Doubts emerge over Penn State's PR strategy
PITTSBURGH - January 12, 2012 (WPVI) -- A plan designed to soothe angry Penn State University alumni may instead be sowing seeds of outrage.
School President Rodney Erickson is scheduled to appear Thursday night near Philadelphia at the second of three town hall events, and alumni aren't exactly rolling out the red carpet.
Former Penn State and pro football star Franco Harris has scheduled a competing event at the same hotel, after broad dissatisfaction with Erickson's first talk in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. A third event is scheduled for Friday in New York.
But even some critics say Erickson shouldn't be getting all the blame for what many view as a floundering public relations effort.
He's attempting to repair the school's image more than two months after the arrest of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on sexual abuse charges brought controversy, criticism and contemplation to Happy Valley.
"Let's face it; he takes his marching orders from the Board of Trustees. The board has sent him out on this three-day spree," said Ryan Bagwell, a 2002 Penn State alumnus who is seeking a trustee seat in voting that will start next week.
"We want to hear from the trustees. We want them to explain why they made the decisions they did," Bagwell said. "Their silence is just incredible. It just keeps getting worse."
The chairman and vice chairman of the Board of Trustees released a statement Thursday evening responding to questions raised at the Pittsburgh meeting. Paterno, they said, was removed in November instead of being allowed to retire after the season because of "extraordinary circumstances."
"The details of his retirement are being worked out and will be made public when they are finalized," said the statement from Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John Surma. "Generally speaking, the University intends to honor the terms of his employment contract and is treating him financially as if he had retired at the end of the 2011 football season."
In Pittsburgh, the most passionate applause came after one questioner suggested that the entire board of trustees step down. Several others questioned why Penn State is still struggling to manage questions from the public and the media so many weeks after the crisis began.
"If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you shouldn't expect different results," said Tim King, vice president of the greater Pittsburgh alumni chapter.
The alumni meetings come as investigators re-interview current and former employees of Penn State's athletic department as part of the case against the 67-year-old Sandusky, the former assistant coach who's charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky, who maintains his innocence, remains out on $250,000 bail while awaiting trial.
Two Penn State administrators are facing charges they lied to a grand jury investigating Sandusky and failed to properly report suspected child abuse. Gary Schultz, a former vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, have denied the allegations and await trial.
Many alumni are unhappy about the way the school fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno, but some said there were no good options in the situation.
"I don't think there was any graceful way to handle that problem," said John Burness, a former senior vice president of public affairs for Cornell University, Duke University, and the University of Illinois.
Harris, who played for Paterno from 1968 to 1971 before helping the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls, castigated the Board of Trustees for showing "no courage" by firing the longtime coach. Harris stepped down as chairman of the Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship foundation, after Mayor Luke Ravenstahl complained about the statements.
Burness also that people who are seeking quick changes to the Penn State board of trustees forget there's a reason it's difficult to make such changes.
"It isn't a simple thing to do, and it shouldn't be a simple thing to do," he said, since a key goal is for trustees to have a high degree of independence.
penn state, pennsylvania, jerry sandusky, child sex assault, philadelphia, pittsburgh, new york city, king of prussia, local/state
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