(NEW YORK) — The Penn State University Board of Trustees said on Thursday that it feels “misled” by former university president Graham Spanier after an independent investigation found that he, along with other top university officials, worked to conceal the child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky.
“In retrospect, we wished we had pressed upon someone that we had complete trust in,” board member Kenneth Frazier said.
“The questions were asked, the answers were given, and they were not complete or thorough answers,” Frazier said of Spanier. “We asked enough questions that if someone wanted to share what was going on, they could have shared.”
Frazier, new board chairwoman Karen Peetz, and university president Rodney Erickson were addressing the release of an independent investigation they commissioned in November. The 267-page report, compiled by former FBI chief Louis Freeh, was an indictment of how top officials, including Spanier, former head football coach Joe Paterno, former athletic director Tim Curley, and former vice president for finance Gary Schultz, handled Sandusky’s behavior.
“What’s shocking is that the four of them, the most powerful people at Penn State University, made the decision to conceal this,” Freeh said at a press conference following the report’s release today.
Read the full Freeh report.
“The motivation [was] to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, and not just bad publicity, but what are the consequences — other investigations, donors being upset, the university community being very upset, raising questions about what they themselves did in 1998?” Freeh said. “Bad publicity has consequences for the brand of Penn State University, the reputation of coaches, the ability to do fundraising. It’s got huge implications.”
Freeh’s report revealed for the first time that all four men knew about the 1998 investigation into Sandusky showering with a young boy, and that they made a careful decision after a 2001 allegation of sexual abuse not to report it to police. The investigation included 430 interviews and reviews of 3.5 million emails and other documents.
The report also singled out the Board of Trustees for oversight failures and promoting a culture where dissent was discouraged.
Frazier and Peetz said the board accepted responsibility for allowing the four men the power to conceal the allegations against Sandusky.
“The board of trustees, as a group, has paramount accountability for overseeing and ensuring the proper functioning and governance of the university, and accepts full responsibility for failures that have occurred,” Peetz said.
She said members will work quickly to adopt all of Freeh’s recommendations for how to increase oversight of administrators and ensure crimes like Sandusky’s cannot happen on campus again.
“Accepting full accountability means that not only are we taking blame, if you will, for these events, but that we are also determined to fix the governance,” Peetz said.
Freeh sidestepped questions about whether trustees on the board when the incidents occurred over a 14-year span should quit. Board members have steadfastly rejected calls for the full board’s resignation, and those speaking today said they would not be resigning over the findings.
When asked whether the university would reevaluate how it honors Paterno, who has a statue erected and campus buildings named in his honor, both Frazier and Peetz said no decision had been made yet.
“The whole topic of Joe Paterno being honored or not being honored is sensitive and has been dialogued for some time,” Peetz said. “We believed, with the report’s findings, it’s something that needs to continue to be discussed with the entire university, not just the board.”
The report also found that after learning of the abuse, university leaders rewarded Sandusky with an unusual $168,000 payout and retirement perks without lifting a finger to reach out to his young victims, who were forced to perform sex acts and raped in showers at the college.
Spanier, who knew of the 1998 and 2001 investigations into Sandusky’s behavior, also green-lighted “emeritus” status for Sandusky, granting him unusual access to the university.
Erickson said today that he had no choice but to OK the request, even though it was usually reserved for associate or full professors.
“It was clear when the request came in that Spanier had already cleared the exception,” Erickson said. “And the president has, ultimately, authority to grant or not grant emeritus status.”
The investigation report revealed emails traded among Spanier, Schultz and Curley in which the three men discussed the investigations into Sandusky and mentioned Paterno’s involvement in decisions about Sandusky.
Emails and notes from 1998 show that after the mother of the man known as Victim 6 contacted the university police department to report that Sandusky had showered with her son on campus, Schultz notified Spanier and Curley of the incident and wrote in his notes that it was “at best inappropriate, @ worst sexual improprieties.” He asked: “Is this the opening of Pandora’s box? Other children?”
Curley wrote an email in response to the investigation saying that “the coach” was “anxious to know where it stands.”
Schultz, Paterno, and Spanier all later said that they were never informed of a 1998 incident that involved sexual or inappropriate touching.
