "And I believe that I am fulfilling those promises (of transparency), and I will continue to try to do so."

Erickson, a former Penn State provost, was elevated into the presidency by the trustees on Nov. 9. His contract, made public this week, runs through June 2014, at which point he said he plans to retire.

His forum Thursday, in King of Prussia, was one of three 90-minute alumni gatherings put together by the Penn State Alumni Association. The first, on Wednesday, was held in Pittsburgh; the third, scheduled for Friday evening, will be held in New York City.

At the first two events, alumni displayed a range of anger, sadness, hostility and gratitude. Their questions covered a spectrum, from the treatment of fired football Coach Joe Paterno to the transparency of the Board of Trustees.

A report from the Pittsburgh forum is posted on this page. An online live stream from the New York forum, to begin at 7 p.m. Friday, will be available on this page. And some highlights from the King of Prussia forum are outlined below:

  • Anthony Lubrano, a prominent alumnus and contributor whose name appears on Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, was among the first to question Erickson.

Lubrano, who has announced plans to run for the Penn State board, said he visited with Paterno on Tuesday. Paterno asked Lubrano to tell the King of Prussia crowd: "Remember -- this is not about me; this is about our school," Lubrano said.

"In spite of how we've treated (Paterno), he's still thinking about us first," Lubrano said. He went on to ask Erickson if he believes his hiring as president reflects transparency.

Said Erickson: "I walked into this job in a situation that few other individuals would (have). I could have walked away from it. I didn't."

The board, Erickson said, said it thought he was the best person for the job right now. He has committed to holding the office for only a limited time, and "I intend to keep that commitment," Erickson said.

"I set that limited time period because I thought it was appropriate that Penn State go out and do a national search for a new president," he said. "But I think that search would have been very difficult to accomplish right now, under these circumstances."

  • Erickson said he fully intends to meet with Joe and Sue Paterno when he has time and when it's convenient for the Paternos. The university also intends to recognize their contributions to Penn State, he said. "We will do so in time."

Erickson also indicated that he agrees with the board's decision to fire Joe Paterno. "They had to take difficult (action) -- and that's not easy for me to say, either," he said.

  • Asked for his thoughts on the board's composition, Erickson said that "there's a lot of questions that the board has yet to answer. ... I hope they will provide additional information about why certain decisions were undertaken."
  • The investigative report being led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh "will not be sanitized," Erickson said. "Judge Freeh's report will essentially stand on its own." He said the board may emphasize some elements of the report "in terms of policy changes" at the university.
  • One alumnus said the board "needs to step up and communicate." Board Chairman Steve Garban should be joining Erickson at these public forums, the alumnus said, adding: "That's what's really missing if we're going to move on and be healing." Erickson said he would pass along the message.

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