STATE COLLEGE –Penn State trustees preparing to formally begin the search for a new university president received encouraging news Friday after an accreditation warning was lifted for the school.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education announced Friday the school is in full compliance with the agency’s governance, finance and integrity standards.
The commission determined that Penn State is “responding appropriately” to the challenges created by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal,” university president Rodney Erickson told the Board of Trustees.
Middle States had issued a warning in August based on the fallout from the scandal that began a year ago with the arrest of Sandusky, a former assistant football coach.
According to Erickson, Middle States said it was impressed by how the Penn State community responded to the scandal in emphasizing “unity and positive change over recrimination.”
Middle States sent representatives to campus last month. The commission also evaluated Penn State finances, given that the school has spent $20 million to date on scandal-related costs and still faces potential civil settlements with Sandusky accusers.
The agency cited Penn State’s longtime fiscally conservative philosophy along with continued success in fundraising and drawing strong interest from student applicants, “none of which appears to have been impacted negatively by the events of the last year,” the commission concluded in the report, according to a university statement.
Trustees on Friday wrapped up two days of regularly scheduled meetings with a full assembly of the board, during which they expected to vote on plans to search for Erickson’s replacement.
Erickson took over the post a year ago to replace Graham Spanier, who departed under pressure the same day Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno was ousted in the fallout from the sweeping scandal. Erickson has said he intends to retire when his contract expires in June 2014.
The search process was initially supposed to start early next year, board chairwoman Karen Peetz said Thursday. But the timeline was accelerated and the process will officially start Friday because the potential pool of candidates is tighter than usual, and “there have been a lot of people out looking recently,” Peetz said.
She said the university would be proactive in reaching out to students, faculty, alumni and other factions of the Penn State community for input. Some alumni, in particular, continue to be critical of university leadership and the way the ouster of Paterno was handled.
A vocal faction of alumni remain angry about how the university accepted the landmark sanctions on the football program from the NCAA, college sports’ governing body. Some of those critics were in the audience at Friday’s trustees meeting.
The alumni critics have questioned the results of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s investigation of the school’s handling of the scandal, which said that Paterno, Spanier and two other university officials concealed abuse allegations. Paterno died in January. His family, as well as Spanier and the two school officials, have vehemently denied there was a cover-up.
“Over the past year, the board and community have had our share of conflicts,” Peetz told trustees Friday. “I urge everyone to work together ... for the future of Penn State.”