HARRISBURG – In the year since eight young men took the stand to testify they were sexually abused by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the scandal has played out in the courts, in the halls of the university and in continuing debate about how it was handled and what it meant.
Two Penn State trustees made a case this month that the university has already made substantial improvements in child safety and its internal governance, with more changes on the way, including a search for a new president.
Board chairman Keith Masser said the school can already claim to be more efficient, more transparent and more accountable, a national model for university governance. He sees Penn State turning a corner.
“There’s a lot of inaccurate information and negative information that’s out there, and … I want to make sure that we promote and discuss all the good things that have been done and we’re doing,” he said in an interview in New York with the Associated Press.
The fallout from the revelations that Sandusky was a child molester who used his ties to the university to groom and victimize boys has hardly been confined to State College. There, debate continues about whether the school should have agreed to NCAA penalties, whether legendary coach Joe Paterno was treated fairly in his firing and a subsequent university investigation and what role the football team should play in campus life.
Washington native Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence at SCI-Greene after being convicted last year of sexually abusing 10 boys. He maintains his innocence and has launched appeals, a process that could take many years.
For months now, Penn State has been negotiating with lawyers for about 30 young men who assert they were abused by Sandusky. Many of them didn’t testify against Sandusky and haven’t sued, so the nature of their allegations isn’t publicly known.
The university’s goal is to settle their claims and avoid trial, and the man brought in to help facilitate those talks said he’s optimistic the end is near.
“We’re getting closer,” said Ken Feinberg, who has been involved in many other high-profile group settlements, including the compensation funds for 9/11 and Boston Marathon bombing victims. “We should have this done, I hope, in the next couple of weeks. But it’s not done yet – the discussions continue.”
The NCAA penalties, which included a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason play, a temporary reduction in football scholarships and the elimination of 112 Paterno-era wins, have triggered several lawsuits, including one by Gov. Tom Corbett that a federal judge has dismissed.
Paterno’s family and others with Penn State ties have also sued, and the NCAA has gone to court to challenge a state law that mandates the $60 million should be spent on child abuse prevention efforts within the state, not elsewhere.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane has ordered a review into how the Sandusky investigation was handled under her predecessors: Corbett and Linda Kelly, the woman he picked to complete his term as the state’s top prosecutor. The Sandusky scandal is likely to be a campaign topic next year, when Corbett is expected to seek a second term.
The Legislature is working on changes to state law based on shortcomings in child abuse protection that the Sandusky case helped expose, and it’s probable that some of the proposals will be enacted this year.
The U.S. Department of Education has been investigating whether Penn State complied with a federal law regarding public reporting of campus crimes.
Also pending are the criminal proceedings against three former Penn State administrators accused of covering up complaints about Sandusky: former president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley. They maintain their innocence.
Schultz and Curley were arrested along with Sandusky in November 2011, but prosecutors added new charges late last year and, for the first time, charged Spanier. Their preliminary hearings, which according to Pennsylvania law would normally have been held months ago, have been delayed indefinitely while the courts sort out a dispute over the role played in their grand jury appearances by Penn State’s then-general counsel, Cynthia Baldwin.
The men have argued their right to legal counsel was violated when Baldwin accompanied them to grand jury appearances, and they do not want her to testify against them.
Because of the grand jury investigation, much of what has been going on in the criminal case is occurring in secret, including a pair of appeals by Curley and Schultz that the state Supreme Court turned down this month. The state attorney general’s office said it’s ready to move forward with the case and blamed delays on defense motions.
On the field, the Nittany Lions went 8-4 last season under coach Bill O’Brien, hired as Paterno’s permanent replacement. They open the 2013 season Aug. 31 against Syracuse at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.