In the prologue to his memoir, Graham Spanier summed up his life as Penn State University president until his world came crashing down around him in November 2011.
“I was all in,” he said. And it should be no secret that I miss my job.
Not that he’s become a stranger to the place. In fact, Wednesday will be the Spanier’s fourth appearance at University Park since September to promote his book, “In the Lion’s Den: The Penn State Scandal and a Rush to Judgment.” It serves as his side of the infamous Jerry Sandusky story.
But this campus appearance will be different.
Unlike earlier book-signings at alumni tailgates outside Beaver Stadium, his bookstore event in the HUB-Robeson Center will put the 74-year-old State College resident before an audience in the heart of campus, a short walk from Old Main and the president’s office he occupied for 16 years.
Many alumni and others who lived through the fallout of the Sandusky scandal still hold intense feelings.
But increasingly, Penn State is populated by undergraduates who were grade-schoolers when Sandusky, a former Nittany Lions assistant football coach, was charged on Nov. 5, 2011, and later convicted of sexually abusing multiple boys — rocking the campus, the sports world and the nation.
The book is not about the guilt or innocence of Sandusky, someone Spanier says he barely knew. Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.
Instead, Spanier contends he and others, including the late football coach Joe Paterno, were unfairly tarnished by a “criminal justice system run amok, political vindictiveness and retribution, moral panic and the influence of a twisted media narrative.”
In an email response to Friday’s questions, Spanier said he is helping to tell the truth about what he says were falsehoods spun by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who investigated the case, and politicians and others.
Spanier says he has held about 30 memoir-related events in Pennsylvania and elsewhere — many in bookstores — and has been well received in places from Des Moines, Iowa, to Silver City, NM
“I have no desire to prolong the trauma that inflicted so many Penn Staters from 11 years ago, but in the … emails I continue to receive daily, it is clear that the book was important for setting the record straight for the thousands of Penn Staters who never accepted the false narrative promulgated by Louis Freeh, prosecutors and others,” Spanier said.
Convicted of misdemeanor child endangerment over the school’s handling of a 2001 incident, the Spanier served 58 days of a two-month jail sentence plus house arrest. He insists he was not aware that Sandusky had molested children and said the report of Sandusky showering with a boy was characterized by him as “horseplay.”
Spanier said many stood by him as the furor erupted, but many did not, despite his quarter-century career there as a faculty member and administrator.
“The corporate side of my own university, which I had served loyally and ably for more than 25 years, and to my dismay even a few of my close colleagues, distanced themselves from me,” he said.
Penn State had no immediate comment about a Spanier’s scheduled appearance in the HUB from 4:30 to 7 pm Wednesday, which he said is being hosted by the University Park Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Sydney Gibbard, a Penn State senior and president of the University Park Undergraduate Association, said her peers have mixed feelings.
“I think a lot of students are weary of the book signing and uncomfortable with how much publicity this event will draw toward Penn State and toward Graham Spanier himself, especially because our school has really tried to move on from the Sandusky case over the last few.” years,” Gibbard said.
“That being said, there is definitely a large population of students that don’t know as much about the history of Penn State and are probably not as affected by this happening on campus,” she added.
“I do wholeheartedly endorse Dr. Spanier’s efforts to share his story. I think it’s an important story,” he said. “I welcome his appearance.”
Spanier’s memoir was published in early September. Spanier said the first run of 5,500 books has sold out and a second printing is being considered.
Spanier also is scheduled to appear from 5 to 6:30 pm Tuesday in the Penn State Altoona Barnes & Noble bookstore. Future appearances are scheduled in South Carolina and Florida through mid-February.
Spanier serves as a consultant in national and international security, intelligence and risk management. He retains the title of emeritus president and emeritus professor and says he remains active in university causes and plays racquetball on campus.
A sociologist and family therapist, he was once among the nation’s most prominent higher education figures, serving as leader of a public land grant university with 100,000 students and 45,000-plus employees on two-dozen campuses.
He headed national associations, advised US presidents, and was a respected voice on issues of the day, from higher education funding to illegal music downloads and college drinking.
He straddled the line between the staid world of academia, where he authored 10 books and was a scholar on family issues, and his campus life as an atypical president who advised the Penn State performing magicians, did one-armed pushups in the Nittany Lion mascot costume and — as his 53rd birthday approached — ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, in July 2001.
Sandusky was charged with 48 counts of child sexual abuse and convicted of 45. Two other top administrators were charged in connection with their handling of the matter.
Officials including a Spaniard contemplated telling authorities about the 2001 incident reported in a team shower, but instead took other actions including barring the former coach from bringing children to campus.
An email from a Spanier then noted that “the only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it.”
Spanier notes that Sandusky was found not guilty of the 2001 incident. Spanier wrote in the prologue of his book that the situation was “alleged falsely to have been reported to Joe Paterno and … (ultimately) to me.”
Spanier added: “Caught up squarely in the media storm surrounding the announcement was Joe Paterno, legendary head football coach. It wouldn’t be long before I would be swept into the nightmare even though I had only one conversation with Sandusky in my life.
Bill Schackner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .