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PSU Faculty Senate Seeks Fully Independent Investigation

on November 18, 2011 2:13 PM

With little dissent, the Penn State Faculty Senate called on the central PSU administration Friday to launch a fully independent investigation of alleged crimes at the university.

The independent investigation should be completely separate of the special investigative committee established by the university trustees last week, according to a formal Senate recommendation.

Unlike the trustees' committee, which is led by trustees Kenneth Frazier and Ronald Tomalis, the proposed independent group should include no one with any ties to Penn State, many senators said.

Those endorsing the Senate effort said the university must be "beyond reproach" in looking into the matter.

"We were concerned that the make-up for the (trustees') committee is entirely Penn State people," one faculty senator told a reporter. The senator requested anonymity given the internal sensitivity at the university.

Specifically, this senator said, many faculty senators are concerned over Frazier's longtime Penn State affiliation and his position as CEO of Merck and Co. Inc. Frazier has helped lead the defense of the drug-maker as it's faced scrutiny over a painkiller, according to published reports.

In fact, a Slate.com reporter wrote this week, "Frazier is best known for his phenomenal success in defending a sordid chapter in Merck's recent past—its years-long silence about the safety problems of the popular painkiller Vioxx."

At Penn State, the Faculty Senate made its independent-investigation request at an emergency meeting sought by dozens of faculty members. They asked the Senate to express sympathy for those affected by child abuse; to support full investigation of the criminal claims; and to voice support for new university President Rodney Erickson, Senate Chairman Dan Hagen said.

Senators, meeting in the Lewis Katz Building at University Park, deliberated 79 minutes Friday over how to craft such a resolution. An initial version included verbal support for the trustees' investigative committee, but a majority of faculty senators nixed that.

The final, approved Senate resolution articulates sympathy for those affected by sexual assault; a commitment to an environment "in which reports of abuse are regarded with full impartiality"; support for Erickson and his five-point commitment to Penn State; and the request for an independent investigation.

Complete text of the resolution, supported by an overwhelming Senate majority, will be posted on the official Faculty Senate website.

Erickson, approached about the Faculty Senate's action, did not immediately respond to a message Friday afternoon.

University trustees appointed him Nov. 9 to succeed 16-year Penn State President Graham Spanier. Spanier stepped down and head football Coach Joe Paterno was fired last week in the wake of a grand-jury report.

The report alleges that Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach, engaged in a years-long pattern of child sexual abuse, including on the University Park campus. Two longtime university administrators -- Tim Curley and Gary Schultz -- have been charged with perjury and failure to report in connection with the Sandusky case.

Lawyers for the men have said they are innocent.

The Faculty Senate, for its part, acts largely as an advisory and consultative body at Penn State, making recommendations to the central administration. It serves as a key legislative body on education-policy matters, as well.

A Senate source said the elected group, at its next meeting, will talk about pursuing a stronger shared-governance model at Penn State -- including in the athletic department.

The next Senate meeting is scheduled for Dec. 6 at University Park.

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly asserted that former Penn State Senior Vice President Gary C. Schultz and university registrar Karen L. Schultz are related. They are not. StateCollege.com regrets the error.

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