John Surma (right), vice chair and spokesman for the Board of Trustees, announces the firings of Coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011. Steve Garban, 2010-2011 chair of the Board, sits to his left. Photo by Sean Flynn
by Elizabeth Timberlake-Newell
with Alanna Pawlowski
Before November 2011, Penn State’s Board of Trustees exercised their powers of governance with little fanfare. They publicly met six times a year to discuss the university’s budget and to listen to reports from the president and Board committees.
Then former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested for alleged sexual abuse of children, and two Penn State administrators were charged with perjury. In the week preceding the Nittany Lions’ last home football game, the Board made a pair of fateful decisions that thrust them into the national spotlight: they dismissed Penn State’s president Graham Spanier and football coach Joseph Paterno.
Many Board members have since spoken out about the careful consideration they said went into those decisions.
Board member Keith Eckel told Voices that the Board “made a decision not based on legalities but our responsibilities and came to the conclusion that the president could not lead through this situation.”
According to other Board members, the same care and deliberateness was applied to Paterno’s dismissal.
“The same decision was made about Joe Paterno [as made about Spanier],” explained Board member Keith Masser. “We couldn’t have the team focused on the Sandusky case when they were not involved in it.”
This decision set off a firestorm of controversy among students, alumni and the larger Penn State community. The night Paterno was dismissed, students rioted in the streets, overturning a news van and damaging public and private property.
However, the response of alumni who have called for reform of the Board of Trustees may ultimately be more far-reaching. Read more »