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Friday, November 11, 2011
Penn State trustees ponder future

ESPN.com news services

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The arduous task of rebuilding Penn State's shattered image began Friday with a pledge to search for the truth by the university's board of trustees -- the group that fired football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier this week amid an unfolding child sex abuse case against retired assistant Jerry Sandusky.

In front of an overflow crowd at a meeting that was moved from a hotel boardroom to a ballroom to accommodate more people, the trustees opened with chairman Steve Garban welcoming president Rodney Erickson and Gov. Tom Corbett, who had pressed publicly for fast action by trustees accustomed to deferring to Spanier.

The meeting was the first public gathering of the 32-member board in the wake of the scandal that has gripped one of the nation's largest universities and touched off a violent student demonstration.

Garban pledged to support Erickson -- the trustees removed the "interim" tag on Erickson's new title of president, but will continue to search for a permanent successor to Spanier -- as the board works "for the future of this institution that we respect and love." Erickson, previously the university's longtime provost, said Penn State must devote itself to its core values -- honesty, integrity, excellence and community -- now more than ever.

"I know we can do this. We are resilient; we are a university that will rebuild the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many years," Erickson said in a six-minute speech to the trustees.

Without mentioning Spanier or Paterno, Erickson told trustees that their deliberate and decisive action had set a course for the university's future. His heart aches for the victims and their families, he said, and he pledged to reassure Penn Staters that the university's future is still bright.

Paterno and Spanier were fired Wednesday in the fallout of a shocking days-old grand jury report alleging repeated, illicit contact between Sandusky and boys as young as 10 over a span of 15 years, sometimes in Penn State's facilities.

The abuse is alleged to have occurred for 10 years after the first victim stepped forward. But The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, which first reported the story of the Sandusky investigation in early 2010, said Friday that the earliest documented report of possible abuse goes back to 1995 and involved Sandusky's now-legally adopted son. The boy was a teenage foster child in his home at the time.

The grand jury report said that administrators did not contact law enforcement authorities after a graduate assistant for the football team said he saw Sandusky subjecting an approximately 10-year-old boy to anal sex in the locker room showers at the team's practice center in 2002. Top school officials, including Paterno and Spanier, say they weren't told about the seriousness of the matter.

Sandusky has been aware of the accusations against him for about three years and has maintained his innocence, his lawyer has said.

The board adjourned after forming an investigative committee, to be headed by trustee Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck, to dig into the university's failure to stop Sandusky's alleged activity. Ronald Tomalis, a trustee and state education secretary, will be vice chairman.

The rest of the committee has yet to be formed, but Frazier said it will have the power to hire independent lawyers and plans to publicly release the entirety of its findings.

"That's absolutely what we intend to do," Frazier said after the meeting. "The purpose of this investigation is to ensure that the public understands everything that we learn in this investigation and a report will be made completely public as quickly as we possibly can."

The university as a whole, however, has a long way to go before anything can be considered routine now that Paterno, whose 46 years leading the Nittany Lions turned him into an icon in the area known as Happy Valley and beyond, is gone. The school named defensive coordinator Tom Bradley interim coach on Thursday.

The university's faculty senate on Friday called on students and employees to "act in ways that bring honor to our institution and ourselves."

Paterno's firing touched off a violent student rally late Wednesday night, requiring police in riot gear, at times using pepper spray, to disperse about 2,000 Penn State students who took to the streets and toppled a television news van.

Friday night, thousands of supporters, including students, alumni and teachers, gathered for a student-organized candlelight vigil in front of Penn State's "Old Main" administration building.

They observed a moment of silence after the bell tolled at 10 p.m. and listened to several speakers, including former college All-American linebacker LaVar Arrington, an acappella group singing "Imagine" and the school marching band.

It was largely solemn until it ended with an ear-shattering series of "We are ... Penn State!" -- helping a group of people who felt like they had lost a hero -- Paterno -- to have something to rally around.

Penn State senior and vigil organizer Jessica Sever says she wants the vigil to put the focus back on the boys, especially after police had to break up a violent student rally touched off by Wednesday's firing of Paterno.

One speaker, 2007 graduate Dustin Yenser, encouraged victims to know that they had the support of the campus despite having been failed by people who he believed had an obligation to protect them. And Arrington urged attendees to use the scandal as a challenge.

"Let it be known that we waged war to make a difference," Arrington said. "Leave here tonight with a resolve and an understanding that you possess the power to change things."

Sandusky served as Paterno's top defensive assistant for more than two decades and at one time was considered his heir apparent. But he abruptly retired in 1999, about a year after university police investigated a complaint by the mother of a woman upset that Sandusky had showered with and bear-hugged her 11-year-old son, the grand jury report alleged.

Authorities said Sandusky met many of his alleged victims through The Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977 to help at-risk youth.

Former athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the 2002 assault, as required by state law. Lawyers for the men say that they are innocent, that they told the truth to the grand jury and that they told Spanier what they knew, fulfilling their legal obligation.

About a week and a half after the 2002 incident, the graduate assistant -- identified by people familiar with the investigation as Mike McQueary, now the team's wide receivers coach -- met with Curley and Schultz, and told them he had witnessed what he believed to be Sandusky having sex with a boy, the grand jury report said.

But Spanier told the grand jury that Schultz and Curley went to him and reported an incident that made a member of Curley's staff "uncomfortable."

"Spanier described it as 'Jerry Sandusky in the football building locker area in the shower ... with a younger child and they were horsing around in the shower,'" the grand jury report said.

Paterno, major college football's winningest coach, has said he wasn't told "the very specific actions" contained in the grand jury report, but he also has acknowledged that "with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

The 12th-ranked Nittany Lions face No. 19 Nebraska on Saturday in an important matchup of Top 25 teams that will have postseason implications. Many fans are planning a "blue out" -- rather than the usual "white out" -- where attendees will don blue in a show of support for the victims.

McQueary was been placed on administrative leave Friday, a day after the school said McQueary would not be present when the Nittany Lions play Nebraska on Saturday because he had received threats.

"It became clear that coach McQueary could not function in this role under these circumstances," interim president Rodney Erickson said. He said he reached the decision to place McQueary on leave with acting athletic director Mark Sherburne.

"We love Mike. We want him to be with us," a player close to McQueary told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi. "We are family. He's a part of our family."

Sources told ESPN that as a way to possibly honor Paterno, some Penn State players have discussed bringing a game ball to his house if the team defeats Nebraska.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.