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Penn State president does not want Beaver Stadium field named for Joe Paterno

PSU president Neeli Bendapudi

… war of trustees against the Paterno move

Penn State University has some major issues to deal with at the present time. Most of those are financial. Some, however, are political, and the current administration does not want to deal with those.

It has been almost 13 years since the name of Jerry Sandusky besmirched the university, and some want to leave that as it is. Others, however, want to continue a war that started during those years.

The previous war was to restore the statue of Joe Paterno to a place outside Beaver Stadium. The trustees elected by a minority of the Alumni Association lost that to the previous Penn State president.

Now, that same group is pushing to have the field at Beaver Stadium named after the former coach who passed away in 2011 after being fired by the trustees after the allegations of the sexual abuse by Paterno’s former assistant Jerry Sandusky, who is now in state prison for his abuse.

The major problem with this is that these trustees attempted to do this in private in meetings that may have violated Pennsylvania law.

However, what is clear is that Penn State’s new president, the top administration, and a majority of the trustees oppose the move.

Truly a tragedy

The Sandusky case is indeed a tragedy that destroyed the lives of dozens of young people whom he abused. He was ultimately convicted of the abuse charges in 2012, and he is now serving what is effectively a life sentence.

In addition, the damage to the reputation of Penn State has been immeasurable. Though this happened years ago, the movement is still alive to forget it.

Here is the story.

February meeting

Some reporting by Spotlight PA first detailed the story and how PSU president Neeli Bendapudi has opposed the effort. The effort is being pushed by some trustees who were elected only because they supported Paterno,

A trustee’s resolution to name the Penn State football field at Beaver Stadium after former head coach Joe Paterno was introduced and then withdrawn only minutes later when Paterno’s son objected to the timing.

At the university Board of Trustees’ public meeting Friday, Anthony Lubrano, an alumni-elected representative, proposed “Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium” and the creation of a day specifically honoring the longtime coach and his wife, Sue.

“My fellow trustees, we have reached a moment of truth,” Lubrano said. “Are we going to honor two people who have literally given their lives in the pursuit of a better Penn State? Or are we going to allow fear mongering to prevail?”

Joe Paterno was Penn State’s head football coach for 45 years, and won two national championships, until the board fired him in November 2011 during the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Joe Paterno died in January 2012.

Wyatt Massey, “Trustees drop proposal to name Penn State football field after Joe Paterno in heated meeting,” Spotlight PA State College, February 16, 2021

This came after two other heated meetings in January that may have violated the state’s sunshine laws.

However, after those, it became clear that the opposition to the proposal would result in a defeat for the measure and embarrassment to those who have proposed it.

Withdrawal by son

Paterno’s son Jay is a member of the board and immediately pulled the resolution by Lubrano,

Joseph “Jay” Paterno Jr., the former coach’s son and an alumni-elected trustee, said he visited his father’s grave Thursday morning, the day news broke that the board had discussed honoring the football coach in two closed-door meetings in January.

Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi and her administration do not support the idea of honoring Joe Paterno at this time, Jay Paterno said, and instead want to focus on existing challenges, such as the university’s budget deficit and upcoming cuts.

“At this moment, were Joe Paterno to be standing here right now, he would respect the president’s opinions,” Jay Paterno said. “He would not want the focus on him to be the issue of the day.”

Jay Paterno requested that “the resolution brought forward today be held for a future date, a date upon which time we’ve charted a course to meet the same vision and shared history of the two people we hope to honor.”

Lubrano withdrew his resolution following Jay Paterno’s comments, but suggested he might introduce it again in the future.

Wyatt Massey, Feb. 16, 2024

The problem that Penn State faces is that it is in a massive budget shortfall that the trustees have to deal with that is very controversial. It could result in massive losses to the university’s commonwealth campus system.

The January meetings

Paterno is still revered by many Penn State fans and alumni. He won 409 games and two national championships for the school.

The trustees met in a heated meeting in January and in an executive session that is permitted under state law, though not perhaps for these reasons.

The problem is that this was not disclosed to the public,

The trustees met for hours on Jan. 16 for a “briefing” on the matter — a gathering not previously disclosed to the public — and again Jan. 29 in “executive session,” according to the sources. The meetings were held behind closed doors to avoid public discussions on the topic, the sources said.

When asked for comment on the meetings, an unnamed Penn State spokesperson wrote via email: “ The Administration and the Board of Trustees have embarked on numerous change initiatives based on President Bendapudi’s vision and goals and are focused on these priorities to continue to provide a world-class academic and student experience for years to come.”

The university’s board is required under state law to deliberate its decisions in public. The law does allow groups to hold private executive sessions, but only to discuss specific topics — pending or current litigation, internal investigations, academic standings, and employment or property negotiations.

The Penn State spokesperson wrote of the Jan. 16 gathering that “counsel conducted this privileged informational briefing and no deliberation occurred.” The spokesperson added that trustees discussed “confidential and privileged matters” during their Jan. 29 executive session and that the private meeting was legal under the law’s exemptions.

Discussing whether to name something after a former coach likely does not fall under any of the executive session requirements, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, of which Spotlight PA is a member.

Wyatt Massey, “Group of Penn State trustees push to name football field after Joe Paterno in private meetings,” Spotlight PA, February 15, 2024

Budget issues

Part of the administration’s rejection may be based on the timing of this proposal.

The board’s discussions on Paterno come as the university implements $94 million in budget reductions. The cuts are expected to deeply affect Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses and could cancel some academic programs beginning in mid-2025. The university said in a recent statement that it would be “virtually impossible” to implement the reductions without job losses.

According to the three people familiar with the Paterno discussions, some trustees and university leaders have argued that now is not the right time to honor the former coach.

Paterno was Penn State’s head football coach for 45 years and won two national championships until the board fired him in November 2011 during the Sandusky scandal.

In 2012, Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse and sentenced to up to 60 years in prison. Former university President Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley, and former vice president Gary Schultz also served jail time related to the scandal. Spanier was convicted of child endangerment, a misdemeanor. Curley and Schultz pleaded guilty to the same offense.

Paterno was never charged. He died in January 2012.

Wyatt Massey, “Group of Penn State trustees push to name football field after Joe Paterno in private meetings,” Spotlight PA, February 15, 2024

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