The trustees speak, and it’s too little, too late

Published January 19, 2012

Penn State’s top trustees finally broke their silence today about their handling of the Saundusky crisis. On the eve of a public board meeting at which hundreds are expected to demand their resignations, 13 board members discussed their roles with the New York Times.

Sadly, it’s too little, too late.

Their recollections consisted of the same vague, meaningless answers about why Joe was fired. His ability to lead was compromised; he angered them when he instructed the trustees to leave him alone; and finally, they rehashed arguments touted over and over again by vile, wretched pundits: Paterno should have done more.

The trustees chose to stay silent on key questions. Why did they cancel Joe’s Tuesday press conference? Why did they think Paterno’s ability to lead had been compromised? What orders did John Surma bark to the university’s PR firm? Why did they stay silent over the crisis’ five days? And why are these guys just speaking out now?

It’s simply more of the same from the group lead by two wealthy Wall Street veterans, who gave us more even reason to have no confidence in their leadership.

With tons of misplaced faith in the value of a press releases and canned statements, they whined about Spanier watering down a board statement released the Sunday before the crisis. But this group, comprised largely of captains of industry, did nothing to bolster Penn State’s flawed message for three more days.

The trustees were mad at Spanier for issuing a statement that unconditionally supported Curley and Schultz. Yet nobody told him to retract it, an obvious move.

They complained that Paterno didn’t reach out to the board. But apparently, the crisis managers saw absolutely no reason to reach out to him.

And the board president didn’t even read the grand jury report until Sunday night, 48 hours after it sparked the firestorm. How he chose to deal with the crisis without having fully read the report is mind boggling.

“I have to take some blame for this,” board President Steve Garban said to The Times. “I still sort of thought Graham could get us through this or help get us through this. And he participated in writing the press release, and after it came out, I knew it wasn’t right.”

Meanwhile, speculators continued to rip Penn State apart, while the trustees did little to answer their hyperbole. And the rest of us watched as our alma mater went up in flames, while those who were supposed to lead did anything but that.

What might have worked for Penn State Inc. was not the solution for Penn State University.

The roadmap to handling this crisis wasn’t rocket science. The key was to fall back on the values that we share: leadership, integrity and transparency. But that was a tall task for a group that believes in corporate America’s values more.