Two top Penn St. board members step aside

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2012 7:08 PM
Two top Penn St. board members step aside

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The two top officers of Penn State's Board of Trustees, enmeshed in the school's child sex abuse scandal, announced on Friday they would not seek re-election to their leadership posts.

Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John Surma, instrumental in the firing of the school's legendary football coach Joe Paterno, will be replaced by two incumbent board members.

At a board meeting in State College, trustees elected Karen Peetz as chairman and Keith Masser as vice chairman, selecting them to lead efforts to move the university past the damaging scandal.

Paterno, 85, was sacked in November for failing to tell police what he knew about child sex abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Also fired was university president Graham Spanier.

Sandusky faces 52 charges stemming from accusations by 10 men who say he molested them as juveniles over a 15-year period. The 67-year-old Sandusky has maintained his innocence

"These have been difficult days at Penn State," said Garban, the board chairman since 2010, in stepping down. He also is a former Penn State vice president for finance and operations.

Surma, who is chief executive officer of U.S. Steel Corp., said: "I cannot continue to serve in a board leadership role at the level of intensity we have been experiencing."

Both said they would remain as members of the 32-member board.

Critics of the board, including those who belong to an alumni group called Penn Staters for Responsible Leadership, were unimpressed with the changes. The group, formed last fall as the scandal grew, is seeking more transparency as to how board decisions are made.

"This is nothing more than musical chairs," said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, spokeswoman for the group.

"It's the same folks, on the same board, sitting in different seats," she said, "We don't see that as a change in the least bit."

The alumni group is hoping to fill three board seats coming open in May with candidates who support more open decision-making. The three seats are among eight on the board that are elected by alumni.

Garban and Surma issued a joint statement last week describing their decision to fire Paterno, a move that set off a firestorm of alumni protest.

A member of the College Hall of Fame, Paterno was head coach of the Nittany Lions for 46 years. With 409 victories at Penn State, he won more games in big-time college football than any other coach in the sport's history. A few days after Paterno was fired, his family said he was suffering from lung cancer.

New board chair Peetz is vice chairman of the Bank of New York Mellon. Masser runs a family farm in Pennsylvania.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch)