Trustees | Trusteeship

Penn State Faculty Rejects No-Confidence Vote

WALL STREET JOURNAL   |  January 24, 2012 by John W. Miller and Kris Maher

Pennsylvania State University’s faculty senate overwhelming rejected a no-confidence vote in the university board for its handling of child sexual abuse allegations against a former assistant football coach.

The senate said Tuesday it believed such a move, though symbolic, would be unnecessarily divisive at a time when the university needs to concentrate on unity. The senate also voted against creating a special committee to investigate the board’s handling of the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno, who died over the weekend.

“This is confrontational and doesn’t need to be,” said Jean Pytel, an engineering professor and senate member, before the 119-56 vote against the no-confidence measure. “We need to work together on healing and figuring out what went wrong.”

The vote came amid widespread alumni discontent over Mr. Paterno’s firing in November, shortly after charges were brought against a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, for allegedly sexually assaulting boys.

Mr. Paterno had been informed about an alleged incident on campus, reported it to school administrators but later said he wished he had “done more.”

Mr. Sandusky has denied the charges and pleaded not guilty.

The board was widely criticized for firing Mr. Paterno by phone and before completing an investigation. Two top board members resigned their leadership posts on Friday. Mr. Paterno died two days later, Sunday morning, of lung cancer.

University governance experts say even a failed no-confidence vote in the board was significant. “I think it served its purpose as an important wake-up call and distress call that the Penn State board needs to exercise clearer and stronger leadership,” said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Mr. Poliakoff said he thought the Penn State board should establish a standing committee to oversee athletic issues and reduce its size, saying 32 board members are too many “for really agile analysis and decision-making.”

On Friday, the trustees elected new leadership from within their ranks and promised reforms and more transparency.

Meanwhile Tuesday, mourners, starting with football players, passed in front of Mr. Paterno’s closed casket, while two players, one current and one former, stood guard. Those paying tribute included former Pittsburgh Steelers great Franco Harris, and NFL receivers Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood.

A public memorial service is scheduled for the school’s basketball arena Thursday. The university set a two-per-person limit on 16,000 tickets. All were claimed within five minutes, the university said. Some popped up on eBay but the postings later disappeared.

Around State College, in shop windows, at gas stations and on restaurant menu boards, signs were posted honoring Mr. Paterno. Painted on the door to Lions Pride, a sports apparel store, was: “‘Make an Impact.’ We love and miss you, coach,” quoting a phrase of Mr. Paterno’s. On a mural near the student book store, a halo was added to Mr. Paterno’s likeness.

A petition to rename Penn State’s football stadium after Mr. Paterno had gathered 5,000 signatures. The stadium currently is named after former state Gov. James Beaver.

Gov. Tom Corbett announced that flags on state facilities would be flown at half staff through Mr. Paterno’s burial.


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