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Penn State authorizes settlements in Sandusky case

| Saturday, July 13, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

The Penn State board of trustees on Friday authorized the university to offer settlements to some of the people allegedly abused by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, but the board remained tight-lipped about how many offers it made and how much money was offered.

“We're just chipping away at getting these issues behind us,” and this “allows us to keep moving forward,” Keith Masser, chairman of the board, said in a news conference after the meeting at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus in North Union.

Masser declined to say whether there is a deadline for the victims to decide on whether they will accept the proposed settlements.

The university said it would not disclose the details of the offers until all of the claims have been settled and agreements signed. No settlement agreements have been signed, and the negotiations with lawyers for those claiming abuse remain confidential.

The board unanimously approved the resolution that authorizes the settlements recommended by the board's legal subcommittee. While there was no discussion among board members at the public meeting, Masser said the issue was debated in an executive session.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement that the authorization “is yet another important step toward the resolution of claims from Sandusky's victims.”

The settlement offers were discussed by trustees on June 25 and then again on Friday, in an executive session.

Erickson had predicted negotiations would be finished by the end of last year, but Kenneth Feinberg, a nationally recognized expert who Penn State hired to begin settlement talks with the victims, said his firm is still conducting negotiations. It has negotiated with 30 young men who said they were abused by Sandusky.

Sandusky, who operated a nonprofit organization in State College for troubled youth, is serving a 30-60 year prison sentence, following his conviction last summer for abusing 10 boys in and around Penn State facilities.

Within days of Sandusky's conviction last summer, Erickson said the university would reach out to the retired coach's alleged victims and attempt to settle claims short of litigation.

“We don't want to, if at all possible, drag victims through another round of court cases and litigation. If we can come to an agreement with them, with their attorneys, we believe that would be the best possible outcome in this whole very, very difficult, tragic situation,” Erickson said in an interview last summer.

As a result of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, the NCAA came down hard on the university, slapping it with a $60 million fine, voiding former Penn State coach Joe Paterno's victories over 14 seasons and placing a four-year ban on the Nittany Lions playing in a postseason game.

The board has discussed asking the NCAA to reconsider the controversial sanctions, but “it is a matter of timing,” Masser said.

Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien met with the board in a closed-door session on Friday to give the trustees an update on the football program, Masser said.

He declined to say whether O'Brien asked to appeal the sanctions.

“I still don't believe the sanctions are justified,” said trustee Joel Myers.

Myers declined to say anything specific about a possible appeal to the NCAA, other than to say “there is nothing in the offing.”

A federal judge last month dismissed a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania that sought to have those sanctions thrown out.

The board did approve tuition hikes that averaged 2.76 percent for the upcoming school year, but even lower average tuition hikes of 1.8 percent at 15 of its 19 branch campuses, Erickson said.

Pennsylvania residents attending the campuses at Beaver, DuBois, Fayette, McKeesport and New Kensington will see an increase of 0.75 percent, or just $47 per semester.

Penn State's board has kept tuition increases low, despite a 20 percent cut in state funding three years ago and no increases in state aid the past two years, Erickson said. It is the second-lowest percentage increase in tuition since 1967.

“It will not be any easier going forward,” Erickson said.

The university president said Penn State is educating 20,000 more students now than in 1995, yet gets the same amount of state funding. When inflation is taken into account, the state aid Penn State currently receives is comparable to the amount it received in the 1970s.

He said he was concerned about the ability to continue providing a quality education at affordable prices, knowing that other universities and private industry are competing for quality faculty and staff.

“We can't price higher education out of the market,” Erickson said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 orjnapsha@tribweb.com.

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