Friday, January 20, 2012

Independence in the Penn State Inquiry

Louis J. Free, former director of the FBI, was hired last fall by the Board of Trustees at Penn State University to investigate the handling of the circumstances surrounding how the university and athletic department handled Jerry Sandusky, currently awaiting trial on various charges associated with alleged sexual abuse of children. Freeh is pictured above left with two members of the special committee of the PSU Board of Trustees, Ron Tomalis and Ken Frazier, chair.

After being briefed by Freeh this week, the Penn State faculty have raised question about the independence of the investigation, according to ESPN:
Freeh's investigative report into the worst scandal in Penn State's 156-year history will be made public after the second draft is reviewed by the board, he told the Faculty Council. Freeh's report will include recommendations for changes.

Freeh told the faculty members that only the Board of Trustees' special committee would be given the chance to review his draft reports, according to the faculty members who attended the meeting. Freeh said he would not share the draft reports with anyone else, they said.

"It was very easy to become suspicious about how fair this investigation is going to be," said one of the participants in the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I find it very difficult for a contractor who is essentially hired by the Board of Trustees to do a thorough investigation of the Board of Trustees, especially if they are given the chance to look at a draft report and suggest changes that will be made before the report is released to the public."

A second faculty member who attended Freeh's meeting with the Faculty Council, an executive committee of Penn State's Faculty Senate, said the former FBI director's presentation "left questions in many of our minds just how independent his investigation or report are going to be."

In interviews with "Outside the Lines" this week, both senior faculty members referred to notes they had taken during the meeting with Freeh. They both said Freeh repeatedly referred to the work he was doing on behalf of his "client," which is the Special Committee of Penn State's Board of Trustees. The special committee is chaired by Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck & Company, and a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees.

"When you keep referring to doing work for your 'client,' it takes the independent feel right out of an investigation," said one meeting attendee describing Freeh's remarks. "His 'client' is the board of trustees, so how can he investigate his own client? It's a farce."
Independence is, in principle, not a difficult criteria to meet in the process of empaneling a committee or hiring an investigator, even if participants are compensated for their time. But when it comes to governance related to sports organizations -- and Penn State is both a university and home to a sports organization --principles of good governance seem a bit more challenging to implement.


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