Penn State University President Rodney Erickson listens to a question at a press conference with student leaders in State College, Pa., Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. The most tumultuous week Penn State has ever endured is drawing to a close. Questions, however, still linger. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — All the familiar sights and sounds of a football weekend at Penn State were on display: Crowded sidewalks and restaurants, fans dressed in the blue-and-white of their cherished Nittany Lions, scalpers pestering passers-by for extra tickets.
Something, however, was clearly missing.
Happy Valley is anything but these days.
“There’s no life here,” Homer Berlew said as he and his wife, Sandra, strolled the campus to take pictures Friday. “Nothing is being said. It’s like everyone’s in a daze.”
As the most tumultuous week in Penn State’s history came to a close, the [auth] university struggled with a child sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the school and cost football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier their jobs.
The board of trustees, in its first public meeting since firing Paterno and Spanier, began the process of repairing Penn State’s image by forming a committee to investigate the university’s failures to stop alleged sex abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
The school also put wide receivers coach Mike McQueary — a key witness against Sandusky — on paid leave. It already had said McQueary would not be at Saturday’s final home game against Nebraska because of “multiple threats,” and the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported he has told players by phone that he was in a secluded location outside State College.
New president Rod Erickson plans to appoint an ethics officer, and said the school will review all standards, policies and programs to ensure they meet “not only the law, but Penn State’s standard.”
“I know we can do this. We are resilient; we are a university that will rebuild the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many years,” said Erickson, formerly the provost.
President Barack Obama called the situation “heartbreaking.” Obama spoke at a college basketball game held Friday night on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
“It’s a good time for us to do some soul searching — every institution, not just Penn State — about what our priorities are,” Obama told ESPN. “Our first priority is protecting our kids, and we all have a responsibility. We can’t leave it to a system, we can’t leave it to somebody else.”
Paterno’s son, Scott, meanwhile, released a statement saying his father had hired Wick Sollers, a high-profile criminal attorney.
While not the subject of any criminal investigation, the winningest coach in major college football wants “the truth to be uncovered and he will work with his lawyers to that end,” Scott Paterno said.
“My father is experiencing a range of powerful emotions. He is absolutely distraught over what happened to the children and their families. He also wants very much to speak publicly and answer questions,” Scott Paterno said. “At this stage, however, he has no choice but to be patient and defer to the legal process.”
Thousands of students held a candlelight vigil Friday night in front of the administration building to show support for the boys who were allegedly abused, and several groups are raising money for victims of sexual abuse, collecting more than $200,000 so far.
Rather than the traditional “white out” for Saturday’s game, fans were asked to wear blue — the color associated with child abuse awareness. Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania is selling T-shirts with a blue ribbon and the slogan, “Stop Child Abuse, Blue Out Nebraska.”
“It’s a really complex set of emotions on campus,” Sarah Knutson, a junior from Atlantic City, N.J., said as she manned a bake sale in front of The Corner Room, the popular restaurant across the street from the university gates. Money from sales of the homemade cookies, brownies and cupcakes with blue icing will go to Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania.
“We’re trying to get past it. But sometimes you can’t get past things,” Knutson said. “You have to work through them.”
Sandusky, Paterno’s former assistant and onetime heir apparent, has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years, with several of the alleged incidents occurring on Penn State property. Paterno and Spanier were fired because trustees felt they did not do enough to alert law enforcement authorities after an alleged assault in March 2002.
McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time, told the grand jury that he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 in the showers at the Penn State football building. McQueary did not go to police but later told Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz, although it is not clear how detailed his description was.
Schultz, in turn, notified Spanier.
Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the incident to authorities, as required by state law. They have maintained their innocence, as has Sandusky.
In announcing McQueary was placed on administrative leave, Erickson said that it had become clear the assistant coach “could not function in this role under these circumstances.”
The scandal and its fallout is all anyone in State College has talked about this week.
“It’s all I hear,” Erica Lalli, a sophomore from Philadelphia, said. “It’s all over Facebook, it’s all over Twitter.”
It’s even in the Penn State classrooms.
Luis DeJesus, a junior from Philadelphia, said his entire history class was devoted to it Friday, with his professor asking students how they think the scandal, Paterno and the university’s role will be viewed in the years to come.
“Everybody is pretty much sad and mad,” DeJesus said.
Added Jon Bayona, a senior from Harrisburg, “Students want to express their emotions, but I don’t know if they’ve been provided enough information. … As more information comes out, people are realizing they might have made some immature decisions.”
Thousands of angry students paraded through the streets after Paterno was fired Wednesday night, some throwing rocks and bottles and tipping over a TV news van. Gov. Tom Corbett, who came to State College for the trustees meeting, had asked students to refrain from further violence, and trustee Joel Meyers echoed that plea Friday.
“I would just ask we show a new, high level of sportsmanship, civility and class,” Meyers said.
Police said a vandal may have smashed a ground-floor window Thursday night at Sandusky’s home. The window was covered Friday with what looked what a white tarp.
State College police Capt. John Gardner said he does not expect problems at Saturday’s game. Authorities are monitoring Facebook and Twitter, and Penn State’s residence life department is organizing group discussions for students to talk out their feelings about the week’s events.
The university implemented increased security measures for all athletic events this weekend, including a ban on bags — purses included — at all arenas, and Gardner said there will be a “significant police presence” at Beaver Stadium.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in this community,” Gardner said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in the vast majority of Penn State and I think they’re going to do the right thing this weekend and I implore them to do the right thing. Come out, show support for the victims of this terrible scandal and enjoy themselves at a football game.”
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston and Associated Press Writers Genaro C. Armas and Marc Levy contributed to this report.