STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The arduous task of rebuilding Penn State’s shattered image began today with a meeting of the university’s board of trustees — the group that fired football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier this week amid a child sex abuse case against a former team assistant.
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 interim President Rod Erickson. Gov. Tom Corbett was also on hand to help the board navigate a course through the turmoil.
Garban pledged to support Erickson as the board works “for the future of this institution that we respect and love.”
Paterno and Spanier were fired Wednesday in the fallout of a shocking grand jury report alleging repeated, illicit contact between retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and boys as young as 10.
Without mentioning Spanier or Paterno, Erickson told trustees that their deliberate and decisive action had set a course for the university’s future.
Erickson said that his heart aches for the victims and their families, and that his role will be to restore confidence in the school’s future, adhere to the highest standards of honesty and integrity and let Penn Staters know the university’s future is still bright.
He also reiterated that the trustees will vote to form a special commission to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing, an initiative already announced this week.
Paterno and Spanier were fired four days after a grand jury report charged Sandusky with a series of sexual assaults stretching back to the late 1990s.
The grand jury report alleges Sandusky assaulted eight boys, including one he allegedly raped in the university’s football facility shower. Much of the alleged inappropriate contact with seven victims happened on Penn State’s campus, where Sandusky maintained an office as an emeritus professor following his retirement.
The university expected such an overflow crowd that the trustees meeting was moved to the larger space — and it still didn’t appear to be enough room for the throng of reporters and photographers who have descended on State College.
But following the opening platitudes, the board began with routine business, discussing enrollment figures.
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.
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, around the time the earliest assault in the grand jury report allegedly happened.
Authorities said Sandusky met many of his alleged victims through The Second Mile, a charity he founded to help at-risk youth.
Athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the 2002 assault to police, as required by state law.
All three maintain their innocence.
According to the grand jury, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told the grand jury that he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 in the showers at the Penn State football building in March 2002. McQueary later told Paterno, Curley and Schultz what he’d seen, according to the grand jury report.
Curley and Schultz — as well as Paterno — testified that they were told that Sandusky behaved inappropriately in that 2002 incident, but not to the extent of McQueary’s graphic account to the grand jury.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has said Paterno is not considered a target of the ongoing investigation but declined to say the same thing about Spanier.