By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Penn State President Rodney Erickson faced heated questions for the third time this week on Friday from irate alumni claiming the university was not doing enough to restore its reputation amid a child sex abuse scandal that rocked collegiate sports.
Erickson told about 300 alumni who had gathered at a town hall-style meeting in a Manhattan hotel that he would not allow the university "to be defined by this horrible tragedy."
"We have to take responsibility for this, but we are Penn State and there are lots of Penn Staters who are not responsible in an any way for what happened," he said, responding to a questioner who asked when the university would "stop apologizing" for what happened and move on.
"We need to tell the story about all the wonderful things that happen at Penn State."
Penn State was sent into turmoil in November when a Pennsylvania grand jury indicted former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges. Sandusky, 67, faces 52 counts of molesting young boys over a 15-year period. He has said he is innocent and a prolonged court process is expected.
Two school officials were also charged with perjury by the grand jury that indicted Sandusky.
The board also quickly fired Paterno and then-university president Graham Spanier for failing to tell police what they knew about sexual abuse accusations against Sandusky.
Erickson faced harsh criticism from alumni at two packed town halls in Pennsylvania earlier in the week as university officials work to convince alumni and other donors that their actions were justified and necessary.
On Friday, pointed criticism was again directed at the university's board of trustees, who were faulted by some alumni for the decision to fire Paterno, a revered figure who won more football games at the top collegiate level than any other coach.
"How do you explain the lack of process for Joe Paterno?" one woman asked through tears to audience applause, a sentiment echoed by several other questioners.
Erickson said he supported what he described as the board's "difficult" and "courageous" decision to fire Paterno.
"There comes a time when you have to look at more than the legal issues and look at the ability to lead," he said, "and I think, at that point, ability to lead was compromised. And that in no way should reflect my feelings about the wonderful things Joe has contributed over the years."
Matt Kalafat, an alumnus from the class of 1991, drew applause and a couple of jeers for saying that not all alumni felt Paterno had been mistreated.
"Joe Paterno is not a victim and he'll be the first one to say that, and for us to think that he is makes us more of a laughing stock than we already are," he said. "I loved Joe Paterno and I probably still do. But he needed to go, and this is why: evil flourishes when good men do nothing."
Other alumni accused the board of being opaque in its decision-making and appearing to be caught unaware when the scandal broke despite being briefed in May, according to Erickson, that there was a grand jury investigation of Sandusky under way.
Several questioners said the best way for Penn State to move forward was to become a national leader in the study of the prevention and treatment of child abuse.
The university announced in December that it would soon open a Center for the Protection of Children at the university's Hershey Children's Hospital.
Erickson also said on Friday that the university was considering creating a fellowship in pediatric science that would focus on child abuse.
"We want to be known as one of the places taking a leadership role in this issue," he said.
Erickson also promised he would consider many of the suggestions raised by alumni, including live-streaming meetings by the board of trustees and making it a contractual requirement of all university staff that they contact the authorities if they suspect child abuse is taking place.
"We're gonna be OK," he said, to a standing ovation.
(Editing By Peter Bohan)