STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – In downtown State College, you can find Joe Paterno’s face on nearly every block. It’s on the cover of paintings, books, and, at one Dunkin Donuts, “We Love Our Joe” mugs.
And a scandal related to the head football coach — even a scandal where he’s not charged with any crime — strikes deep and wide both in Centre County and the larger Penn State community.
“It’s pretty depressing,” said Becky Durst, who has owned Rinaldo’s Barber Shop, near Allen Street and College Avenue, for 17 years. “There certainly is a dark cloud hanging over Happy Valley.”
Penn State students and alumni have taken to quoting a line from the alma mater — “May no act of ours bring shame” — as talk of the charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and two top university officials engulf the community.
Sandusky was arrested Saturday and faces charges that he sexually abused eight boys over a 15-year period. Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, interim vice president for finance and business, are charged with perjury and failure to report the alleged abuse to authorities. Requests by the two men to step down—Curley on leave, Schultz to retirement—were accepted by university trustees Sunday.
“No individual’s actions, student, alumni or employee of Penn State, can deter from the honor, tradition and talents of the Penn State community at large,” T.J. Bard, president of the University Park Undergraduate Association, said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “I insist that the administration handle this situation appropriately, keeping in mind the victims and their families.”
Bard said the well-being of the victims and closure for all involved should be the top priority. He also offered a reminder of the presumption of innocence and asked students to remain “bonded together” as the case moves through the legal system.
Others with ties to the university echoed his view.
“I think it’s too early to jump to conclusions,” said Adam Shellenbarger, a 2010 graduate who now works as a preacher in Culpeper, Va.
But others are calling for the dismissal of Penn State President Graham Spanier and Paterno, saying they should have done more to make sure the allegations that Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy in 2002 were reported and investigated.
There are two “Fire Graham Spanier” Facebook groups, with about 750 members in all. A petition with the same request has 740 signatures. Others have communicated directly with the board of trustees.
“…Spanier and Paterno should have done more. They may have acted consistently with technical legal requirements,” Paul Gallagher, a 1991 graduate, wrote in an email sent to trustees. “But these men are the two most powerful persons at Penn State. Either of them could have taken the next step to help to prevent this terrible thing from happening again. They did not do so.”
Gallagher, who now lives in Delaware, said Spanier and Paterno should issue statements to the effect that, while they feel they acted appropriately at the time, they now believe they should have done more.
“Both men should then announce their retirement,” he said.
Penn State freshman Laurel Petrulionis and a few other students, some involved with the Occupy Penn State movement, threw together a protest Sunday night at Old Main.
“We’re all horrified by the gross cover-up that happened,” she said. “We just wanted a quick little something to show how students felt before the week started.”
The group also sent an email to the board of trustees, asking where the money will come from for Curley’s and Schultz’s legal fees. The university has said its insurance will pay the fees.
“I came here all dewy-eyed with legends of Joe Paterno,” Petrulionis said. “It’s really heartbreaking.”
Justin Casavant, a 2007 graduate who lives in northern Virginia, said he’s so upset that he gave up his season football tickets Monday morning. He has held tickets since 2001.
“The culture that has been in place to keep everything in house and basically cover everything up, that really bothers me and it’s an embarrassment to the university, alumni, friends, students, and I don’t want to be associated with that,” he said. “And I don’t really want to pay any restitution or legal fees either.”
Penn State spokespeople have said the university will pay Curley’s and Schultz’s legal fees because the allegations involve their responsibilities as university employees.
“Jerry Sandusky was someone I looked up to when I was little,” Casavant said. “Until I was 11 or 12, I always thought there were two head coaches, Paterno and Sandusky. So it’s especially disappointing in that regard.”
The issue of how much responsibility Paterno and Spanier should bear has been debated nationally. And it’s likely to come up Friday at Penn State’s trustees meeting. Gov. Tom Corbett, an ex-officio member of the trustees, is scheduled to attend the meeting, according to his office. Corbett doesn’t typically go to trustees meetings.