The investigation did not yield charges against Sandusky, a result that Freeh said he wanted to discuss with the assistant district attorney who was part of that decision-making process. That assistant DA refused to be interviewed as part of Freeh’s investigation.
“What’s striking about 1998 is that nobody even spoke to Sandusky, not one of those four persons, including the coach, who was four steps away from [Sandusky’s] office,” Freeh said.
Between the 1998 and 2001 incidents, Freeh noted that there was a 2000 incident in which janitors saw Sandusky molesting a boy in the showers and decided not to report it. This incident, Freeh said, showed more than any of the others that the culture at Penn State University was that no one could question or confront the all-powerful football program.
“Take a moment for janitors,” Freeh said today. “That’s the tone on the bottom. The employees of Penn State who clean and maintain the locker rooms where young boys are being raped. They witness what I think is the most horrific rape being described, and they panic. The janitor said, ‘It’s the worst thing I ever saw.’ He’s a Korean War veteran, and he said, ‘It makes me sick.’ The other janitors are alarmed and shocked, but they say, ‘We can’t report this because we’ll get fired.’ They’re afraid to go against it. If that’s the culture on the bottom, God help the culture on the top.”
The officials’ reactions to the 1998 allegations against Sandusky are mirrored by the reactions to the 2001 report, in which Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier were informed that graduate assistant Mike McQueary saw Sandusky in the shower with a young boy on campus. McQueary has said he made it clear to each official that something of a sexual nature was going on in the shower.
Curley, Schultz and Spanier decided to report Sandusky to the Department of Public Welfare, according to the timeline included in the report. The decision was then reversed, however, after Curley talked it over with Paterno and proposed dealing with Sandusky in a more “humane” way by telling him to seek counseling. The officials all agreed to follow that approach, but Spanier, the university president, said in an email that he worried about being “vulnerable for not having reported it.”
The timeline also shed light on how the Second Mile, Sandusky’s charity for children, dealt with the allegations. Curley informed the Second Mile’s leadership of the 2001 incident, according to the report, and the Second Mile considered it a “non-incident” and took no further action.
Freeh said today that he wanted to speak with members of the Second Mile, but they refused.
“They wouldn’t speak to us and would not share their records. We don’t have subpoena power. But there are good questions,” Freeh said.
Freeh noted that the discovery of old emails and “carefully concealed” notes found in Schultz’s office were a significant key to figuring out that the men had known about Sandusky’s activities with boys and decided to conceal them.
“[He] actively sought to conceal those records. We found them in conjunction with the attorney general. They are critical notes,” Freeh said. “It’s an active case of trying to conceal evidence. You don’t do that. It’s a dumb thing to do. But we did get them, and it’s very significant.”
The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, which has charged Curley and Schultz with failure to report suspect abuse and perjury, said today that the investigation is ongoing and would not say whether Freeh’s findings would yield more charges against officials.
Freeh’s investigation was launched in November by the university’s Board of Trustees after the arrest of Sandusky, Curley and Schultz, and the firing of Paterno and resignation of Spanier.
Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse in June and is now in a state prison.
Curley and Schultz are charged with not reporting the 2001 incident to the police and lying about their knowledge of the 2001 incident to the Pennsylvania grand jury. Both men have maintained their innocence and are still months away from trial.
Paterno and Spanier were never charged criminally in the case, but Paterno was fired and Spanier resigned just days after Sandusky’s arrest when the Board of Trustees decided they had not done enough to stop Sandusky.
Spanier has maintained that he was never told about a specific allegation of child sex abuse.
Paterno, who died in January, said that he told his supervisors what he knew about a 2001 allegation and left it up to them to decide what to do.
Paterno’s family released a statement Wednesday in anticipation of the investigation’s findings, saying that Paterno had already acknowledged that he wished he had done more with the allegation against Sandusky.
“To this point, Joe Paterno is the only person who publicly acknowledged that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more. This was an honest and courageous admission that a true leader must assume a measure of responsibility when something goes wrong on his watch,” the statement read. “The sad and frightening fact is Jerry Sandusky was a master deceiver.”
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