Penn State University has executed nearly all the reforms a former FBI chief recommended a year ago in a report that concluded the school sought to cover up a child sex abuse scandal within its football program, leaders of the board of trustees said Tuesday.
As Penn State concludes a sweeping governance overhaul, the board leaders said they hope the NCAA will consider easing limits on athletic scholarships that were part of a punishment imposed as a result of the scandal that stained the legacy of late football coach Joe Paterno.
Following a blueprint in a July 2012 report from former FBI director Louis Freeh, Penn State has set in motion a broad governance overhaul. The school has hired its first academic integrity officer and first director of ethics and compliance; it has trained 16,000 people in person or online about their responsibility to report suspected child abuse; and it has trained 3,000 “campus security authorities” for their duties under a federal campus safety law.
“Through this process, we have become more efficient, more transparent and more accountable,” Keith E. Masser, chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees, said in an interview with The Washington Post. He was accompanied by the board’s vice chairman, Paul H. Silvis, and trustee Keith W. Eckel, chairman of a committee on governance. The goal, Masser said, was to “ensure that our institution never again has to ask whether it did the right thing or whether more could have been done.”
Masser said Penn State has implemented 115 of Freeh’s 119 recommendations and is on track to complete all but one. The exception concerns a vice president for human resources. Freeh wanted the position to report directly to the university president; Penn State concluded that was not desirable.
The trustees said the board also recently approved a plan to make settlement offers to many of approximately 30 men who allege that Sandusky abused them when they were children. No further details on the offers were available.
A related issue is the NCAA’s punishment of Penn State athletic programs. The NCAA fined the school $60 million, banned football appearances in postseason bowl games for four years and vacated more than 100 football victories from the Paterno era, officially dropping Paterno from the top of the all-time Division I coaching victories list.
It also limited football scholarships, holding the team to a total of 65, instead of the usual maximum of 85, for each school year from 2014-15 through 2017-18.
“We hope there’s an opportunity in the future” to discuss the scholarship cap with the NCAA, Masser said.
The university has no meeting about the issue scheduled with the NCAA. “Nothing concrete,” Masser said. But he and the other trustees cited a provision in the NCAA’s decree of sanctions against Penn State that allows for modifications by mutual consent.
“There are students with athletic ability who have been denied the opportunity to get a college education because of the scholarship reductions,” Masser said. “To revisit the scholarship issue, to help more students who have athletic ability get a college education, I think is worthy.”
Penn State, with nearly 100,000 students on 24 campuses and online, is a highly regarded research university. Trustees are searching for a successor to President Rodney Erickson, who plans to retire by June 2014. He took over in November 2011 after longtime president Graham Spanier was fired in the fallout of the Sandusky scandal.
Above all, Masser said, Penn State wants to start generating positive headlines.
“We desperately want to get out of the news and talk about the good things that can support our 96,000 students,” he said.