Pennsylvania State University Board Chairwoman Karen Peetz said a special task force is “evaluating the fundamental culture” of the school after an investigation found university officials covered up a child sex-abuse scandal involving a former assistant football coach.
“As we move forward, we will work to rebuild a culture that will be shaped by the highest commitment to academics and athletics --- but ultimately, a culture of transparency and accountability,” Peetz, vice chairwoman of Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK:US), said in a e-mailed letter to alumni.
A report released last week by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh said the school’s top executives, including former university President Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno, concealed sexual abuse of children by ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to protect the school from “bad publicity.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association -- college sports’ governing body -- is awaiting a response from Penn State officials before determining on penalties for the athletic program. NCAA President Mark Emmert has said no sanctions are off the table, including a shutdown of football or the athletic department. Penn State President Rodney Erickson said two days ago that the university would officially respond to the NCAA’s request for information within days.
“Penn State needs to figure out how they’re going to right this ship, and if it is shutting down football for a year or two to figure it out for themselves, then they need to do it,” said Jason Lanter, a professor of psychology at Pennsylvania’s Kutztown University and former president of the Drake Group, a professors’ alliance to defend academic integrity from the sports industry.
Erickson has said he doesn’t want to “jump to any conclusions” about whether possible NCAA sanctions might include the so-called death penalty, which could shut down Penn State’s athletic program for ethics violations.
Lanter said university officials need to take bigger steps than putting aside money for child abuse and renovating the showers in the athletic complex, where incidents of abuse by Sandusky were alleged to have taken place.
“I’d like to see Penn State put the hammer down and say, ‘We understand it’s going to do damage to the NCAA, to the Big Ten, to Penn State, but we need to throw football on the back burner for a year or two to figure stuff out,’” Lanter said in a telephone interview. “Anything Penn State does helps them in the NCAA’s eyes, but it needs to be strong and swift.”
The 68-year-old Sandusky, who spent 31 seasons as a defensive assistant under Paterno, was convicted last month on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period and is awaiting sentencing.
Paterno, who was fired in November after charges were filed against Sandusky, won a Division I record 409 games over 46 years as the Nittany Lions’ coach. He died of lung cancer in January at the age of 85.
Freeh, in a July 12 news conference in Philadelphia, said the most saddening finding in his investigation was the “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.”
Emmert, in a July 16 interview with the Public Broadcasting Service, didn’t say whether NCAA penalties would be targeted at the football program or the entire athletic department, since then-athletic director Tim Curley was allegedly involved in the cover-up.
If Penn State’s football program were shut down, the financial losses would probably be debilitating, leaving non- revenue teams without funding and saddling the program with debt for years. In the fiscal year ending in 2010, the football program generated $63.3 million of the department’s $106.6 million operating revenue and turned an operating profit of $49.2 million, according to the school’s revenue and expenses report for that year.
Peetz, in her letter to alumni, said the release of the Freeh Report marked one of the most sorrowful days in what has been the most difficult chapter in the university’s history.
The Board of Trustees accepts full responsibility for the failures cited in the Freeh Report, Peetz said, and with the cooperation of the administration, will “take every action to ensure that an event like this never happens again in our University community.”
Peetz, a Penn State graduate, and Erickson appointed a task force composed of board members and senior university administrators to ensure the recommendations in the Freeh Report are enacted. The report was commissioned by the trustees.
“At the same time, progress will be about much more than responding to recommendations, but about evaluating the fundamental culture that is Penn State,” Peetz wrote.
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