Faculty Council unhappy with inquest

Updated: January 19, 2012, 6:49 PM ET
By Don Van Natta Jr. | ESPN.com

Some Penn State Faculty Council members are challenging the independence of Penn State's handling of child sexual-abuse allegations after the lead investigator told them he would present his findings twice to a university Board of Trustees' committee before releasing his report publicly.

Former FBI director Louis J. Freeh was hired by the board on Nov. 21 to investigate how Penn State handled the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal, which led to the board's decision to fire Joe Paterno after 46 years as head football coach. Freeh pledged to conduct his inquiry with "complete independence, and take it wherever it may lead." The scope of his investigation, he announced, would include actions made by Penn State's Board of Trustees.

But Freeh held a one-hour, closed-door meeting with Penn State's Faculty Council on Jan. 10 and told faculty members that he intended to turn over his preliminary investigative report to the Special Committee of the Board of Trustees for their input, two attendees of the meeting told "Outside the Lines." After making revisions to the report, Freeh told the Faculty Council that he would then provide a second draft report to the trustees' special committee.

Freeh's investigative report into the worst scandal in Penn State's 156-year history will be made public after the second draft is reviewed by the board, he told the Faculty Council. Freeh's report will include recommendations for changes.

Freeh told the faculty members that only the Board of Trustees' special committee would be given the chance to review his draft reports, according to the faculty members who attended the meeting. Freeh said he would not share the draft reports with anyone else, they said.

"It was very easy to become suspicious about how fair this investigation is going to be," said one of the participants in the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I find it very difficult for a contractor who is essentially hired by the Board of Trustees to do a thorough investigation of the Board of Trustees, especially if they are given the chance to look at a draft report and suggest changes that will be made before the report is released to the public."

A second faculty member who attended Freeh's meeting with the Faculty Council, an executive committee of Penn State's Faculty Senate, said the former FBI director's presentation "left questions in many of our minds just how independent his investigation or report are going to be."

In interviews with "Outside the Lines" this week, both senior faculty members referred to notes they had taken during the meeting with Freeh. They both said Freeh repeatedly referred to the work he was doing on behalf of his "client," which is the Special Committee of Penn State's Board of Trustees. The special committee is chaired by Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck & Company, and a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees.

"When you keep referring to doing work for your 'client,' it takes the independent feel right out of an investigation," said one meeting attendee describing Freeh's remarks. "His 'client' is the board of trustees, so how can he investigate his own client? It's a farce."

Thomas Davies, a spokesman for Freeh and the special committee, declined to comment about the ongoing investigation. A university spokesman, Bill Mahon, referred a call for comment to Davies.

The faculty members also said Freeh told them he would not use polygraph experts to conduct his investigation. One of the professors said, "I find that distressing -- the only way to get honest answers is to have polygraph tests, if used as nothing more than a threat to get the truth."

In recent weeks, an increasingly vocal group of alumni and faculty members has criticized the board's handling of the firing of Paterno, saying the decision was made by the trustees without "due process." Some critics of the board have called for some or all of the current trustees to be replaced.

During a routine meeting on Friday, the board will decide whether its current chairman and executive committee each will receive another one-year term.

When told about Freeh's plans to share draft reports board members, Maribeth Roman Schmidt, a spokesman for the group, Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, said: "As an alumnus, I'm disappointed because it doesn't sound like any of the leadership is delivering on all their promises of transparency. If Louis Freeh needs his investigative report to be client-approved, how is this investigation truly independent?"

At three town hall meetings in Pennsylvania and New York City last week, Penn State President Rodney A. Erickson repeatedly said Mr. Freeh's inquiry would be independent and that the final report would not be edited or modified prior to its publication. Erickson has also said that Penn State will be entirely open and transparent about its handling of the fallout from the scandal.

After the Jan. 10 meeting with Freeh, the Faculty Council voted 22-0 to approve a resolution calling for a parallel investigation to be led by a nine-person independent special committee composed of five people, including its chair, who are independent of the university. The committee would specifically be charged with investigating the board of trustees' oversight role.

On Jan. 24, the Faculty Senate will vote on that resolution, as well as sending a "no confidence" message to university trustees, according to the meeting agenda made public on Wednesday. If the vote on the resolution passes, it would be up to Erickson to approve funding for a separate investigation. At a December Faculty Senate Meeting, Anthony Ambrose, the senator with the College of Medicine who made the no-confidence motion, also demanded that the trustees resign.

Freeh, the 61-year-old former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is chairman of Freeh Group International Solutions LLC, an investigative and consulting firm, and founding partner of law firm Freeh Sporkin Sullivan LLP. Freeh was hired by a board of trustees' special investigations committee to look into allegations involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who is charged with 52 counts of sexually assaulting 10 boys over nearly a decade.

When he was introduced at a news conference Nov. 21, Freeh said he and his investigative team would look into Penn State's oversight of the Sandusky matter and its culture to try to determine why years, even decades, of alleged sexual abuse went undetected.

"I am committed to ensuring that our independent investigation be conducted in a thorough, fair and comprehensive manner, leaving no stone unturned or without any fear or favor," Freeh said.

Before introducing Freeh, Frazier, a board trustee and the chair of the board's special committee, said, "The entire board of trustees is intent on taking all steps necessary to ensure that our institution never again has to ask whether it did the right thing, or whether or not it could have done more."

Several faculty Senate members said Freeh's meeting on Jan. 10 was viewed by some as "an attempt to thwart our push for an independent investigatory committee." On Thursday evening, members of the board of trustees are having dinner with members of the Senate Council, a gesture that has not occurred for at least a decade, several professors said.

In a story published in Thursday's New York Times, 13 trustees described their rationale for firing Paterno on Nov. 9. Their reasons included that he failed to do more when told about the an alleged sexual assault by Sandusky in the Penn State locker room in 2002 and what they regarded as the coach's questioning of the board's authority in the days following Sandusky's arrest. They also said that they did not believe Paterno had the ability to continue coaching in the face of the scandal.

The trustees also said former Penn State president Graham Spanier never informed any of them about the scope of the grand jury investigation before Sandusky's arrest Nov. 5. Spanier was also fired by the board of trustees Nov. 9.

"To me, it wasn't about guilt or innocence in a legal sense," Frazier told the newspaper. "It was about these norms of society that I'm talking about: that every adult has a responsibility for every other child in our community."

Trustees told the newspaper that despite firing Paterno, they were honoring the terms of his contract through the end of the 2011 season.

Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He can be reached at don.vannatta@espn.com.

Don Van Natta Jr. | email

Senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com

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