Penn State Board Trustee Al Clemens Resigns; Alumni Criticize Board for Freeh Report Response
Penn State Board of Trustee Al Clemens announced his resignation Friday.
Clemens, who has served nearly 18 years as a trustee, made the announcement during a public board meeting held at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey.
Clemens says he resigned partly in protest to the board's decision to fire head football coach Joe Paterno on Nov. 9, 2011, after authorities indicted former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky for sexually abusing 10 boys.
"We had little advance notice or opportunity to discuss and consider the complex issues we faced," Clemens says. "After 61 years of exemplary service, Coach Paterno was given no chance to respond. That was a mistake. I will always regret that my name is attached to such a rush judgment."
Clemens also questioned the board's decision to hire Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, to independently investigate how the university handled abuse allegations against Sandusky.
"Hiring Louis Freeh and the tacit acceptance of his questionable conclusions, without review, along with his broad criticism of our Penn State culture, was yet another mistake," Clemens says.
Clemens, three other trustees, and the Paterno family are parties in a lawsuit against the NCAA. The suit asks the court to overturn the consent decree Penn State signed with the NCAA, allowing unprecedented sanctions against Penn State's football program. The sanctions included a reduction in football scholarships, a ban on bowl appearances, and the vacating of 111 wins under former coach Joe Paterno.
Gov. Tom Ridge appointed Clemens to the board of trustees in May 1995. His term ended in 2012, but he has continued serving because Gov. Tom Corbett has not yet appointed his replacement. Corbett announced late last month his two nominations for the board, Cliff Benson and Todd Rucci. Therefore, it appears Clemens' time with the board was nearing an end regardless of Friday's resignation announcement.
In an interview with StateCollege.com, Clemens described the sanctions as "totally out of control." He also called for the board to publicly admit it does not agree with the conclusions of the Freeh report, including the portion that indicated Paterno was involved in wrongdoing.
Clemens said at the meeting he has "distanced himself from the board on this issue" and is "determined to reverse all of the misguided sanctions, which were designed to punish a football program without blemish, and were aimed at student-athletes innocent of any wrongdoing."
Clemens also acknowledged the movement among alumni to oust board members who ultimately signed off on the termination of Paterno and made other controversial decisions in the wake of the Sandusky indictment.
"Over the past two years, concerned alumni have spoken clearly and forcefully. They have replaced six incumbents with reform-minded trustees determined to acknowledge and redress errors of judgment with positive actions," Clemens says. "Those who believe we can move on without due process for all who have been damaged by unsupported accusations are not acting in Penn State's best interest."
Clemens also says his resignation is in response to a new policy implemented by the board, which limits members' terms to 12 years.
"It is time for new leadership to step forward," he says.
Additionally, the recent hiring of Eric Barron as Penn State's next president, Clemens says, will help usher in a new era for the university.
"Penn State's future is bright. Our president, Dr. Barron, brings with him a fresh perspective, grounded first-hand experience of the true culture of success with honor. We have the opportunity to move forward united in our commitment to truth," Clemens says. "I urge all who love Penn State's name to fight on. We are Penn State."
Earlier, several alumni issued similar criticisms during a public comment portion of the meeting.
Ceil Masella urged the board to publicly acknowledge Paterno did not try to cover up the Sandusky scandal.
"Correct the narrative, begin by publicly acknowledging Joe's innocence," she says.
Cheryl Fleagle, spouse of a Penn State graduate, criticized the board for "silencing" Paterno and former Penn State President Graham Spanier following the Sandusky scandal.
"Your actions of firing Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno will always be looked upon as a great failure in leadership," she says.
She went on to say the board "enabled the world to view him (Paterno) as a culprit in this disaster. Shame on all of you."
Daniel Wallace urged the members to consider making changes to the board's structure, including reducing the number of members. Wallace says the 32-member board is too large and cumbersome. Wallace also urged the board to recognize Paterno's 61 years with Penn State.
Joe Lally says the negative press Penn State has received in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal "is a direct result of the board's ineffective leadership."
Lally called the Freeh report inaccurate and urged the board to join a lawsuit against the NCAA that asks a court to overturn related sanctions.
"There is no way Joe Paterno would put innocent children in harm's way or impede an investigation," he says. "Stand up for our honor and reputation."
Evan Smith specifically challenged board members Joel Myers and Jesse Arnelle, asking, "What have you done to change the public perception of Penn State?"
Myers and Arnelle, who voted to terminate Spanier and Paterno, are both currently seeking new terms with the board.
Thomas Hollander says the board needs to focus on the future and the needs of Penn State students instead of "artifacts." He also criticized board members who have joined the lawsuit against the NCAA, arguing the action may violate their obligations to the university.
Clemens graduated from Penn State in 1959. In 1997, he was honored with the Penn State Alumni Fellow Award. He and his wife, Valerie, provided funding as part of the Beaver Stadium expansion and renovation project and an area of the stadium was named the Alvin and Valerie Clemens Football Team Complex.