Hundreds of Penn State alumni and fans called for the university’s president and board of trustees to step down Saturday at a rally decrying the school officials’ actions following the child sex abuse scandal that engulfed the campus nearly a year ago.
Former Penn State and Steelers fullback Franco Harris criticized board chairwoman Karen Peetz’s use of Penn State’s “We Are …” cheer in her address to the board Friday. Harris told the crowd it rang hollow.
“She used it like 100 times, but it felt like there was no feeling,” he said. “It’s a phrase that binds us all together.”
Speakers criticized the actions of the trustees and President Rodney Erickson in response to a critical university-authorized investigation led by former FBI Louis Freeh and tough sanctions imposed by the NCAA over the handling of child sex abuse complaints against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in June of 45 child sexual abuse counts.
A cardboard cutout of former coach Joe Paterno stood in front of Old Main next to the speakers, and many of those attending wore shirts or carried signs commemorating him. Harris said the Penn State community cannot allow the board and administration to “erase” the coach, who was fired Nov. 9 and died of complications from lung cancer in January.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano, wearing rolled-up khakis in the style of Paterno to honor the former coach, said he met with Paterno less than two weeks before his death. The 85-year-old coach had just come from a chemotherapy treatment, but his thoughts were only about Penn State, which he said he wanted to leave a better place than it had been when he first came, Lubrano said.
“This is a man who would be dead in 12 days, and his greatest concern was our school,” Lubrano said.
Lubrano called for legislative restructuring of the board, and criticized Gov. Tom Corbett, who has a seat on the board.
Hospitality management professor John O’Donnell said a number of his students had contacted him over the summer, anguishing over how to talk about the Sandusky case with people outside of the Penn State community.
Harris told those at the rally, which was organized by retired Maryland teacher and alumnus David Mullaly, that removing trustees would be difficult since they would be “fighting for their own survival,” but he vowed that opponents would not give up.
“We cannot continue to allow the (board) to tear at the hearts of thousands of Penn Staters, young and old,” he said.
A school spokesman declined to comment.