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Franco Harris urges other alumni to remove board of trustees

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Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012
 

Former star Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris says he won't run for a seat on the university's board of trustees but supports others trying to oust members for their handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and the firing of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno.

"We have great alumni who can do great things, and there's no reason why we should have one of the worst boards in university history," Harris told the Tribune-Review on Friday.

Harris challenged any member of the board to step forward and explain what happened behind closed doors on Nov. 9 that led to the firing of Paterno and the forced resignation of university President Graham Spanier.

"If they tell me they can't do it because they are following procedure, well, someone needs to step up and do what is morally right," said Harris, 61, of Leet.

Harris, who met with fellow alums after town hall meetings with Penn State President Rodney Erickson this week in Pittsburgh and King of Prussia, told the Trib that he's encouraging a growing movement among dissatisfied alumni.

"There is a big movement by a lot of people to remove this board," Harris said. "It's happening organically, and that's wonderful. I want (trustees) to know this is not going to blow over. It is only going to get stronger."

Harris, a 1972 Penn State graduate who played for Paterno, blasted the board, saying the trustees should have stepped up immediately upon learning of the Sandusky allegations and focused attention on helping the alleged child sexual abuse victims.

Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach, is awaiting trial on 52 charges that he abused 10 boys over a 15-year period, some in university facilities.

A grand jury also charged retired Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley, who is on administrative leave from his post, with failing to report allegations against Sandusky and lying about it to a grand jury.

All three maintain their innocence.

Although neither Paterno nor Spanier were charged, trustees removed them two days after Sandusky's Nov. 7 arrest and named Erickson, the university's provost, as president.

Following criticism at the Downtown alumni meeting on Wednesday, trustees Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John Surma issued a statement on Thursday clarifying the board's action. Saying the university was facing "extraordinary circumstances," the board said they believed it was "in the best interests of the university to make an immediate change in (Coach Paterno's) status."

Paterno remains employed as a tenured faculty member, the trustees said, adding that his retirement package is being finalized.

His son Scott Paterno, in a statement responding to the trustees' announcement, said: "As has become apparent, the termination on Nov. 9 with no notice or hearing, was not handled well." He said his father has emphasized from the beginning that "the first priority in this crisis is to serve the best interests of the victims. He believes strongly that everyone involved is entitled to due process."

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After the Pittsburgh meeting, Harris said, he called fellow alum Anthony Lubrano, a major Penn State donor who is seeking a seat on the board of trustees, to arrange a meeting after Thursday's town hall in King of Prussia.

"It was a great event. There was a lot of talk about the leadership of Penn State and the handling of the sexual abuse scandal. Our thing is we're fighting for Penn State now against the lack of leadership and how they allowed the university, the football program and Joe Paterno to become the focus of this," Harris said. "But one thing that makes you proud is it's a great university."

Like Harris, many are questioning Penn State's handling of communications surrounding the Sandusky scandal. Erickson said the university spent $360,000 on crisis communications consultants in November alone.

"I think if I were still teaching, I would give them a F-minus," said J. David Truby, a retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania journalism professor and Penn State alum who penned a workbook on crisis communications in public relations.

"In public relations, especially crisis public relations, the first thing you want to do is go into the positive mode," Truby said. "The first thing they needed to do was say 'What can we as an institution with all we have behind us do to help make this better for the victims?' What they did was the exact opposite, and it just reflects back on Penn State."

Paterno, 85, who became college football Division I's winningest coach with his 409th win at Penn State this season, was admitted to the hospital yesterday for observation because of minor complications from his lung cancer treatments, his family told The Associated Press.

Additional Information:

JoePa hospitalized

Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno was admitted to the hospital on Friday for observation because of minor complications from cancer treatments, his family said.

His family said in a statement that the 85-year-old Paterno continues to undergo a 'regimen of treatments' after being diagnosed two months ago with what they have termed a treatable form of lung cancer.

The family hoped his latest stay would be brief. He most recently was in the hospital last month after re-breaking his pelvis in a fall at home.

'Although these issues have been challenging for Coach Paterno and his family, he has total confidence in his doctors and is determined to make a full recovery,' the family said in the statement.

• The Associated Press

 

 

 
 


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