Penn State University’s new president is going around the commonwealth trying to save the image of his school.
The Penn State name has been tarnished by a child sex scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The university’s response has also been roundly criticized.
About 600 Penn State alumni turned out for Thursday night’s town hall meeting in Valley Forge. It was billed as an opportunity for them to ask questions face to face with the university’s new president Rodney Erickson.
The alumni clearly have some questions to ask.
“But it just seems like everyone, the board of trustees, you just bowed to this media firestorm,” said one member of the audience.
Rodney Erickson is the 17th president of Penn State, a 30-year veteran of the school who took over the top post in November in the middle of what may be the school’s biggest crisis.
He was promoted on the same night the board of trustees relieved long-time football coach Joe Paterno of his duties.
Judging by the sentiments at the town hall meeting near Philadelphia, the decision to relieve Paterno remains hugely unpopular.
“He is the single most important Penn Stater in the history of the university,” said one spectator.
“I want to tell you the week of November 9 for all of us who were in the eye of the storm was almost unimaginable,” said Erickson.
This was the second of three town halls hosted by Erickson, and he faced tough questions from alumni about the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal, and how the school is handling the crisis.
The alumni lashed out at the administration, and the media, and even called for the entire board of trustees to be replaced.
“I personally call for the alumni in this room and across the country to send a message to the board letting them know that we do not have confidence in their ability to meet their obligations,” said one Penn State graduate.
Lending an almost surreal angle to the evening was former Penn State football great Franco Harris. He too believes the administration and the trustees are not being honest about the Paterno firing.
“Duh, do they think that we are that dumb. That’s exactly what they said two months ago, and they think we ought to swallow that,” said Harris.
Erickson, an academic and long-time faculty member at Penn State, often found it hard to find the answers this audience wanted to hear.
“I will not allow this great university and its long and historic legacy as a leader in higher education to be defined by this horrible tragedy,” said Erickson.