STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State’s Board of Trustees elected banking executive Karen Peetz to lead the embattled board and help the school negotiate the aftermath of a nightmarish child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant football coach.
The trustees picked Peetz to be president of the 32-member board in a voice vote Friday. She is vice chairman of The Bank of New York Mellon. The trustees also elected farm owner Keith Masser as the vice chair. Like Peetz, he was unopposed.
They’re replacing Steve Garban and John Surma, respectively, who guided the board in the two tumultuous months since Jerry Sandusky was charged with dozens of counts of child sex abuse. They decided not to run for another yearlong term as board officers.
Under Garban and Surma’s watch, the board ousted football coach Joe Paterno and promised to uncover the truth behind the Sandusky case and Penn State officials’ involvement in it through an internal investigation.
In recent weeks, the trustees have felt increasing heat from some former alumni and players critical of how Paterno’s firing was handled, and what’s been seen as a lack of openness on the board.
“The first thing I want to say to the entire Penn State community is that we have been through a very difficult experience together. We have tried to do the right thing,” Peetz said. “All of us, including the board, with the wisdom of hindsight could have done things differently.”
She said the board agreed it would focus on three themes … “the first is change, the second is reform and the third is transparency.”
The scandal resulting from his arrest Nov. 5 has had wide-ranging implications going beyond Paterno and the storied football program.
Since Sandusky was charged, the university has cited its status as a state-related university — along with Temple, Pitt and Lincoln — in denying requests by The Associated Press for documents related to a 1998 investigation into Sandusky that began when a woman complained he had showered with her son, a copy of his severance agreement and emails among top administrators about Sandusky.
Some state lawmakers have called for a change in the commonwealth’s three-year-old open records law to get rid of an exemption that allows Penn State and the other state-related universities to keep their operations out of the public eye while receiving taxpayer money.
“We have to decide, the board has to decide, whether they’re going to be a public entity that receives public funds or a private entity,” said Gov. Tom Corbett, who also is a trustee. “But it is something that is incumbent on the board in the next few weeks and months that the decision has to be made.”
The board is also undertaking its own investigation into the case. Ken Frazier, the trustee overseeing the effort, said results of the probe may now not come until next fall — if then. Frazier added there was no “artificial timetable” — he wants to give investigators ample time for thorough questioning.
Trustees have tabbed former FBI director Louis Freeh as their lead investigator. Frazier maintained Freeh, who has an office on campus, had free rein over the investigation and would not be beholden to pressures from the board or other university administrators.