HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The former chairman of Penn State’s board resigned on Thursday, becoming the first trustee to step down following the child sex abuse scandal that tarnished the university’s image and marred the legacy of its once-revered football coach, Joe Paterno.
The resignation of Steve Garban, who was chairman when allegations of child molestation surfaced against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky last autumn, came hours after Pennsylvania’s governor said some in the state-backed university’s administration may have intentionally withheld information from a grand jury investigating Sandusky’s child sex abuse.
Sandusky, 68, a former defensive coordinator at the college football powerhouse, was convicted last month of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period. He could be sentenced to up to 373 years in prison.
Shortly after the scandal broke, Garban and then-board Vice Chairman John Surma were criticized by other trustees for not keeping them more informed. Both men announced in January they would not seek re-election as chair and vice chair.
Last week, former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued a report saying Garban and Surma knew about the Sandusky charges the month before they were announced.
Garban, who graduated from Penn State in 1959 and captained the football team, said in his resignation letter on Thursday that he believed his continued service with Penn State’s trustees would be “a distraction and an impediment in your efforts to move forward.”
In a letter posted to the board’s website on Thursday evening, Penn State Trustees Chairwoman Karen Peetz said: “Earlier today I accepted Steve Garban’s resignation from the Board of Trustees. I want to sincerely thank him for his many years of service to Penn State University and for the leadership he exhibited today.”
A group that has agitated for the entire board to resign in the wake of the scandal and last week’s Freeh report dismissed the Garban resignation as “merely symbolic.”
“If the university is basing its actions on the findings of the Freeh report, then it’s important to recognize that Freeh didn’t single out just Garban for gross negligence and lack of oversight,” Meribeth Roman Schmidt, spokeswoman for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, told Reuters.
“The report called out the entire board of trustees — all 28 of whom were at the helm in November and before,” Roman Schmidt said.
Earlier on Thursday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said Penn State’s cooperation in the Sandusky investigation, dating back to 2009, was “incomplete,” despite a subpoena from the state attorney general. Corbett was Pennsylvania’s attorney general in 2009, before he was elected governor in 2010.
Last week’s report by Freeh said top university officials callously covered up Sandusky’s sex abuse of children for years in an effort to protect the school’s reputation and lucrative football program.
Penn State failed to turn over all the evidence sought by the grand jury looking into Sandusky, Corbett said.
“It was not initially provided by Penn State University when it was subpoenaed by the attorney general’s office,” he said. “I am very disappointed in the lack of forthcoming evidence to the subpoena that was given to them by the attorney general’s office,” he added.
Pennsylvania newspapers reported that Corbett said emails implicating university officials did not come to light until after charges had been filed in the Sandusky case.
Penn State spokesman Dave La Torre said Penn State was cooperating fully with all investigations.
“Penn State has, literally, turned over millions of pages of documents to investigators and continues to cooperate with any and all requests for information,” he said.
The grand jury investigation into the case remains open, according to Attorney General spokesman Nils Frederiksen. He would not say whether Penn State might face obstruction of justice charges or if any other charges might be pending.
Freeh’s report said an assistant to University Vice President Gary Schultz removed two files regarding internal Sandusky discussions in November, when Sandusky was arrested, and failed to disclose doing so in interviews with Freeh’s group. The files were discovered in May 2012, the report said.
Along with the Freeh report, which was commissioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees, the family of Paterno has said it is conducting its own investigation. Paterno, who died in January, was fired for failing to report the allegations against Sandusky to authorities.
Penn State also faces an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, which is considering whether it violated the Clery Act that requires colleges to report criminal incidents on campus. [ID:nL2E8IICE5]. The NCAA, which governs U.S. college sports, is weighing sanctions against the university [ID:nL2E8IICE5].
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Cooney