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Sandusky scandal: Penn State trustees defend firing Joe Paterno

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier were dismissed last year because of a failure of leadership in handling reports of child-sex abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the school’s board of trustees said Monday.

In what the trustees called a reportto students, faculty and alumni, the board gave a chronology of its actions and justified the firing of the top officials because of what it described as the men’s failure to deal with charges involving Sandusky. The former coach reportedly was seen by a graduate assistant coach abusing a boy in a shower at the university. Sandusky is awaiting trial on state charges of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.

The removal of Paterno, an icon at the university and in national sporting circles, sparked boisterous demonstrations at the campus at the time. On Monday, the trustees defended their November dismissal of Paterno, saying he had fulfilled his obligation to notify his superior but had not done enough to address the situation. Paterno died in January of lung cancer.

According to the trustees, the 2011 state grand jury report on Sandusky showed that a graduate assistant coach – later identified as Mike McQueary– went to Paterno on March 2, 2002, and told the head coach that he had seen Sandusky “in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.” Sandusky had left the university coaching ranks in 1999 but would bring children to the school on field trips. The youths were part of a charity he’s founded.

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Paterno told his superior, Penn State’s then-Athletic Director Tim Curley, of the incident the next day but did not call the police. There was no further action until the grand jury findings in 2011.

“We determined that his [Paterno’s] decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno,” the trustees wrote in their report.

“The board spent hours on conference calls between Saturday, Nov. 5, and Tuesday, Nov. 8, discussing appropriate action and our fiduciary responsibility as the Trustees. On Wednesday evening, Nov. 9, we met in person in State College. At about 9 p.m., we unanimously made the difficult decision that Coach Paterno’s failure of leadership required his removal as football coach.”

The board also apologized for the way the dismissal was communicated to Paterno.

“We are sorry for the unfortunate way we had to deliver the news on the telephone about an hour later to Coach Paterno. However, we saw no better alternative. Because Coach Paterno’s home was surrounded by media representatives, photographers and others, we did not believe there was a dignified, private and secure way to send board representatives to meet with him there. Nor did we believe it would be wise to wait until the next morning, since we believed it was probable that Coach Paterno would hear the news beforehand from other sources, which would be inappropriate.”

Paterno missed his team’s last three regular-season games because he was fired.

The trustees also cited a failure of leadership in their dismissal of Spanier as president. He continues to be a tenured professor at Penn State, the trustees said.

“We determined on Nov. 9 that Dr. Spanier should be removed because he failed to meet his leadership responsibilities to the Board and took insufficient action after learning of a 2002 incident involving” Sandusky. “This failure of leadership included insufficiently informing the Board about his knowledge of the 2002 incident. He also made or was involved in press announcements between Nov. 5-9 that were without authorization of the Board or contrary to its instructions.”

The trustees said Spanier asked the board for a vote of confidence on Nov. 9, 2011, but the board was unable to do so. “We voted that evening unanimously to remove him as president and informed him of that decision.”

In closing, the trustees said they remain committed to “remembering the children who were allegedly assaulted over the last 10 or more years, many on Penn State’s University Park campus, and whose lives may well be scarred for years to come. The University has offered and will provide counseling and related health care services. We have contributed financially to organizations dedicated to protecting victims of sexual assault and child abuse.”

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Michael.muskal@latimes.com


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