In the wake of last week's damning report on Penn State's internal response to the conduct of one-time assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the university's board of trustees began to vote on new policies Friday.
In the report, former FBI director Louis Freeh charged several university officials with covering up Sandusky's crimes. Freeh contended administration officials at the top of PSU's hierarchy didn't want to upset donors and alumni by reporting Sandusky. In addition, janitors at the bottom of the chain who said they witnessed Sandusky raping children said in the report they were too afraid to report the behviour because taking on the football program would be like "going against the president of the United States."
"If that's the culture on the bottom, God help the culture on the top," Freeh told reporters Thursday.
Trustees met Friday on the heels of the report, which stated that only one of the 32 trustees checked in with PSU officials when news articles surfaced that the state attorney general's office was investigating Sandusky and Penn State.
Chair Karen Peetz admitted on Friday there had been a "collapse in leadership," echoing Freeh's comments that "the board failed in its oversight of the senior officers of the university."
The report noted repeated failures, and specifically pointed out that the school did not follow the Clery Act of 1990, which requires all colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on their campuses. The U.S. Department of Education is still investigating PSU for possible violations of the Clery Act.
But determining Penn State's failures was only part of the report's aim.
Included in the Freeh report were 119 recommendations for PSU officials, PSU athletics and the board of trustees, designed to "create a more open and compliant culture, which protects children and not adults who abuse them." Some of the items include establishing an "Ethics Council," providing professional training on reporting abuse, standardized background checks and requiring increased reporting from university leadership to trustees.
In what would turn out to be one of the trustees' longest meetings on record, the trustees and Rodney Erickson, Penn State's new president, began to implement some of the new measures Friday.
Erickson said he has appointed a team to "coordinate and implement operational changes" as suggested by the Freeh report. He also announced the creation of the position of director of university compliance, as well as a new Clery compliance coordinator, and that the university would offer Clery Act training for employees. The board members plan to divide up the remaining recommendations for further study, and intend to open future board meetings to allow for public comment.
While the recommendations in the Freeh report were written specifically for Penn State, it's likely colleges elsewhere will be combing through them, too.
In interviews with The Huffington Post, higher education experts said the scandal should serve as a wake-up call to other colleges around the country.
Terry Hartle, vice president for legislative affairs at the American Council on Education, said he's never seen a "more complete failure" during his three decades in higher education than what happened at Penn State.
"This was a very clear warning of the danger of insularity," Hartle said, as well as a demonstration against letting "coaches run the university."
Hartle said other institutions should pay close attention to the recommendations, and think "very long and hard" about how their own institutions stand up. Other Pennsylvania universities like Temple and Drexel have begun reviews of their own policies in light of the Penn State scandal.
David Lizak, a founding member of 1in6.org -- a nonprofit organization that supports men who were sexually abused as children -- said he fears one of the dangers presented by the Penn State scandal is that society will only focus on Penn State's failures and not draw comparisons between Penn State's operations and those at other institutions.
"For about three decades we have had an enormous amount of research documenting very high levels of sexual violence on college campuses across the country," Lizak said. "The research has been done by college researchers -- sociologists and psychologists on college campuses -- and much of it is focused on university students. Yet universities as institutions have done relatively very little to respond comprehensively to the problem that their own researchers have been documenting."
Alison Kiss, executive director for the Clery Center for Campus Security, says a lack of compliance with the Clery Act is widespread, and that she also expects the Penn State scandal to spur change at other higher education institutions.
One thing the Penn State trustees are not willing to change is their membership on the board.
When reporters asked trustees on Thursday afternoon, "When do you plan to resign?" they replied that they would not. When pressed on whether it would restore trust if they resigned, Peetz said the thought "consistency" was important.
Trustee Kenneth Frazier defended the board in an exchange with reporters, insisting the trustees had asked enough questions that they could've gotten answers.
"It's not that if we asked a magic question, [they would've said] 'Oh, since you asked it that way, we're going to answer,'" he said Thursday.
When Freeh was asked if he'd recommend any trustees resign, he replied, "I can't comment about what my client should do."
Although trustees insisted in public that no one was stepping down, ESPN reported that behind closed doors, some members were being pushed to resign. At Friday's meeting, the board did vote to shorten term lengths for trustees, from 15 years to 12 years.
"In the long run, Penn State will remain a world-class institution," Hartle said. "Right now they're going through a painful, but necessary process."
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