STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State trustees on Friday approved the process to find a new president and an athletics code of conduct required by the NCAA as part of the penalties for the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The university also received encouraging news after the Middle States Commission on Higher Education lifted its accreditation warning and reaffirmed the school was in compliance with the agency’s governance, finance and integrity standards.
The presidential search begins immediately, with the goal to find President Rodney Erickson’s replacement by next November. Erickson plans to step down by June 2014.
Board chairwoman Karen Peetz was confident the school would have no trouble finding potential candidates despite the scandal.
“By the time someone gets here in 2014, it will be just a distant memory,” Peetz said.
Earlier Friday, the higher education commission announced that the school was in full compliance with the agency’s governance, finance and integrity standards. The commission lifted the accreditation warning issued in August based on the fallout from the scandal that began a year ago with Sandusky’s arrest. Sandusky was later convicted and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 boys. He maintains his innocence.
Deep fractures remain among some vocal alumni and others in the university community over how Penn State leaders handled the scandal; the internal investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh; and the landmark NCAA sanctions.
As part of the consent decree with the NCAA, the university was required to institute an athletics code of conduct. The school’s legal counsel said the code of conduct simply reaffirms current university guidelines.
Three trustees sought to emphasize that passing a code of conduct didn’t equate to the board officially giving its approval to the NCAA sanctions, which Erickson agreed to. He has said he faced a difficult “take-it-or-leave-it” proposition after the NCAA discussed shutting down the football program.
Trustees Anthony Lubrano and Ryan McCombie, who joined the board this summer, and veteran trustee Joel Myers praised the code of conduct but said it was important to make a distinction.
“We just wanted to be clear that accepting the resolution was in no way an acknowledgment of our acceptance of the consent decree agreement,” Lubrano said. “We never ratified that.”
Alumni critics remain incensed about the results of Freeh’s investigation, which said Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno, former President Graham Spanier and two other university officials concealed abuse allegations.
Paterno died in January. His family, as well as Spanier and the two school officials, have vehemently denied there was a cover-up.
Each of the six speakers who spoke during Friday’s public comment period denounced the board in varying degrees. Phil Shultes, 48, of Queensbury, N.Y., said he was among a faction of alumni severing ties with the school.
“Penn State is dead to us. We are not moving forward … and it is not because of this scandal; it is because of your response to it,” he said as Peetz listened at the podium. “Nearly every decision this board has made has defied logic and defined cowardice.”
Shultes, a 1990 graduate of the College of Medicine, said he was discouraging prospective students from attending Penn State and was asking other alumni who shared his sentiments to do the same.
“That’s very disappointing,” Peetz said later when asked about the comment. “I would have expected that alumni would get behind the university at the time we need them the most.”
Peetz said the university would be proactive in reaching out to students, staff, faculty, alumni and other Penn State community groups for input on the presidential search.
“Over the past year, the board and community have had our share of conflicts,” Peetz told trustees. “I urge everyone to work together … for the future of Penn State.”