- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2012

NEW YORK — Penn State President Rodney Erickson wrapped up three cities in three days of often tense meetings with alumni assuring this: “We’re going to be OK.”

And that was one thing frustrated graduates could applaud.

Erickson faced about 300 alums in a packed hotel ballroom in lower Manhattan on Friday night, the last stop on a road trip intended to calm anger about how the university has dealt with a child sex abuse scandal involving longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Instead, the sessions have triggered more anguish and another round of introspection for the people who love the school and its football program.

The questions Friday were similar to the previous two nights in Pittsburgh and outside Philadelphia. A teary-eyed woman asked: “How do you explain the lack of due process for Joe Paterno?” That drew sustained if not unanimous applause. The largest ovations came for queries criticizing the Board of Trustees and the school’s public relations efforts.

“I can assure you that as I go back to the Penn State campus, I will think deeply about the messages you have provided me,” Erickson said in his closing remarks. “I have listened well. I listen and I learn. I hope you all keep that faith that we will move forward.”

The school has yet to start making plans on how to honor Paterno, Erickson said earlier, though he promised again that a tribute was coming. As in previous meetings, the president spent several minutes listing the university’s many accomplishments in academics and athletics. But that was little solace to alumni distressed by the way the scandal has overshadowed all that.

The perceived lack of communication by trustees in the two months since Paterno’s firing Nov. 9 has roiled many graduates.

“Honestly, I feel like I was given the company line,” Virginia Alvarez, a lawyer from the Class of 1997 who asked the question about due process, said afterward. “I don’t feel like we have the answers. I think the people who need to call into question are the Board of Trustees. Show us the minutes of those meetings.”

Erickson emphasized that the trustees are his bosses, and not the other way around. He explained how the university’s land-grant history resulted in the composition of the board, which includes nine of 32 trustees elected by alumni. The charter would have to be altered to change that, he said.

Appointed president after the scandal also cost Graham Spanier his job, Erickson plans to retire in 2014.

He reiterated that he supported the trustees’ decision to fire Paterno.

“There comes a time to look at more than legal issues and look at the ability to lead, and I think at that point ability to lead was compromised,” he said. “That in no way should reflect my feelings about the wonderful things Joe has contributed over the years.”

Erickson offered his best wishes to Paterno, saying he was “very sad” to hear the Hall of Famer was readmitted to the hospital Friday with complications from his treatment for lung cancer.

Matt Kalafat, Class of 1991, made a long statement saying that although he long loved Penn State’s coach and probably still did, “Joe Paterno is not a victim.” That drew little applause.

Erickson heard several questions asking why the university’s PR response wasn’t better prepared since trustees were aware Sandusky was being investigated.

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