People who love and care for Pennsylvania State University reacted sorrowfully today to news that former President Graham Spanier had been charged with helping cover up child-sexual abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, sentenced last month to 30 to 60 years in prison.

But child-care advocates said the charges were necessary - and wondered how many boys could have been spared if Spanier and others had spoken up.

Spanier, once among the nation's most prominent college presidents, was charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, endangering the welfare of children, criminal conspiracy, and failure to report suspected child abuse. Similar, additional charges were lodged against former university Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley, already scheduled for trial in January.

"I was hoping we had turned the corner," said a disappointed David Dimmick, a retired Penn State sports-ethics instructor who taught for 33 years. "This is what we're going to be known for, for years and years, and that's unfortunate."

Dimmick taught Curley as a student. And he considers Spanier a friend. He knows them to be good people - and can't imagine they would willingly ignore or cover up allegations of child abuse.

Perhaps, he said, "they were guilty of not understanding the seriousness, of not knowing what to do, perhaps trying to protect a person they thought a lot of, Jerry Sandusky."

The school has been stained, and "the 100,000 of us who are students, employees, former employees, we're suffering for it," Dimmick said. When he wore a Penn State T-shirt on a recent out-of-town trip, "I could see people looking at me sideways."

In announcing the charges today, authorities mentioned occasions in 1998 and 2001 when Spanier, Schultz and Curley discussed allegations that Sandusky had abused boys on the Penn State campus, but took no action.

"What boys would have been spared?" asked Pastor Aaron Anderson, who has visited campus as a board member of Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania, based in Media. "Spanier, that's where the buck stops. He's the one who has to report it. When something like that is happening, you have to bring in the experts and let them do the investigation."

One student said it was tough to hear that Spanier had been charged, but university life would go on.

"I know it's front-page news," said 26-year-old graduate student Stuart Shapiro, of Orange, Conn., who is earning an MBA. But "whatever happens, we have classes to go through and work to do. Whatever is in the news isn't going to change that. This is still a world-class university."

Shapiro helped found Blue Out, an event in which students wear blue, symbolizing child-abuse awareness, during big home football games. Blue Out and One Heart, another group, raised $126,000, most of it donated to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

Shapiro said the charges and continuing news coverage "gives us all a moment to take pause and see what we can all do to make our world a little bit better."

Others said top university officials, including Spanier, should have acted when they had the chance.

"If he knew, damn! I mean, Sandusky didn't even work there anymore," said Curtis St. John, who attended the Sandusky trial as a past president of MaleSurvivor, a national organization that fights male sexual abuse. "We need to explore what these gentlemen did - and didn't do - to help protect our children."

St. John said that if someone walked into a room "and saw Sandusky beating a child with his fists, there'd be no question of what to do. [Sexual abuse] is such a shock. No one wants to believe it. ... We're going to find out they had an obligation they should have followed through on. I have compassion for them, but I'm glad they're being forced to take responsibility."

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Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, jgammage@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @JeffGammage.