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PSU Trustees: Spanier Didn't Reveal Own Testimony; Paterno Surprised Board with Statement

on January 19, 2012 2:31 PM

Then-Penn State President Graham Spanier talked with university trustees in May about the presence of a grand-jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky, several board members confirmed Thursday.

But at that gathering, a closed-door executive session, Spanier did not disclose the on-campus allegations from 2002 that have since become a focal point in the Sandusky case, trustees recalled.

Nor did he reveal his own testimony before the grand jury or an internal conversation about the 2002 matter with then-administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a board representative said, citing trustees' recollections.

"There is no trustee that read the (grand-jury) presentment or knew the contents of the presentment prior to Nov. 5," when criminal charges were filed, trustee Keith Masser said. "That presentment was the critical driver in moving (us) toward where we are today," with a new president and football coach.

"... We didn't know anything about what went on within the investigation" until Nov. 5, he said.

That goes for the board leadership, as well, per the leadership's own accounts, trustees have said. They said the board had only limited awareness of early press coverage of the investigation, first reported by the Patriot-News in March.

Still, Masser and three other board members -- Keith Eckel, Peter Khoury and Anne Riley -- indicated they do not believe Spanier deliberately misled them.

"I believe I was inadequately informed," Eckel said. "But I have no rationale to suggest that it was planned" by the administration.

Likewise, Masser said: "It's not what was done. It's what wasn't done. There was no deliberate -- ."

He trailed off.

"That's fair," Riley added.

Their comments came in a nearly 20-minute conversation with StateCollege.com at the Nittany Lion Inn.

The website is one of roughly 10 news organizations invited by the university to meet with board members in a series of on-the-record interviews Thursday.

Those interviews follow the publication of a lengthy report Thursday morning in The New York Times. More than a dozen members of the 32-trustee board spoke with The Times for that piece, some of them suggesting that Spanier had not fully informed the board about the grand-jury investigation.

In addition, The Times piece delves into the board's stated rationale for the dismissal of head football coach Joe Paterno, who had supervised Sandusky, a former assistant football coach.

Sandusky, accused of an extended pattern of child sexual abuse, has said he is innocent. Curley and Schultz have said that they, too, are innocent. They are accused in an alleged cover-up.

Specifically, state prosecutors have said Curley and Schultz failed to report adequately the on-campus allegations made in 2002. According to testimony from assistant football coach Mike McQueary, that's when Sandusky was seen engaged in an apparent sexual act with a boy in a university football facility.

Deciding to Speak

Trustee Eckel, in speaking with StateCollege.com, said the university board was advised by legal counsel not to talk with the news media about the ordeal and its fallout, largely out of fiduciary concerns.

"But we have come to a decision that we are the only ones who know how the decision (on Paterno and Spanier) was made, and we believe we need to speak out and provide that information to everyone," Eckel went on.

Similarly, Khoury said: "There were some questions raised (in the university community) that we felt we needed to answer."

Spanier, reached by multiple news sources, has declined to speak publicly since the trustees announced his departure Nov. 9.

Among other remarks, Masser, Riley and Eckel said Thursday that they expect governance reforms will come to the university. Riley said the inevitable changes will mark the latest in the long evolution of governance at Penn State.

An investigative report in the works from former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose firm is being paid by the university, will be key in informing any necessary changes, Masser said.

"We will look at that report, and we will look at the changes that need to be made," he said. " ... When we get that information, we'll begin implementing the changes."

Said Eckel: "I think there will be a progression of changes" once the Freeh report is complete. It could be done as soon as this spring.

Explaining a Dismissal

In a separate conversation, trustee Joel Myers delved into the board decision to dismiss Paterno.

Widespread public attention has focused on how the board removed Paterno: via a late-evening phone call Nov. 9.

Board Vice Chairman John Surma was to deliver three points to Paterno during that phone call, Myers said. But he said Paterno hung up after Surma delivered Point No. 1 -- that Paterno was no longer head football coach.

"We never had a chance to tell him that we regretted we had to do it this way," Myers said. That was to be Point No. 2.

And Point No. 3, Myers said, was to be that Paterno's employment contract would be honored.

As to Point No. 2, the board determined that it could not deliver the dismissal news to Paterno any other way, thanks to the media frenzy that had developed. Reporters by the dozens were camped out around both the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, where the board was meeting, and the Paterno home in College Heights.

Myers, whose son Dan Myers publishes StateCollege.com, cited multiple reasons for the Paterno firing.

The former coach has affirmed he was told something of a sexual nature happened between Sandusky and a child in 2002, Joel Myers emphasized. While Paterno fulfilled his legal obligations to report the matter, Myers said, the board was concerned about whether he had fulfilled his moral duties.

Further, Myers said, "the board was having to take over the management of the university" at the time, in early November.

"The university was relatively leaderless. We could not have a situation where Joe was saying, 'I run the football program; let the board take care of the rest of the university,'" Myers said. "The football program is part of the university."

Hours before his dismissal, Paterno had issued a public statement saying he would step down after the football season ended and that the board needn't worry about him. Myers said that statement came as a surprise to the board.

"There was that breakdown in communication," he said. "Obviously, we feel very bad, very sorry that we could not talk to him in person. We will always regret that."

That said, Myers said, he is proud that board acted swiftly, decisively and with authority, even under personally difficult circumstances. He reiterated that the board acted unanimously, including with regard to Spanier. His 16-year presidency ended Nov. 9, as well.

Myers said the board executive session in May, convened by Spanier, "was done in such a way that this (Sandusky matter) was no (big) concern. ... It was done in such a way that (suggested) it was of no concern. ...

"I don't remember any questions" from the board, and "I felt no need to ask a question" because of how the issue was presented, he said.

Myers said losing Spanier, whom he's known since the 1970s, was extremely emotional. The same goes for Paterno, whom Myers has known since the '60s, he said.

"We never thought we'd ever be in this kind of situation, dealing with these issues," he said, soon adding: "The university is bigger than any one person. It's a community -- 96,000 students, 590,000 alumni, great faculty. All of that is the reputation.

"We had to go forward. History will be the judge of what we did," Myers said.

Asked whether he expects some changes in board leadership when the trustees assemble Friday at University Park, Myers declined to comment specifically. "But I suspect there will be some changes," he said.

"We feel great empathy for (Paterno) and what he's going through now," Myers said. "We very much appreciate all he's done for Penn State. We do plan later to honor that."

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