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Hundreds Turn out for Penn State Forum; Erickson Emphasizes Integrity, Transparency

on November 30, 2011 8:55 PM

Penn State should emerge from its current crisis as a stronger, more compassionate and transparent institution that's not defined by football, university administrators said Wednesday evening.

"Integrity is doing the right thing day in and day out, the first time, every time," university President Rodney Erickson said, addressing a crowd in the HUB-Robeson Center. "I think we all have to recommit to that."

His remarks came during a two-hour town-hall forum hosted by several student-government organizations at the university. Seven other top Penn State administrators joined him at the event, taking student questions that covered a broad gamut.

Some asked about transparency and diversity. Others asked about athletics, finances and university governance. Still more ventured into more emotional areas, as one student asked how, as a Penn Stater, she should cope with feelings of shame.

Administrators responded to all the questions asked, though they did not directly answer all of them. For instance, a question about the absence of an undergraduate representative on a university investigative committee did not receive a direct answer.

However, a graduate student on that committee -- Rodney Hughes -- said he would represent all students and "really would be happy to introduce myself to all of you."

"I am a person; I do care about Penn State; and I'm going to do my best for all of you," Hughes said.

Among other exchanges at the forum, a student asked if the national media bullied Penn State into making a "rash" decision. It was an apparent reference to the trustees' firing of now-former head football Coach Joe Paterno.

"No. That was the short answer," Erickson said.

He soon added that "I don't think football ever has defined us."

"I'm a scholar first and foremost," said Erickson, formerly Penn State's chief academic officer. He has long tried to make sure that Penn State is defined primarily as a world-class academic institution, he said.

At another point, Erickson said he believes that Penn State, at an appropriate time, will find a way to honor Paterno and his wife, Sue, for their contributions to the university.

The university trustees elevated Erickson into the presidency Nov. 9, several days after criminal charges were filed against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and two now-former administrators: Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.

Sixteen-year university President Graham Spanier departed the Penn State administration in the wake of the charges. Sandusky is accused of an extended pattern of child sexual abuse. Curley and Schultz are accused of helping to cover up concerns about Sandusky.

Sandusky, Curley and Schultz have, through their attorneys, said they are innocent.

Meanwhile, students at Penn State have expressed a range of emotions. Several hundred of them turned out for the forum late Wednesday. An estimated 450 people attended the event, carried live by several media outlets, including the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

StateCollege.com will post a more thorough report on Thursday. For tweets from the forum, visit the @SCNewsDesk page on Twitter. Several photos from the event are posted in the gallery above; click on the large image to open the gallery.

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