Bowing under the weight of an escalating child sex scandal that has engulfed Penn State, university President Graham Spanier stepped down late Wednesday.
Spanier's departure ends his 15-year stint at the helm of one of the nation's largest universities, and came hand-in-hand with the Penn State board of trustees' decision to sack Joe Paterno just hours after he announced his own retirement.
In a news conference with nearly the full board in attendance, trustee John P. Surma said his colleagues unanimously decided it was in the best long-term interests of the university to change leadership.
"We handled it the best way we could," he said.
Spanier will be terminated on the terms of his contract, which Surma said will likely include some settlement agreement.
Executive Vice President and Provost Rodney Erickson will take over as interim president.
Unlike Paterno, who garnered the support of the student body, Spanier's exit seemed inevitable almost from the time it was learned that he was told about a 2002 incident in which former assistant football Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted a 10-year-old boy in a university locker room shower.
Sandusky on Saturday was hit with a 40-count grand jury presentment that alleges he used his position as a former Penn State coach and head of the Second Mile children's charity to win the trust of eight boys he allegedly molested over a 15-year period.
Two other Penn State officials, athletic director Timothy Curley and Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Gary Schultz, were charged with perjury and failure to report the alleged child abuse.
Spanier has not been charged, but has met a crush of criticism from fans, students, parents and news media who believe, like Schultz and Curley, Spanier could have stopped Sandusky and prevented years of sexual abuse of young boys.
In handmade signs and online petitions, students and alumni have called for Spanier's ouster in marked contrast to cheers of support they gave Paterno when they stood outside the beloved coach's home on Tuesday night then marched en masse on the streets of State College.
The campus of more than 40,000 students sleepwalked through Paterno's announcement, with students still headed to class but barely believing what they were hearing. Wednesday afternoon saw no big rallies like the one outside Paterno's home Tuesday, but the streets and student union were abuzz with talk that by next year, the man they know as JoePa would be gone.
Nearly two dozen members of the Blue Band, the university's marching band, joined for an impromptu performance at noon outside Old Main, the seat of Penn State's administrative power. They played the alma mater, the fight song, the cherished tunes.
Tuba player Josh Helsley said the performance wasn't planned, but as everything on campus seemed to be falling apart, the performance came together with the help of text messages and cellphone calls. They weren't looking to criticize. They just needed to play.
"There's so much more to Penn State that the outside world doesn't see," Helsley said. "This is how I can show my support."
Spanier's departure comes as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced an investigation on whether Penn State's handling of the 2002 allegations violated the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics.
Under the Clery Act, named after a Lehigh University student who was killed by a fellow student, colleges and universities are required to disclose the number of criminal offenses on campus that are reported each year.
Spanier's standing in the public eye now stands in sharp contrast to the public image he has cultivated over the years, that of an endearingly quirky intellectual and effective administrator.
He performs magic, plays washboard in a Dixieland band and, in a show of common-touch solidarity with students, sleeps in a student dormitory for a few days at the outset of each school year.
Spanier's university website biography plays up the unconventional angle: "He occasionally substitutes for the Nittany Lion mascot. He has run with the bulls in Pamplona [and] has a commercial pilot's license … He and his racquetball partner are the 11-time Penn State co-ed intramural racquetball champions."
But all that seemed to wither away as he came under fire both for not contacting police when he was informed of the alleged sexual assault in a Penn State locker room shower and his unwavering show of support for Curley and Schultz.
By early Wednesday, he appeared to even have the governor against him. Gov. Tom Corbett, who sits on the board of trustees, said he was "personally disappointed in the lack of action" by university officials. Corbett, the former state attorney general, said his office began investigating accusations against Sandusky in 2009, after receiving a referral from the Centre County district attorney's office.
"He who preys on a child is the worst type of person in the world as far as I'm concerned," he said.
There are eight victims listed in the 23-page presentment against Sandusky. Spanier came under the most fire for a 2002 incident in which a graduate assistant — now identified as Mike McQueary — reported to university officials that he saw that Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy. McQueary is now the Nittany Lions' wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
McQueary told the grand jury that he saw the 10-year-old boy with his hands against a shower room wall, while Sandusky forced anal sex on him. A distraught McQueary fled and reported the incident the next day to Paterno, who reported it to Curley and Schultz, who reported it to Spanier days later.
Spanier testified before the grand jury that he was told that the shower incident was "horseplay" and that he wasn't aware that a crime had been committed. While it's unclear how much Spanier was told in 2002, it seemed clear that any public support he may have had evaporated when he issued his "unconditional support" for Curley and Schultz a day after they were charged with covering up the 2002 sexual assault.
Also, the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame said it would no longer be giving its top award for an athletic administrator to Curley. The association had announced its intention to honor Curley in June.
Beyond the geniality that endeared Spanier to the alumni who pack Beaver Stadium for football games, Spanier has a hard-nosed administrative side. He needed one — Penn State is an enormous institution, serving nearly 100,000 students on two dozen campuses and a budget of more than $4 billion.
Spanier has clashed with the state over funding and offered some of the most apocalyptic-sounding pronouncements earlier this year when Corbett proposed massive subsidy cuts for state universities and state-related universities. Spanier said the cuts would likely lead to the closure of some campuses and change the very nature of the education offered by the university.
Spanier became Penn State's 16th president in 1995. Before that, he served as chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; provost and vice president for academic affairs at Oregon State University; and vice provost for undergraduate studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
He earned a Ph.D in sociology from Northwestern University. A family therapist and sociologist, he has authored 10 books and written more than 100 academic papers and was founding editor of the Journal of Family Issues.
Spanier's wife, Sandra, is an English professor specializing in 20th-century American literature. The Spaniers have two children: Brian, a finance graduate of Penn State, and Hadley, a marketing graduate of Penn State.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times