ABC News Beth Loyd reports
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State alumni are angry at the firing of Joe Paterno and told the school’s president Wednesday night they want the board of trustees to step aside to give the university a clean slate.
More than 600 Penn State alumni grilled new PSU President Rodney Erickson during an emotional meeting about the university’s actions since the sex abuse scandal broke in November.
One of the two most emotional moments came when one woman who said she brought both of her babies home from the hospital wrapped in Penn State blankets, told Erickson, “A lot of that is because of our pride in PSU and the integrity of Joe Paterno. What you did to Joe Paterno is unconscionable.” Applause erupted from the crowd.
When the moderator read a question that stated, “What are the plans to realign the make-up of the board…. The board of trustees should step down,” the crowd rose in a standing ovation.
Paterno, 85, was abruptly fired in the middle this year’s football season after news broke that his former assistant Jerry Sandusky had been repeatedly accused of sexually molesting boys, but no one ever called the cops. The school’s former president was also dismissed and three athletic officials were removed from their posts.
Paterno, affectionately known as “Joe Pa” on the campus, had coached the nationally recognized football team for 61 seasons, including the last 46 years as head coach.
Before the town hall began, there were two big projector screens showing images of a happy Penn State with photos of smiling and laughing students, the Pennsylvania countryside, students in the cafeteria line, distinguished alumni, Nittany Lion statues around campus. Strikingly absent were photos of the football team and Paterno, images that would have dominated in previous years’ alumni meetings.
Erickson said that Penn State has a long and rich tradition and that Paterno had a big part in building that. “We certainly want to honor Joe Paterno as the future unfolds,” he said. Erickson did not give specifics, but promised the alumni that they would have an opportunity to celebrate Paterno’s career.
The crowd was not mollified. They laughed when Erickson admitted that he had not met with Paterno face-to-face since the scandal broke, but had sent him a thank-you note.
“We turned our back on Joe Paterno,” one man said. “I would like to encourage that the board issue a private apology to Paterno and let the record show his retirement at the end of the season. He should be allowed to retire in honor.”
When asked what the board knew about the Sandusky investigation and when they knew it, Erickson said that there was a brief report made to the executive board earlier in the year. They only thing that they were told was that there was an investigation by the attorney general concerning Penn State staff and that perhaps some staff testified at the grand jury, but there was no grand jury presentment at that time.
Many of the alumni were outraged at the media attention, blaming the press for tarnishing Penn State’s image.
“I was disgusted by the lack of response by the administration while our good name was trashed by the media,” one alum complained. “The media put us in a position to do what we did to Paterno. I think we should ask for our money back from the crisis communications company we hired.”
There were also several alumni who expressed concern about Governor Corbett and his involvement in the alleged cover-up. Erickson did not directly address those concerns. He said that the investigation is on-going and he expected it to be completed in May and then more questions would be answered, including questions about the investigation in 1998.