SCRANTON, Pa. -- Penn State president Rodney Erickson and two trustees, board chair Karen Peetz and Kenneth Frazier, responded Thursday afternoon to the release of the Freeh report, accepting full responsibility for the school's failure but stopping short of announcing resignations. The trustees commissioned Judge Louis Freeh and his team to conduct an investigation that began in November and has cost the school $6.5 million to date, a school official confirmed.
All three officials expressed remorse at the school's actions surrounding the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. They also addressed Joe Paterno's role and his legacy at Penn State, the broken trust by former president Graham Spanier, what they should have done in hindsight and the steps being taken to recover from what Erickson called "the most painful chapter in the university's history."
The news conference became very contentious at times -- the first question: When will the trustees be resigning? -- and Frazier, who chaired the board's special investigation task force, became upset at one point (more on this later).
Here are some key quotes, notes and takeaways from what Erickson and the trustees had to say:
Peetz opened by stating that the trustees, as the body with "paramount accountability" at Penn State, accept full responsibility for the failures that happened in the Sandusky case. But she also made it clear that at this time, no one is stepping down. "We are not intending to resign," Peetz said. "We believe that we have a natural evolution of the board, by the fact that many new members join every year. We think the consistency is important." Asked whether former board chairs John Surma and Steve Garban should step down, Peetz said, "The [Freeh] report includes some information about individuals. We have yet to have a chance to explore all of the details." Frazier confirmed no one has been asked to resign since the release of the Freeh report. Peetz acknowledged the board is a large and diverse group, and said term limits will be discussed soon.
Some of the more interesting responses came when Peetz and Frazier were asked about Paterno. Peetz didn't mince words when asked about her reaction to what the Freeh report uncovered. "Our reaction is the clarity that's come out of the report, which shows that 61 years of excellent service that Joe gave to the university is now marred," she said. "We have to step back and say, 'What does that mean?'" Frazier added that the report found "inexcusable failures on the part of Joe Paterno and others to protect children. But I'd also say Joe Paterno did a lot of tremendous things in his life, and there's a lot about his life that's worth emulating. You have to measure every human by the good they've done, the bad they've done."
One of the big debates going forward is how the school will honor its former coach or whether current tributes, such as the statue outside Beaver Stadium, will be removed. "The whole topic of Joe Paterno being honored or not being honored is a very sensitive topic," Peetz said. "We believe that with the report's findings, this is something that will continue to be discussed with the entire university community."
The only individual discussed more than Paterno was Spanier, the school's president from September 1995 until his firing in November 2011. Both Frazier and Peetz expressed disappointment that the trustees didn't push harder for answers from Spanier after the initial reports about Sandusky surfaced in March 2011. "We did ask President Spanier questions, we got answers," Frazier said. "What we can be blamed for, in hindsight, is we didn't probe more deeply after we got the first set of answers." And why didn't they? "We had a huge degree of trust in Graham Spanier," Frazier said. "He had been the president of this university for 16 years, and when we asked what was going on, we were assured there were no particular issues that the board needed to be concerned about. ... In retrospect, we were not appropriately pushing to get deeper answers."
Frazier became upset when asked why there wasn't more support from trustees following an April 2011 email sent by a trustee to Spanier asking for more information about a report about Sandusky in the (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. "You're assuming the other trustees were aware of that [contact] between that trustee and President Spanier, which was not true," he said. "In retrospect, we wish we had pressed upon someone that we had complete trust in. The questions were asked, the answers were given. They were not complete, thorough, open answers. We could have asked more questions."
Erickson said the Freeh report puts Penn State in a better position to respond to the letter NCAA president Mark Emmert sent to the school in November. Erickson also addressed Freeh's comments about the football culture at Penn State, and its role in keeping the information quiet for so long. "We should be careful that we don't paint the entire football program over a long period of time with a single brush," Erickson said. "This particular tragedy happened within the football program, but it could have happened in many other places. These things happen in schools, they happen in churches, they happen in youth camps all over. The question is really, were there aspects about the football program that allowed some of these things to continue on? We will certainly look at that." Erickson added that football is "an important part of our whole educational process here."
Erickson confirmed that the contract of Mike McQueary, the assistant football coach who reported seeing Sandusky assaulting a boy in 2001, ended June 30. Asked about the status of Tim Curley, the athletic director on leave from the school, Erickson said, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. We've just had the report for a matter of a few hours. Any employment relationships with the university will be handled in the days ahead."
I'm off to State College for more reaction. Stay tuned.