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Faculty Senate Weighs No-Confidence Measure Aimed at PSU Trustees

on December 06, 2011 8:48 PM

As soon as Jan. 24, the Penn State Faculty Senate could vote on a no-confidence measure aimed at the university trustees.

Dr. Anthony Ambrose, a faculty member in the university's College of Medicine, introduced the measure at the Senate meeting Tuesday.

He suggested that the full Senate take a no-confidence vote concerning the Board of Trustees, the top governing body at Penn State. His measure also would call for the resignations of all 32 board members and the formation of new, "clean and pretty mean" board of no more than 10 members.

"The Supreme Court of this country has nine members," Ambrose said, questioning why the Penn State board has 32. Earlier, he asked university President Rodney Erickson: "How do you think the Board of Trustees failed?"

Either the board was unaware of sexual-abuse and cover-up allegations -- in which case it would have been remiss in its duties -- or the board knew of the alleged situation and did nothing about it, Ambrose asserted.

Erickson replied, in part: "As far as I know, the board was unaware of this (sexual-abuse and cover-up allegations), as I was. And when they did become aware of it, they took very swift and decisive action." He also suggested that "we need more facts before we can connect all sorts of (elements) with any degree of certainty."

Still, at least two other faculty senators audibly moved to second Ambrose's no-confidence motion. A call for an immediate vote on the measure fell short, but won support from more than 80 of the roughly 220 senators present.

The measure will be forwarded along for full consideration -- and a likely vote -- at the Faculty Senate meeting on Jan. 24, Senate leaders said.

If approved, the legislation would be a largely symbolic gesture; the Senate is not a primary governing body at Penn State. (A fact sheet is available here.)

Also Jan. 24, the Senate is expected to discuss the formation of a new committee within its ranks.

That committee would contemplate precisely what the Senate might want in a wholly independent investigation of the child-sexual-abuse and cover-up allegations at Penn State, faculty senators said.

Erickson appeared willing Tuesday to consider a independent-investigation proposal from the Senate -- if the Senate can produce one that's specific.

"We need a plan," Erickson told the group.

Last month, the Senate held a special meeting and passed a resolution calling for -- among other things -- an entirely independent investigative committee for the university. The committee's chair and a majority of its members should have no affiliation, past or present, with Penn State, according to the resolution.

Several days later, a special investigative committee initiated by the university trustees -- and made up mostly of trustees -- announced the hiring of former FBI Director Louis Freeh to handle an independent investigation.

The trustees committee's chairman, Kenneth Frazier, said he believes the Freeh effort will fulfill the spirit of the earlier Faculty Senate resolution.

But a number of Senate members argued otherwise during their meeting Tuesday. It marked the first time the full body had assembled for a regular meeting since the filing of criminal charges Nov. 5 against Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach, and against former university administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.

Some senators said it's imperative that an investigative committee have unimpeachable independence, suggesting that the trustees' attempt falls short. But Erickson encouraged the Senate to examine how the current investigations at Penn State -- including those by the NCAA, by the U.S. Department of Education and by Freeh -- are developing. He expressed confidence in all those inquiries.

"I think it's important ... for the Senate to discover what the scope of those investigations might be," Erickson said. "If there are areas that the Senate wishes to look (at) beyond (those) ... then I think it's appropriate for the Senate to have those discussions."

Meeting with reporters later, Erickson said it may be helpful if Faculty Senate members can meet with the trustees' special investigative committee. He can encourage that interaction, he said.

His appearance before the full Senate on Tuesday was his first since he assumed the presidency Nov. 9. He opened his visit with several minutes of prepared remarks.

It wasn't until Nov. 4, he said, that he learned Sandusky, Schultz and Curley were about to be charged. The charges were filed the next day.

"I literally learned about this the same time you did," he said. " ... I have to say my emotions, I'm sure, are very much the same as yours."

Erickson went on to cite feelings of sadness, shock, heartache, betrayal and shame.

"I think for many of us, it is something that remains very difficult for us to comprehend fully," he said. "And it will take some time before we have a measure of understanding and the answers to the questions we have."

In underscoring his earlier promises to the Penn State community, Erickson said that "we're not going to run away from this issue" -- that is, sexual abuse.

"It's an issue that, in many ways, has been thrust upon us," he said. "Our responsibility now is to be a national leader in helping individuals and families to recover and prevent those kinds of situations from happening."

Erickson said the university will launch a number of initiatives on the anti-sexual-abuse front. "We believe we can be a national leader in this area and hopefully create some good from something that has been a terrible tragedy," he said.

At other points during the Senate meeting, Erickson made these points:

  • Asked about the trustees' removal of "interim" from his presidential title, Erickson said the board "clearly felt that this was an extraordinary time and an extraordinary set of circumstances that require decisive action over the next few months." The board believed that the interim designation "weakened that authority," he said.

"My goal is to provide a sense of healing, a sense of moving forward until a point that a national search can be undertaken and appropriate traditional search processes can be manifested," Erickson said. He said he does not have a precise sense of how long he'll be in the presidency.

"This is not typically the job that one takes on within 30 days of receiving your Medicare card," said Erickson, who was awarded his Ph.D. in 1973.

  • Erickson said Penn State needs to ensure that its "front face ... is the academic side of the university. And we need to do a better job -- all of us, collectively -- of making known how good a university this really is. ... We need to make sure we deliver that message, that we're a great academic institution and we continue to be -- and that we're going to get better."

Tweets from the Faculty Senate meeting are available via @SCNewsDesk.

Earlier coverage

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Penn State, State College Noon News & Features: Tuesday, Dec. 6
December 06, 2011 11:43 AM
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Penn State, State College Noon News & Features: Tuesday, Dec. 6
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