Steve Garban, a longtime and influential member of Penn State's Board of Trustees, resigned Thursday, bowing to pressure by some of his fellow trustees who were angry at him for failing to alert them about the Jerry Sandusky criminal investigation in April 2011.
In a letter to board chairwoman Karen Peetz, Garban said: "It is clear to me that my presence on the board has become a distraction and an impediment to your efforts to move forward."
"These past months have been some of the most painful of my life," Garban wrote. "After absorbing the findings of the Freeh Report last week, the Board of Trustees accepted responsibility for the failures of governance that took place on our watch. Following the release of the report, you also asked each member of the board to evaluate our individual paths forward."
The trustees have become increasingly alarmed this week that the NCAA will hand down an extreme punishment, possibly the death penalty for its football program for its "loss of institutional control" during the Sandusky years. Several trustees flatly argued in private sessions this week that Garban's resignation was needed to show the public the board was serious about "moving forward."
Garban is the first Penn State trustee to quit since the release of the Freeh report, which was highly critical of the trustees' handling of the Sandusky matter and the firing of coach Joe Paterno. The Board of Trustees hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to conduct the investigation, which interviewed 430 people and reviewed more than 3.5 million documents over eight months. The 267-page Freeh report was released July 12.
During last week's two-day Board of Trustees meeting in Scranton, Pa., several trustees confronted Garban and urged him to resign for the good of the board, three trustees with knowledge of the episode said. Garban, a 14-year board member and chairman of the board when the Sandusky investigation became public last year, had refused.
But three trustees with knowledge of this week's discussions with Garban, including several conversations by Peetz herself, said Garban was persuaded today to resign. "He did the right thing," said a trustee who spoke on condition of anonymity. "This should help people see we are trying to move forward."
Garban, who chose not to run again for chairman of the board in January, was unavailable for comment Thursday night. In an interview this week, he declined to comment and referred questions to David La Torre, the university's spokesman.
In accepting the resignation, Peetz wrote: "Steve dedicated his adult life to Penn State, devoting more than 33 years of service to make this a better institution. Few love this university more than Steve, and his passion and commitment to the university have never been more apparent than they are today."
Peetz also said, "I will miss Steve and his many contributions to the board, but I understand and respect his reasons for leaving." She did not identify those reasons.
At least one alumni group said Thursday night they were dissatisfied with only one trustee's resignation.
Garban's "actions and inactions have caused irreparable harm," said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the alumni group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. "If the university is basing its actions on the findings of the Freeh report, then it's important to recognize that Freeh didn't single out just Garban for gross negligence and lack of oversight. The report called out the ENTIRE Board of Trustees -- all 28 of whom were at the helm in November and before. One resignation is symbolic change; 28 resignations is serious change. And these circumstances call for serious change to steer the university and all of its stakeholders toward a new day."
Two trustees said they believe several other trustees who were named in the Freeh report as having been alerted by Spanier to the Sandusky matter should also resign: Ed Hintz, Jim Broadhurst and John Surma, who had announced Paterno's firing at a Nov. 9 news conference in State College.
Garban is a 1959 Penn State graduate who was very close to Paterno. He was one of four Penn State leaders to visit Paterno in his home in November 2004 to try to urge the coach to retire. Paterno refused.
"I had not planned to run again when my term expires next year, but I now feel it is best for the board and the university that I submit my resignation from the Penn State Board of Trustees, effectively immediately," Garban wrote in his resignation letter Thursday. "This is not a decision I have come to lightly. It is a decision that is my own."
Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @DVNJr.