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PSU Trustees: Erickson Sees Standing Ovation, Cites Circumstances 'I Never Could Have Imagined'

on November 11, 2011 10:27 AM

Acting Penn State President Rodney Erickson received a standing ovation from the university's trustees Friday morning, two days after being appointed to his interim role.

"I'm humbled and honored by your appointment," Erickson told the board, thanking the trustees for "placing your confidence in me."

He introduced his family to the group and soon added: "I accept this new leadership role under circumstances that I never could have imagined."

(UPDATE @ 12:15 p.m. Nov. 11: Erickson has recorded a statement that's now posted on YouTube. Onward State has it posted here. Penn State has posted on this page the full text of Erickson's statement to the board Friday.)

It's deeply difficult to comprehend the child-sex-abuse allegations included in a grand-jury report released last week, Erickson said. The allegations, filed against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, list 40 criminal charges and note eight young victims.

In connection with that case, two now-former Penn State administrators -- Tim Curley and Gary Schultz -- have been charged with perjury and failure to report. The grand-jury report also mentions now-former Penn State President Graham Spanier and now-former football Coach Joe Paterno, though neither of those men has been charged.

The university board acted Wednesday night to remove both Paterno and Spanier from the university. Trustees immediately elevated Erickson, until now the provost and executive vice president at Penn State, into the role of interim president.

Addressing the trustees at their regular meeting Friday, Erickson said his "heart aches for the victims and their families." Like millions of others, he said, he is searching for answers.

"This is a tragedy for many lives," and it will take some time "to come to grips" with the damage done, Erickson said.

In the weeks to come, he said, he will be meeting with university constituents and focusing heavily on keeping Penn State centered on its core missions of teaching, service and research.

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"Your deliberations and decisive actions have now set a course for the university's future," Erickson told the trustees. He said it's up to everyone "to carry on the work that so many of us" have committed our lives to.

"Our work is as important to society as it was last week -- perhaps even more so," Erickson said. He said he wants to help rebuild confidence in the university.

And as he speaks in the weeks to come, he went on, he will put a fundamental emphasis on the core values that Penn State has committed itself to for more than 150 years. Those include honesty and integrity, Erickson said.

"Now more than ever, we need to articulate these values in everything we do. ... I know we can do this," he said. "We are resilient."

Board Chairman Steve Garban introduced Erickson to the board shortly after 9:45 a.m. The board meeting is being held in a ballroom at the Nittany Lion Inn, on the University Park campus.

Garban said the entire board has pledged its support for Erickson -- and the university administrative team --- "as we work together collectively."

Erickson was Penn State's provost and executive vice president from July 1999 until Wednesday. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1977, was named dean of the Graduate School in 1995 and became the vice president for research in 1997.

He holds degrees from the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington. He began his academic career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As president, Erickson is now, in effect, the chief executive officer of Penn State, answering directly to the Board of Trustees. The 32-member board appears to be in full attendance at Friday's meeting, which is expected to end around midday.

Gov. Tom Corbett, by virtue of his position as governor, is a Penn State board member. He is attending the Friday meeting and, upon an introduction from Garban, received a standing ovation, as well.

National, regional and news media have turned out by the dozens for the meeting, being carried live online by 6ABC in Philadelphia. Penn State has easily quadrupled the amount of space normally reserved for the news media at trustees meetings. Typically, perhaps a half-dozen reporters show up.

The university also moved the meeting from its usual location -- a basement-level boardroom -- to the much larger ballroom.

All earlier and ongoing coverage related to the Penn State-charges situation is linked via the page below.

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