Penn State's step to openness decried

Critics say university would have released more under Right-to-Know Law about what scandal will cost the school.
February 15, 2012 8:59 am

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If financial prognosticators somewhere deep inside Penn State University have even a rough idea of what the child sex scandal ultimately will cost the school, campus leaders were mum about it Tuesday.

But just hours after launching a new website intended to demonstrate openness, the state's flagship public university turned over an even more detailed breakdown of how $3.2 million was consumed by the crisis in just its first eight weeks.

The school listed individual dollar amounts paid to each of the 18 firms and individuals providing legal services, crisis communication and other public relations consulting help in the days after the Nov. 5 arrest of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex charges.

The data released, which drew both praise and criticism Tuesday from state officials and alumni, represent a level of disclosure beyond what Penn State has previously offered.

But it fell far short, say observers, of what the school would have to release were it subject to the state's Right-to-Know Law, providing fresh ammunition for those who say taxpayers are not well served when a university receiving nearly $228 million in general state aid gets to decide what is and is not the public's business.

For instance, the consultant total released reflects what Penn State paid but not what it actually received in return, since vouchers and other spending documents that would detail services -- documents available under Right-to-Know -- were not attached to the totals.

Campus officials say confidentiality language is why a settlement agreement with former Penn State president Graham Spanier, who resigned, will remain a secret. They say such language ultimately may keep secret a settlement agreement with late football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired, once that document is complete.

Under Right-to-Know, such agreements generally "would be available to citizens despite any confidentiality language, even if both parties agree," said Terry Mutchler, executive director of the state Office of Open Records.

She said what Penn State provided "is a sliver of what would be available" through Right-to-Know. Just the same, she said, the fact Penn State released anything is good since it was not required to.

"I think you have to give credit where credit is due," she said.

Ms. Mutchler said based on what she's hearing from legislators, her sense is the data released on the new website,, won't likely slow momentum for placing Penn State and three other state-related schools -- the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities -- under Right-to-Know.

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977.
First Published 2012-02-14 23:18:03

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