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Penn State Faculty Senate to ponder whether to ask for sanctions reassessment

By Chris Rosenblum, Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.) –

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Penn State Faculty Senate will discuss next week whether to ask the NCAA and the Big Ten to reassess sanctions levied against the university for its role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

At its 1:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday, the Senate will address seven questions in light of the punishments given for the university’s alleged lapse in institutional oversight as outlined by the Freeh report.

That report concluded that top university officials, including former President Graham Spanier, concealed child abuse committed on campus by Sandusky, a former football assistant coach. Sandusky was convicted in June on 45 counts of child sexual abuse and awaits sentencing.

NCAA sanctions against Penn State included a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on bowl games for the football team, a loss of football scholarships and the vacating of all football victories between 1998 and 2011.

On behalf of the Senate, member Keith Nelson, a psychology professor, wrote that the Senate endorses university President Rodney Erickson’s acceptance of the Freeh report as “difficult to digest” but a “necessary step in finding the truth and continuing our healing process as a community.”

But, Nelson noted, neither Erickson nor the board of trustees has made a statement “that accepts as ‘factual’ or ‘accurate’ all details of the complex Freeh report,” contrary to what the NCAA and Big Ten have implied to the public.

The Senate’s first question concerns a proposed letter to the NCAA. According to the document, the Senate, on the basis of its past communication with Erickson, “fully expected that it would be consulted as a full body in a timely and significant way” about discussions with the NCAA about sanctions, but was ignored.

Furthermore, the Senate takes issue with the speed of the sanctions, saying the NCAA bypassed its own sanctioning committee, reached conclusions without its own investigation and applied “inappropriate” pressure upon Erickson and Penn State by threatening the football program with the death penalty.

“So, forget about the Sunshine of Sunshine Laws, forget about open process, and full steam ahead for secretly negotiated deals!” Nelson wrote.

The letter concludes by saying the Senate thinks the NCAA sanctions against Penn State do not “fit fairly within the precedents of NCAA sanctions in the past for other football programs and other sports programs” and “do injustices to the large number of student-athletes who were recruited fairly to the PSU football program, who achieved distinction on the playing fields and in classrooms, and who behaved with honor and responsibility.”

Nelson wrote the Senate is not making a “formal appeal but rather an informal and timely communication” to the NCAA, asking it to “consider new actions that would lessen or remove” the sanctions.

Other questions on the agenda concern:

—sending a letter to the Big Ten similar to the one to the NCAA.

—how the Senate can work to build a “stronger role in university planning, monitoring, decision-making, and governance” than before.

—whether the Senate should draft a “memo of understanding” between it and the Penn State president on how the president “will seek full input and consent from the Senate before making significant decisions.”

—whether the Senate should consult the national organization of Faculty Senates and the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics about reforms and other issues.

—how the Senate can work to change aspects of Penn State’s institutional structure for a stronger role in planning and governance.

—whether the Senate should fund a new faculty position, an ombudsman for the Senate, who would monitor all university matters, including athletic programs, and report directly to the Senate.

“The recent NCAA sanctions accepted by Penn State obviously touch on many issues of long interest to the Faculty Senate,” the Senate statement said.

“Accordingly, it is appropriate to have an open discussion of these sanctions and of where they fit in the landscape of past sanctions of other universities and colleges by the NCAA, of shared governance at Penn State and our responsibilities as the Senate, of the process by which the final sanctions were negotiated and agreed to by President Erickson, and whether as a body the Senate would like to make a statement to the NCAA and/or to the public.”

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