STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - The arduous task of rebuilding Penn State’s shattered image began Friday with a pledge by the board of trustees to search for the truth amid an unfolding child sex abuse case against a former assistant football coach, a scandal that has already claimed the jobs of coach Joe Paterno and the school’s president.
The vow came as the school faced a warning by the Moody’s credit rating company that its bond rating could be downgraded because of risks to its reputation and finances from the scandal.
In front of an overflow crowd at a meeting that was moved from a hotel boardroom to a ballroom to accommodate more people, the trustees opened with Chairman Steve Garban welcoming the replacement president, Rod Erickson, and Gov. Tom Corbett, who had pressed publicly for fast action by trustees accustomed to deferring to former president Graham Spanier.
The meeting was the first public gathering of the 32-member board in the wake of the scandal, which has gripped one of the nation’s largest universities and touched off a violent student demonstration. Besides the firings of Paterno and Spanier, an assistant coach who told his bosses in 2002 that he saw an assault was placed on administrative leave Friday.
Garban pledged to support Erickson _ the trustees removed the “interim” tag on his new title but will continue to search for a permanent successor to Spanier _ as the board works “for the future of this institution that we respect and love.” Erickson, previously the university’s longtime provost, said Penn State must devote itself to its core values _ honesty, integrity, excellence and community _ now more than ever.
“I know we can do this. We are resilient; we are a university that will rebuild the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many years,” Erickson said in a six-minute speech to the trustees.
Without mentioning Spanier or Paterno, Erickson told trustees that their deliberate and decisive action had set a course for the university’s future. He said his heart aches for the victims and their families, and he pledged to reassure Penn Staters that the university’s future is still bright.
But Moody’s Investors Service Inc. said it put the school’s high Aa1 bond rating under review for a possible downgrade and will assess over the next few months the potential impact on the school from possible lawsuits, a decline in students applying to attend, the loss of donations from philanthropies and changes in the school’s relationship with the state.
The strong current bond rating, like a credit rating for a person, reflects Penn State’s attractiveness to prospective students because of its respected academic program and status as Pennsylvania’s flagship and land grant university, Moody’s said. That has drawn out-of-state students paying high tuition rates.
Paterno and Spanier were fired Wednesday in the fallout of a shocking days-old grand jury report alleging repeated, illicit contact between retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and boys as young as 10 over a span of 15 years, sometimes in Penn State’s facilities.
Police said Friday that a vandal may have smashed a window at Sandusky’s home in State College on Thursday night. A broken ground-floor window in the front of the house was covered Friday with what looked what a white tarp. No one answered the door.
Meanwhile, Paterno’s son, Scott Paterno, said his dad had retained attorney Wick Sollers, of the law firm of King and Spalding.
“Like everyone who has watched this story unfold, my father is experiencing a range of powerful emotions. He is absolutely distraught over what happened to the children and their families,” Scott Paterno said in a statement. “He also wants very much to speak publicly and answer questions.”
But he said his father has “no choice but to be patient and defer to the legal process.”
“He cooperated fully with the grand jury,” the son said, “and he will continue to cooperate with the investigation as we move forward.”