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Spanier's 16-year run at PSU ends

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By Jeremy Boren and Tom Fontaine,
Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011
 

Graham Spanier's 16-year tenure as president of Penn State University ended on Wednesday, less than a week after allegations of a child sex scandal and university cover-up surfaced.

University trustees met last night and Spanier and the board "decided it was in the best interests of the university to have a change in leadership with the difficulties we are facing," said John Surma, trustees vice chairman and chairman and CEO of U.S. Steel.

Rodney A. Erickson, executive vice president and provost, will serve as acting president.

Spanier said in a statement released at the trustees' 10:15 p.m. news conference that "I am heartbroken that any child may have been hurt and have deep convictions about the need to protect children and youth."

The Department of Education announced it would investigate the university's handling of the sex abuse allegations against former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky that led to criminal charges against two administrators and a retirement announcement from legendary head football coach Joe Paterno.

"The ultimate issue is what's in the best interest of the university, how do we continue to run a very large institution in light of these extremely serious charges?" said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents college presidents. "One of the questions that the board will have to ask is, 'Can Graham continue to lead the university?'"

Prosecutors did not charge Spanier, 63, in the case that resulted in 40 criminal counts related to child sex abuse against Sandusky. Critics blame Spanier for failing to inform police about Sandusky's suspected 2002 assault of a 10-year-old boy in the university's Lasch Football Building.

Suspended athletic director Tim Curley and now-retired senior vice president Gary Schultz face perjury charges because authorities say they failed to report the abuse allegations.

Opposition to Spanier's extending his time as the third-longest-serving president in Penn State's 156-year history mounted in recent days as reports of Sandusky's alleged victims reached double digits.

Students who waited outside his office for hours this week chanted, "Fire Spanier!"

State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said earlier in the day that Spanier should be dismissed if he cannot explain why the allegations were not reported. Gov. Tom Corbett, who planned to join a trustees meeting on Friday, called on university trustees to take "quick strong action" in the matter.

It's difficult to imagine Spanier remaining quiet, considering statements he made in speeches.

In an April 2006 speech, the text of which was posted on the university's website, Spanier referred to sexual assault as a "silent epidemic" because the crimes often go unreported.

"It is the time to make a statement as a community that we will not tolerate rape, sexual assault, domestic violence or other harmful acts that destroy the dignity and self-worth of any member of our community," he said.

The university never attempted to learn the identity of the suspected victim in the 2002 assault on campus, according to a grand jury presentment.

Peter McPherson, a former Michigan State University president who heads the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, said Spanier was well-respected by his counterparts at other major universities.

"He is regarded by colleagues as a strong president, a very able man who is collegial and gets things done," McPherson said of Spanier, a former chairman of the association's board of directors. "I think well of the job he has done."

McPherson declined to address the current controversy.

Supporters worry the turmoil could deal a blow to Spanier's ambitious $2 billion fundraising campaign, the largest drive in Penn State history, as donors recoil from the university they love.

Chris Born, a 1986 graduate of Penn State from Manassas, called Spanier's office after seeing reports that Paterno could be dismissed. Born said the woman who answered the phone sounded as if she was crying.

"I told her that if they tried to make Joe Paterno the scapegoat for all of this by firing him, they could kiss my (donation) money goodbye," Born said.

According to his profile on the university's website, Spanier has filled in as the Nittany Lions mascot, run with the bulls in Pamplona, played washboard with Dixieland bands and served as an adviser to budding magicians for almost his entire tenure.

He also has a commercial pilot's license, has hosted radio and TV call-in shows, and is an 11-time intramural coed racquetball champ at Penn State.

He became Penn State's 16th president in 1995, replacing Joab Langston Thomas. The board of trustees authorized a three-year contract extension in June 2010 that would have kept Spanier in place until 2015.

They lauded Spanier for more than doubling research expenditures to $765 million in 2009 and ballooning the university's endowment to $1.4 billion, up from $364 million.

"The stability Graham has provided to Penn State over the past 15 years and for the next five years is incredible," board Chairman Steve Garban said in a statement at the time.

Spanier's family moved to the United States from South Africa when he was an infant because of disgust over apartheid. They lived in Chicago's South Side, according to an essay he wrote to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2008.

Spanier's total compensation is about $813,850 a year, placing him fifth on a Chronicle of Higher Education list of 125 public university presidents.

Paterno's total compensation was about $1.02 million in 2010, making him the top-earning employee at Penn State.

There's a great deal at stake in trying to preserve Penn State's football program. The team produced $72.7 million in revenue and had $53.2 million in profit during the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to Education Department data.

Before joining Penn State, Spanier was chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, provost at Oregon State University, and vice provost for undergraduate studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

He visited Iowa State University, his alma mater, in February 2010 and gave a speech to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the university's Liberal Arts & Sciences. While attending Iowa State, Spanier met his wife, Sandra, who's now an English professor at Penn State.

"As Winston Churchill would say, my most brilliant achievement was persuading my wife to marry me," he told the crowd.

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Additional Information:

Spanier statement via PSU website

It has been my great privilege and honor to serve Penn State for more than 25 years, including the past 16 as president. I have said before that the position I occupy is the dream job in American higher education, and I am proud of what we have all done together to advance our programs, support our students, and enhance pride in our institution.

Our great university has been rocked by serious charges against a former coach. The presentment by the Attorney General describes acts that should never be tolerated or ignored. I was stunned and outraged to learn that any predatory act might have occurred in a University facility or by someone associated with the University.

I am heartbroken to think that any child may have been hurt and have deep convictions about the need to protect children and youth. My heartfelt sympathies go out to all those who may have been victimized. I would never hesitate to report a crime if I had any suspicion that one had been committed.

The acts of no one person should define this university. Penn State is defined by the traditions, loyalty and integrity of hundreds of thousands of students, alumni and employees.

Penn State and its Board of Trustees are in the throes of dealing with and recovering from this crisis, and there is wisdom in a transition in leadership so that there are no distractions in allowing the University to move forward.

This University is a large and complex institution, and although I have always acted honorably and in the best interests of the University, the buck stops here. In this situation, I believe it is in the best interests of the University to give my successor a clear path for resolving the issues before us.

I will always value the wonderful relationships that I have developed with the many thousands of Penn Staters, community leaders and members of the higher education community throughout the country. I will continue to serve the University in every way possible and celebrate the greatness of Penn State.
Graham Spanier

 

 
 


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