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One-on-One with Rodney Erickson: Struggle Ahead, but When it Comes to Students, 'I'm Very Proud of Them'

by on July 18, 2012 6:00 AM

This is the second in a two-part series of an interview with Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who spoke to reporter Laura Nichols on Tuesday in his office in Old Main. Part I of the interview is available here.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson doesn't mince words.

He knows the university has to accept responsibility in the wake of Louis Freeh's investigative report and be accountable to Jerry Sandusky's victims by implementing all of the more than 100 recommendations in the Freeh report, for one.

Erickson said the university administration is taking all of the necessary steps to make sure "nothing like this happens again at Penn State."

"These are challenging times," Erickson said.

How many civil suits have been brought against the university and how much will each cost Penn State?

"It's too early to tell (the cost) – at least three civil suits. One is 'John Doe A' and another is 'John Doe B.'"

What can Penn State do to start moving forward?

"The first thing that has to happen is we have to begin to take additional concerted efforts to implement changes of the Freeh report. Many of those are things we can do immediately.

"We can continue to develop framework in conjunction with victim lawyers to appropriately deal with the civil suits.

"The other things that we have to do relate to things in the NCAA and so on.

"At the same time, we need to get ready for a new incoming class at University Park, which numbers somewhere between 15,000 and 15,500 students.

"There are incoming students in medicine and law, too. We've got a lot to attend to. One of the great challenges of a tragedy, of a crisis like this is that we have to understand our day-to-day requirements of operating a major educational institution.

"We're dealing with many extraordinary kinds of issues, but the most thing important in the long run is that we provide the highest possible education."

How does Penn State move past being seen as a "football school"?

"It's not just here but at most major universities, public and private, athletics overshadow academics. Individuals have seemingly forgotten we were a great academic institution before athletics became prominent.

"We need to make sure the value of a Penn State education comes to the forefront. We need to strive to make sure we're fulfilling that promise. We need to make sure we have the appropriate balance."

How long will the aftermath of the trial (civil suits, investigations) last?

"It's hard to say with any degree of precision when the remaining criminal trial will take place. We don't know the timeframe for the civil settlements to work that process through

"There are ongoing investigations. I would say that the Freeh report provided us with a kind of milestone in this process.

"I know the report has been widely anticipated by many of us who have been directly or indirectly involved. In many ways, this is a major step. It allows us to move forward and put into place many of the recommendations."

What has it meant to you to see Penn State students rally in support of victims?

"It's been one of the most reassuring – their actions have really lifted my spirits over the last eight months. Out students have stayed so focused on their studies but yet all of this things they've done -- raising a record amount of money ($10.6 million) through the dance marathon (THON), all of the outreach they've been involved with, some even giving time from their spring break and traveling to other parts of the county.

"They've been raising money, whether it's for RAINN or other causes, they had a candlelight vigil. They've just been really wonderful ambassadors, they embody the university's core characteristics and values.

"I'm very proud of them."

What are your goals moving forward and what do you see as your role?

"Certainly I want to see that the recommendations of the Freeh report are implemented, I want to see that we move along with the issue of the victims which I indicated was front and center.

"I want to make sure that we continue to strive to be the best possible place academically that we can be, that we have opportunities for our students to show how talented they are.

"I really want to help us to engage each other, through town hall meetings with students. I'm going to be very visible amongst our faculty and staff.

"I see my role as helping us as the path to healing during the time I serve as president. We have a lot of healing to do and at the same time we're dealing with our regular core business."

How important is transparency?

"I think it's very important to be very open about the things that we're doing. Members of my administration have to share information about decision-making and why decisions are being made with students, faculty, staff and alumni and with the public.

"It's important that we be good listeners, that we listen to alternative viewpoints, that we make the right decisions and value the right principles."

Related coverage: 

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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