Penn State's Board Of Trustees Hired The Freeh Group, But They Did Not Escape Its ScrutinyS

Back in January, just two months after the grand jury issued its findings about Jerry Sandusky, 13 of the 32 members of Penn State's board of trustees gave a group interview to the New York Times. In it, they essentially said they were blindsided when the grand jury report became public: "We found out about it when the rest of the world found out about it," one them was quoted as saying. At the time, the sentiment seemed to be difficult to believe. And the Freeh Group couldn't really understand how it was possible, either.

Remember, the Freeh Group was hired by the board of trustees in the wake of the allegations, and as email leaks in recent weeks began sticking much of the Penn State-related blame on Joe Paterno and former university president Graham Spanier, it was reasonable to wonder if the board would escape criticism from its hired gun. That turned out not to be the case: The Freeh Group's overall findings blasted the board because it "did not perform its oversight duties."

After Sara Ganim's initial March 31, 2011, story in the Patriot-News of Harrisburg (Pa.) alerted the world to the existence of the grand jury's investigation, the Freeh Report indicated at least one board member—who, oddly, is not named—sought more info from school administrators. Spanier eventually relayed to Steve Garban, at the time the board chairman, that "nothing would come of it."

But the Freeh Group wondered how no one else on the board seemed to be aware of Ganim's story:

Beyond one Trustee's request that Spanier brief the Board on the Grand Jury investigation of Sandusky, the March 31, 2011 Patriot-News article went virtually unnoticed by the Board. The article was not disseminated to the full Board, and many Board members did not read the article. The Board members who were aware of the article should have inquired further about Sandusky and the possible risks of litigation or public relations issues, and, most importantly, whether the University has effective policies in place to protect children on its campuses.

At the May 2011 board of trustees meeting, university counsel Cynthia Baldwin provided the board with a report that appeared to be a general run-down of the grand jury process. In an affidavit she submitted to the Freeh Group, Baldwin said she explained to the board that "a grand jury could return a 'presentment that, even if not alleging a crime, can nonetheless contain negative information about an institution."

And how did the board perceive all of this at that May 2011 meeting? Depends on who was asked:

Board members had differing recollections of Baldwin's May 2011 report. Several Trustees had the impression that the Sandusky investigation involved issues at the Second Mile and did not involve Penn State. Several Trustees recalled hearing that this was the third or fourth time a grand jury had investigated Sandusky and took that as sign that criminal charges were not likely. Some Trustees understood that some senior Penn State administrators had testified, while others did not. A common perception was that this was not an "important" issue for the University and the investigation was not a cause for concern.

Basically, the trustees faulted Spanier and Baldwin for not informing them of what the Freeh Group calls "the core question of why four senior Penn State officials needed to appear before the grand jury if the investigation did not 'involve' Penn State." You would think that given all that, plus anyone's understanding that this might have been "the third or fourth time a grand jury had investigated Sandusky," someone on the board might have been prompted to ask some serious questions about what the fuck was going on. Alas, no:

Trustees generally recalled that members asked Baldwin or Spanier few questions about the investigation. The Trustees did not discuss whether the University should conduct an internal investigation to understand the facts and any potential liability issues, engage experience criminal counsel, or prepare for the possibility that the Grand Jury investigation might result in some criticism of the University or its staff. One trustee recalled that the Board did not ask for any investigation into the Sandusky issues because, from the way it was presented, the issue did not seem like a matter of concern. In their report to the Board, Spanier and Baldwin significantly downplayed the nature of the Sandusky investigation and the potential damage it could cause the University. Given the information that was presented to them, the Board members did not reasonably inquire if the University had taken any measures to limit Sandusky's access to its facilities.

The next indication that anyone on the board would learn anything was when Garban, the then-board chairman, found out Sandusky was about to face criminal charges on Oct. 28, 2011. The following day, he would later tell the Freeh Group, he was "astounded" that Sandusky was in the Nittany Lion Club for the school's football game. It turned out to be just one week before Sandusky was eventually charged.

The Freeh Report also called the board of trustees to task for having "failed to exercise its oversight functions" regarding the incidents of abuse involving Sandusky in 1998 and 2001:

In that time, the Board did not have regular reporting procedures or committee structures in place to ensure disclosure to the Board of major risks. Because the Board did not demand regular reporting of these risks, Spanier and other University officials in this period did not bring up the Sandusky investigations. For example, the Board met in May 1998 and March 2001, but was not advised by Spanier regarding the Sandusky incidents.While Spanier failed to disclose these facts, the Board has a continuing obligation to require information about such an important matter. Similarly, in September 2001, the board approved a favorable land deal to Sandusky's Second Mile, just six months after Sandusky was investigated for assaulting a young boy in the Lasch Building showers.

And even after that May 2011 meeting at which the board was told of the grand jury's investigation, the board never asked for an update on it at its meetings in July and September 2011. In fact, it wasn't until their special meeting on Nov. 5—the day the grand jury report became public—that "members of the Board first began to press Spanier about the criminal charges."

Read all of our coverage of the Freeh report here.