By a vote of 19-8, divided Penn State trustees this morning approved a litigation settlement proposal promising the university will "remain committed to full compliance with the Consent Decree" signed with the NCAA in 2012, including a $60 million payment, management reforms and football program sanctions. Read the resolution here.
The proposed settlement approved by the board majority, if accepted in court, could be used to resolve state and federal lawsuits over the Decree, requiring among other steps that the $60 milllion be spent in Pennsylvania "to assist victims of child sexual abuse and prevent future child sexual abuse."
The eight elected alumni trustees who voted all opposed the resolution, splitting from members representing state government, business and farm groups, who backed the proposal. Trustees divided over whether the proposed settlement goes too far in accepting the NCAA sanctions, which the alumni trustees say are based on unproven criticisms of former University President Graham Spanier, the late football coach Joe Paterno, and university practices and pro-sports culture as detailed in the scathing Freeh Report, which blamed them for failing to stop ex-assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky from abusing children on college property.
University leaders had agreed to the Consent Decree, payment, reforms and football program sanctions. But in April a Commonwealth Court ruling questioned the decree's validity under state law, and urged the board to review the deal in hopes of settling legal challenges.
In annual elections since it was signed, alumni have voted out trustees who supported the decree and replaced them with critics. Wednesday's meeting was the first time the whole board met to review the consent decree, and the two camps divided on clear battle lines.
Alumni trustee leaders had accused a small group of Penn State leaders and lawyers of rushing the Consent Decree and the proposed legal settlement into action. But chairman Keith Masser was able to show a majority of the board supports both. The make-up of the Penn State board will be the subject of a separate board review on Friday.
Highlights from this morning's debate:
Richard Dandrea Esq., business trustee: "A majority of the board is in complete agreement with the decision not to attack the Consent Decree but to continue with our program for compliance," reinforcing "the University's committment to doing what it can to avoid a repeat of the Sandusky episode," as well as "a reduction in the sanctions" against Penn State football by the NCAA.
Ryan McCombie, alumni trustee: "The University should pursue a settlement of the litigation that acknowledges the insufficiency of the Freeh Report for purposes of the Consent Decree, (ends) all remaining sanctions imposed on the University by the NCAA, returns penalty funds paid into escrow by the University, rescinds further obligation under that penalty," discloses details of talks between the NCAA, Penn State leaders and report author Louis Freeh, "acknowledges and regrets crimes committed on this University property," and credits cash settlements paid to abuse victims as resulting from "compassion by those harmed by its former employee, Jerry Sandusky."
Eckel: "We have set a high standard of compliance recognized across the country. I believe it would be a major mistake to turn back now."
Edward Hintz, business trustee: "Maybe we ought to just, let's let (the Consent Decree) run maybe a couple more years.... I'd be very concerned about that the NCAA would look upon this as backtracking on some of the things which we already accomplished."
Albert Lord, alumni trustee: "There are a lot of alumni who are not prepared to trade scholarships and ballgames for our reputation."
Anthony Lubrano, alumni trustee: "If you believe that the majority of alumni simply want to move on, you are mistaken. This isn't about football. It never has been. This is about the integrity of this institution. It's about the heart and soul of Penn State."
Hintz: "We have the largest applications at any time by any size to Penn State. We've raised $2.1 billion over the last several years. I don't know how such a terrible reputation, that you think we've had, can match up with the statistics."
Robert Jubelirer, ex-state senator, alumni trustee: "With all due respect to my colleague from the Class of 1959, Ed Hintz, I couldn't disagree with him more that the alumni wouldn't care about another three years (of NCAA sanctions). I think they care very deeply, and they are very involved, and they are very emotionally involved, and they want to see their university do the right thing."
Kathleen Casey Esq., vice chair: "If the removal of this language (promising to comply with the Consent Decree) is to suggest that we would be backing away from the continued commitment to full compliance with the consent agreement, I think that would be a horrible message to send."
D'Andrea: "We're not saying we're validating the consent decree. We're saying we are going to stay in compliance..."
In a separate roll-call ballot, all eight voting elected alumni trustees opposed the settlement resolution and voted in favor of an amendment that would have omitted the promise to comply with the NCAA Consent Decree (the last two sentences of resolution paragraph 8); that amendment went down, 18-8.