How Could Penn State's Trustees Have Been Blindsided By The Sandusky Case?

Thirteen of the 32 members of Penn State's Board of Trustees sat down with The New York Times yesterday to finally tell their side of the story. The resulting published narrative walks us through how the board reacted in the immediate aftermath of the release of the Jerry Sandusky grand jury presentment, culminating with their decision to fire Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno on Nov. 9.

The story is of interest because it pulls back the curtain a bit, though there are few surprises. Here's one: The Times reports that the board members were "shocked by the charges—and caught completely unaware" once it became known to the public that Sandusky was facing multiple counts of sexual abuse against children, and two university administrators were alleged to have perjured themselves. This echoes what Rodney Erickson, the man the board tapped to replace Spanier as Penn State's president, sort of said a little more than a week ago about his own knowledge of what was going on, and when.

The board essentially throws Spanier, the university president, under the bus. He comes across as completely tone deaf to the seriousness of the situation as it unfolded. The board also blames Spanier for not sharing anything about the nature of his testimony during a cursory meeting with them back in May at which the existence of the grand jury was discussed. That meeting lasted just five to 10 minutes, and not one board member asked a question. Says the Times:

There had been reports in The Patriot News of Harrisburg that a grand jury was investigating a claim that Sandusky had molested a local high school boy. But Sandusky had been retired from Penn State for years.

"There was a lack of information being provided to us," said Mark H. Dambly, a trustee and the president of a real estate development company. "We found out about it when the rest of the world found out about it."

Can that really be true? Beginning in March, the Patriot-News actually published a number of stories about the existence of the grand jury. Those stories, according to an item the paper posted today on its website, were also published in the Centre Daily Times, the local newspaper in State College, Pa. And in August, one of those stories made it plain that the charges against Sandusky went beyond one child, and that one of his alleged encounters occurred on Penn State's campus:

As part of that probe, state police and the Attorney General's Office also looked at a report made to the Penn State police in 1998, in which the same boy, who was 12 years old at the time, alleged he and Sandusky were showering in the football building on Penn State's campus when the incident took place.

The takeaway from all this is that Penn State is so hermetically sealed even its board members don't hear the news they don't want to hear. Board chairman Steve Garban told the Times he waited more than 24 hours after the grand jury presentment was released to actually read it. Garban later expressed regret for not having read it sooner: "It was like, ‘Oh my God, Steve, where've you been?' It floored me."

You don't say.