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Topic: freeh report

Upholding the promise of confidentiality: why it’s the right thing to do

By Eric J. Barron
President
Penn State University

The materials behind the Freeh Report have been the subject of intense media interest. Penn State’s alumni-elected trustees have requested the ability to review the materials, and I am planning my own review. The trustees seek the review under the provision of the law governing non-profit entities that enables directors and trustees of nonprofit corporations to examine materials for specific purposes related to the performance of their duties. In this regard, I want Penn State employees to know the university will protect individual anonymity of the people interviewed by the Freeh team “to the maximum extent possible” under the law. I intend to sign a strict confidentiality agreement, and have asked our attorneys to redact or withhold any piece of information that could reasonably lead any reviewer to know its source. The same restrictions would apply to other trustees. I believe strongly that this must be a condition of review.

This is important for two vital reasons.

First, our employees and others were promised confidentiality in return for their willingness to be interviewed. We need to protect employees from being targeted for providing candid comments, and it is unlikely many would have participated without such a promise. This is standard practice in any independent investigation, for good reason.

We have all seen the way this issue has polarized the community. I myself have spoken out about the lack of civility by some in public discourse, and the ways in which people on all sides of the issue have been attacked for expressing their views. The people who were interviewed are parents, are active in the community, have children in our schools and run businesses.

We cannot in good conscience subject them and their families to the possibility of heckling while out in public, or vicious attacks on social media. How would any of us feel in similar circumstances? We have already heard that the request for the investigative materials has sent a chill through the hearts of many employees.

Second, to break the promise would have a long-term negative impact on our university.

The Sandusky grand jury presentment raised concerns that some at the University feared retaliation for reporting wrongdoing. Since that presentment was issued, our university has substantially bolstered the number of ways that an employee can report crimes and concerns, many with the promise of confidentiality or anonymity. Yet, in a recent ethics and values survey, many staff and faculty still indicate concern about retaliation even with the implementation of multiple avenues of reporting and much higher visibility of its importance. We still have work to do. We need to foster trust and encourage employees to speak up when they encounter something concerning them.

So, imagine the damage that would be done to future reporting of wrongdoing if we break such a highly visible promise. It would undo much of the valuable work at Penn State designed to provide employees safety in reporting inappropriate conduct.

I do understand that sometimes, to the public, protecting employee confidentiality and asserting privilege doesn’t sound good. It seems counter to the value of transparency. However, we have laws to keep our medical records private. Reporters have the right to protect their sources. These and other confidentiality protections support the right to privacy, and aid important investigations.

Clearly, there are times we must give the highest prominence to confidentiality commitments. This is one of those times. The negative consequences for future reporting of wrongdoing are too great.

Statement from Penn State President Eric Barron

In response to recent calls for an examination of the Freeh Report, Penn State President Eric Barron said he will conduct a review of the report and materials from the investigation.

STATEMENT BY PENN STATE PRESIDENT ERIC BARRON

On Friday, I informed the University's Board of Trustees that I will conduct a thorough review of the Freeh Report and supporting materials produced during the course of the investigation. The contents of the report have led to questions by some in the Penn State community. I do not want people to believe that Penn State is hiding something. I feel strongly about this. For this important reason, and since I was not here during its completion, I will conduct my own review. There is considerable documentation to analyze, but I assured the Board I would move with all deliberate speed.

Eric J. Barron

Trustees approve resolution to monitor proceedings related to Freeh Report

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Board of Trustees on Oct. 28 approved a resolution put forth by Vice Chair Kathleen Casey calling for the board to continue to monitor pending or future criminal and civil, governmental and administrative proceedings that may shed light on the Freeh Report’s findings. According to the resolution, the board will determine whether any action is “appropriate and in the best interests of the University” when all such investigations have concluded. The vote on the resolution was 17 for, 8 against, and 1 vote to abstain.

WATCH IT NOW: Full coverage of Tuesday's meeting is available for viewing on YouTube.

The Freeh Report was produced by independent law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan, which was hired in November 2011 in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The Board of Trustees reaffirmed its intention that “providing a safe and secure environment for our students, faculty and staff, and children who participate in Penn State programs and activities, and meeting all of our compliance and ethical obligations” should be one of the top priorities of the Board.

Penn State took action to complete 118 of the 119 recommendations for improving safety, ethics and human resource processes, as well as expanding legal and risk reporting protocols. University administrators continue to scrutinize processes and procedures as part of the second phase of a Plan for Continuous Improvement, which is a comprehensive commitment to improve policies, operations and critical strategic initiatives.

