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Peetz: Penn State Leaders Look to Engage Paterno Family; Retaining Public Status a Priority

on March 17, 2012 11:43 AM

Penn State's top leadership is "very anxious to engage the Paterno family" and talk, board Chairwoman Karen Peetz said Friday.

"For all the legacy reasons, for all of the great things that Joe (Paterno) did for the university, we would like to have a dialogue" with the family, she told StateCollege.com in Hershey. "We would like to have a relationship. We would like the university to get the benefits of the Paterno family's involvement.

"And so," Peetz went on, "we are making our way through trying to make that connection. That's a big objective of this administration -- to engage them."

Publicly, the university Board of Trustees and the family of the late football coach have appeared at odds. On Monday, the board issued a public statement to reiterate why it dismissed Paterno as head football coach on Nov. 9. Trustees determined he committed a failure of leadership in responding to allegations about Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach charged with sexually abusing boys, the announcement reads.

Board leaders have said they felt it necessary to release the statement in response to ongoing questions and input, particularly from alumni and university staff members. (See low in this report for Peetz's earlier remarks.) The written statement, highlighted here, also reiterates the board rationale for its having removed Graham Spanier as university president.

Within hours Monday, the Paterno family answered with a public statement of its own. The family accused the board of "a rush to judgment."

"At various times, university officials have said that they fired Joe Paterno," the family statement reads. "At other times they have said they didn't fire him. They have simultaneously accused him of moral and leadership failures, and praised him for the high standards he set for the university.

"The tough questions that have yet to be addressed relate not to Joe Paterno, but to the board," it goes on. "Two months ago, as Joe Paterno was dying, the board conducted a series of media interviews condemning him for 'moral' failures. Now they are trying a different tack and accusing him of 'leadership' failures."

The complete text of the family's statement is posted here, as well. Joe Paterno died Jan. 22 of complications from lung cancer.

Peetz said Friday she has read the family's written statement. In emphasizing university leaders are eager to connect with the Paternos, she also said Penn State is making overtures to the family.

Her comments came during a brief interview before the board met at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Among Peetz's other remarks:

  • University leaders want Penn State to remain as a public university, Peetz said.

At a Faculty Senate meeting earlier in the week, she said Cornell University's public-private hybrid model is of interest. (Here's an earlier story.) That sparked a round of headlines suggesting Penn State could consider going private.

But Peetz, in the Friday interview, underscored that top Penn State leaders want to retain public status.

"That's our mission. That provides access for lower-income people to education," she said. "That's where we all came from.

"We do think that it's prudent, as state funding goes down ... to be thinking about alternatives," Peetz went on. "And it's not Cornell. We're not moving toward being Cornell. When you're in the capacity of a fiduciary to guide the future of the university, you have to be thinking broadly. There's no more interest in Cornell than there is in some other models. ...

"We've opened up the review of some different models, but we want to stay a public university," she added.

  • As the board proceeds with a new committee structure, approved Friday, Peetz expects its new committee on outreach, development and community relations to be particularly active, she said.

"I think the perception is that the board historically has been kind of closed," she said. "The whole purpose of that (committee) is to be outwardly focused, to be more engaging of our key constituents, whether that's students, staff, alumni -- everybody we interface with."

Earlier coverage of Friday's board meeting is available via the page linked below.

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