HARRISBURG, Pa. — Penn State’s board of trustees and president focused on repairing the school’s tarnished image and braced for financial backlash in the immediate aftermath of the child sex-abuse scandal that erupted two months ago, going so far as to recommend reminding any outraged donors that they wouldn’t get their money back, according to internal memos obtained by the Associated Press.
Four memos sent Nov. 14 to 18 and released to the AP this week describe the school’s scrambling response less than two weeks after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child-molestation charges.
Two Penn State administrators also were charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to properly report suspected child abuse.
In the first memo, issued nine days after the charges were filed, new school President Rodney Erickson told the 47-member Board of Trustees that the public-relations teams of the university and the athletic department had met to “align our messages” and that he had received positive feedback after two network TV interviews.
“This is another indication that we are taking control of the narrative of our story,” Mr. Erickson wrote.
The scandal led to the ouster of Graham Spanier, Mr. Erickson’s predecessor, and the firing of venerable football coach Joe Paterno, a decision by the trustees that triggered rioting in downtown State College and produced dozens of criminal charges.
A Nov. 18 note from Mr. Erickson also included an attachment with “talking points” for donors, including that the school had not changed its policy that gifts are not returned.
“The overwhelming majority of our leading donors have made public statements affirming their faith in the university and its future,” according to the university’s talking points. The document named a couple who gave $88 million to start an NCAA ice hockey program, and another who endowed the position of head football coach.
Both the number of donors and number of gifts to Penn State increased in November, compared with the same month a year earlier. Total donations to Penn State were $3.1 million in November, compared with $1.1 million in November 2010, according to the university.
Another positive sign for Penn State was last month’s announcement of a $10 million gift from an anonymous donor to bridge engineering research projects with other fields of study.
Mr. Erickson told the board he had participated in a conference call with a fundraising committee.
“Our volunteer leaders remain committed to Penn State, and my message was well received,” Mr. Erickson told the trustees.
The records were obtained through a public-records request filed Nov. 22 with the state Department of Education. Penn State, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer support annually, is largely exempt from the law and has declined requests for certain information as its internal investigation continues.
University spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said Mr. Erickson’s memos continued after Nov. 18, but she declined to provide them to the AP.
The memos also reflect close monitoring of the widespread publicity surrounding the scandal. Mr. Erickson noted on Nov. 14 that “blogs, tweets, news stories, Facebook postings, YouTube videos, etc.” had declined 50 percent from the previous day and 90 percent over the prior four days.
“Review of Top 20 search terms on Google today shows no Penn State terms on that list for the first time in nine days,” Mr. Erickson wrote.
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