STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — During a raucous special meeting Tuesday, Pennsylvania State University trustees defeated a resolution to reopen the controversial investigation into how school leaders handled the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
The proposal, introduced by alumni-backed trustees who for more than a year have been pushing the board to act — and preferably reject — the damning findings of former FBI Director Louis Freeh, won the support of only nine of the 26 board members who voted.
Opponents said that too much remains unknown about Penn State’s role in Sandusky’s abuse of young boys on and off campus, and that they want to wait for the conclusion of criminal proceedings against former administrators on perjury, conspiracy and other charges. They also cite pending litigation by some Sandusky victims.
“I believe patience is the order of the day,” said one trustee, Richard Dandrea, a Pittsburgh-area lawyer.
Freeh’s July 2012 report said former Penn State President Graham B. Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz had conspired to cover up child-sex abuse allegations against the former assistant football coach to preserve the university’s reputation.
Critics of the report have long wanted the board to repudiate it, reopen the investigation and perhaps wipe clean the blemish on the late football coach Joe Paterno’s legacy and the other former administrators.
The alumni trustees maintain that there is no credible evidence of a cover-up. Their motion would have created a board committee to reinvestigate Freeh’s work and report back to the board.
“We need to defend Penn State,” alumni-elected trustee Anthony Lubrano, a Chester County businessman, told board members during the 90-minute meeting at the Nittany Lion Inn, spurring vigorous applause from the audience. “If not now, then when? If not us, then who?”
Dandrea argued that the ad hoc board committee being advocated by alumni trustees would run into the same roadblocks as Freeh: It would not have access to key witnesses or subpoena powers to get critical information.
The debate became heated at times and board chair Keith Masser, a Schuylkill County potato farmer, ejected several audience members for outbursts critical of the majority of trustees.
Lubrano and Al Lord, another trustee and the former head of student loan lender Sallie Mae, said they would press to gain access to Freeh’s investigatory files, through the courts if necessary.
“I’m going after that information,” Lord said after the meeting. “If they don’t want to do it as a group, so be it.”
Masser said after the meeting that the board could look foolish if it were to take a stand only to have evidence incriminating to the university surface at the criminal trials. “There are a lot of issues that could reveal facts one way or the other,” he said.
The board majority passed another resolution, promising to monitor the criminal cases against former administrators and other relevant proceedings and take “appropriate action” when they end.
Freeh’s report, after an investigation commissioned and paid for by the university, included more than 100 recommendations for improving university governance and operations. But it also included conclusions about the university leadership’s culpability, which trustees who commissioned the report said they never asked Freeh to make.
The report remains a point of contention in the university community and especially among the 32 trustees. The NCAA cited it in handing down sanctions against Penn State, including a bowl ban, scholarship losses, and a $60 million fine. The NCAA has since rolled back the bowl ban and reinstated scholarships.
More investigation of Freeh’s findings is needed, the alumni trustees argued.
“All we want to do is finish it,” said alumni trustee Robert Jubelirer, a former Pennsylvania state senator. “There is no down side, none at all.”
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