Trustee Albert Lord proposed an amended version of his original motion, which had been on the table since the July meeting of the Board. The resolution proposed the appointment of an ad hoc committee to examine the Freeh Report, review undisclosed communications between Freeh and University officials and trustees, and to report its findings to the Board. By a vote of 17 to 9, the board voted against the revised resolution.

Trustee Alice Pope was among the nine who advocated for Lord’s resolution and said,“The question before us today is: What is in the best interest of our university? I will make the argument that what is in the best interest of the university is to behave like a university. What characterizes a university is a quest for knowledge – we should stand behind the best available information and share it widely.”

Trustee Kathleen Casey, who spoke in favor of the resolution that ultimately was adopted, said that if the Board were to reexamine the findings of the Freeh report, it would face many of the same challenges faced by Freeh during his investigation.

The resolution states that any further attempt by the Board to investigate matters previously investigated by Freeh would be subject to the same or greater limitations to which Freeh was subject, including a lack of subpoena power; lack of access to documents in possession of third parties; and lack of full and unfettered access to all relevant parties.  It also states “the Board is neither expert nor experienced in resolving issues of conflicting facts, interpretation and credibility” needed to conduct such an investigation and reach definitive conclusions.

Trustee Richard Dandrea said that until the legal proceedings attached to the Sandusky scandal are concluded, there can be no comprehensive evaluation of the Freeh report.  Dandrea said that it is possible that additional evidence from any legal proceeding could render “moot what would be at best a premature attempt to address these questions.”

“Penn State reviewed and analyzed the recommendations made by Freeh and implemented substantially all such recommendations in ways that have strengthened the University’s compliance, safety, governance, child protection and other functions, many of which have been cited in the reports of Athletics Integrity Monitor Sen. George Mitchell and elsewhere as leading standards and practices,” said Casey. The board, she said, will continue to actively monitor ongoing investigations and, when they conclude, will determine whether any action related to the Freeh Report is appropriate and in the best interests of Penn State.

"This is the responsible thing to do,” Board Chair Keith Masser said of the resolution. “Various legal cases need to run their course, and then we can decide whether any further steps should be taken at that time. The decision today now allows this Board to focus on the University's critical mission of educating our young people.”

The next full, regular meeting of the Board of Trustees will take place on Nov. 13 and 14 at the Penn State Conference Center and Hotel on the University Park campus. More information, including an agenda, will be made available at http://www.psu.edu/trustees/meetings.html as the meeting date approaches.

July report on Freeh recommendations shows quick action by Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State officials reported today (July 17) on the rapid implementation of all but one of the 119 changes recommended in a report compiled by independent investigator and federal Judge Louis Freeh in the aftermath of the child sexual abuse committed by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

The Board of Trustees commissioned Freeh to look into the situation and identify ways to improve Penn State’s responses in the areas of safety and governance and to ensure the highest moral standards and integrity in academics and athletics. The Freeh Report, issued on July 12, 2012 , has resulted in 118 changes ranging from restructuring the governance of its Board of Trustees to expanding the University's Office of Human Resources, while expanding legal and risk reporting protocols.

While 115 of the recommendations are listed as complete, by their nature these changes are actually ongoing and continuous. For example, one recommendation asks that the University continue to benchmark its practices and policies with other similarly situated institutions and to focus on continuous improvement. Initial actions have been taken and these recommendations will continue to receive attention from the Administration Response Team, the Advisory Council and the Board of Trustees.

A complete status update on actions taken is available here.

The Freeh Report was produced by independent law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan, which was hired in November 2011 and investigated the University's response to the allegations against Sandusky.

More progress made by Penn State on completion of Freeh recommendations

Penn State released today (May 9) another signpost in its ongoing quest to meet most of the 119 recommendations spelled out in the Freeh Report, a document created in the aftermath of the child sexual abuse committed by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

The recommendations in the report, which identify ways to improve Penn State’s responses in the areas of safety and governance, have been followed carefully by University administrators and members of the Board of Trustees who continue to evaluate and review all areas of the University identified in the report as having some need for improvement. Penn State has already changed or implemented numerous administrative policies and procedures; hired new safety and compliance personnel; restructured the governance of its Board of Trustees; expanded its Office of Human Resources; implemented background checks; expanded legal and risk reporting protocols; and a host of other initiatives all aimed at enhancing operations at the University.

For a complete status update on actions taken, visit http://progress.psu.edu/assets/content/FreehReportUpdateMay2013.pdf.

The Freeh Report was produced by independent law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan, which was hired in November 2011 and investigated the University's response to the allegations against Sandusky. The group was led by former FBI director and federal Judge Louis Freeh.

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