Is Tom Corbett Pro-Penn State or Anti-Penn State?

A timeline of a schizophrenic relationship.

A few weeks ago, I attended a symposium about Penn State’s role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Both the panelists and attendees, almost all of whom were alums, believed the NCAA had penalized the school too harshly. So I was a little surprised when mention of Tom Corbett’s name invariably elicited boos and hisses. Less than a month earlier, after all, Corbett had sued the NCAA over the very sanctions the crowd decried, arguing they were “overreaching and unlawful.”

It’s not the audience that was confused, though. It’s Corbett. On any given day, it’s entirely unclear what the governor thinks of Penn State. Whatever good will he generated with the lawsuit (43 percent of Pennsylvanians support it) has been mitigated by all the perceived anti-PSU stuff he did before that (26 percent approve of his handling of the university). To try and figure out where Corbett really stands, here’s a timeline of the governor’s schizophrenic relationship with the school.

2009: Launches investigation into Jerry Sandusky as Attorney General.

2009-2011: But appears to slow-walk the investigation by only assigning one investigator to the case, and waiting until after his election to file charges, potentially to avoid political consequences of indicting a popular Penn State coach.

Fall 2010: Reportedly furious at PSU President Graham Spanier when he sees his gubernatorial rival Dan Onorato in his luxury box during a football game.

March 8, 2011: Proposes slashing higher education funding in half; the brunt of the cuts would be born by Penn State. (State-funded schools ultimately sustain cuts of 18 percent.)

Morning of November 9, 2011: Joe Paterno announces intention to retire at the end of the season, in response to the still-fresh Jerry Sandusky scandal. Tom Corbett appears to express sympathy for Paterno. “It’s unfortunate that this retirement has taken place under the cloud that is going on at the moment,” he said. “It’s a sad day. It has been a sad number of days for Penn State.”

Evening of November 9, 2011: Corbett strongly encourages the Penn State Board of Trustees to fire Paterno during a board meeting, according to board members. “Remember the children,” he says. “Remember that little boy in the shower.” Later, a friend of Corbett’s tells a reporter that Corbett said “he told them to do it” and that he was “proud of it.”

November 10, 2011: Corbett spotted at the American Ale House and Grill in State College. Said one PSU faculty member sitting near him: “He was just effusive. It was like a victory celebration. I remember thinking at the time that it just seemed a strange thing … a kind of gratuitous political piling on.”

January 23, 2012: Corbett orders state flags to fly at half-mast to honor Paterno, who died the previous day.

January 24, 2012: Paterno family invites him to funeral in State College. He declines.

February 8, 2012: Before delivering budget proposal, requests a moment of silence for Paterno.

February 8, 2012: During budget proposal, requests a 30 percent funding cut for state-related universities, including Penn State. (Eventually cuts funding 20 percent.)

February 15, 2012: Attends memorial mass in Harrisburg for Paterno and tells reporters, “This is my way of honoring Joe. I’m very glad I was able to be here.”

March 8, 2012: Says the Board of Trustees was right to fire Paterno and that he wishes Paterno “would have followed up after he made that report” in 2001.

April 16, 2012: Rips explosive ESPN the Magazine article claiming he strongly influenced the Board of Trustees to fire Paterno, and was gleeful when they did so, as “totally, factually wrong.”

July 3, 2012: Criticizes the damaging leaks coming out of Louis Freeh’s report on Penn State for having “come out piecemeal.”

July 19, 2012: Praises the Freeh report and re-iterates disappointment in Penn State officials.

July 23, 2012: Consents to NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State (as board member), issuing a statement that “part of [the] corrective process is to accept the serious penalties imposed today.”

July 25, 2012: Criticizes NCAA sanctions against Penn State for going “well beyond” what is appropriate, and claims PSU students unjustly suffer because of them. “What’s important to note is the kids that are up there right now, whether they are students or the student-athletes, the members of that team or the members of any other team, had nothing to do with this,” he says. “Nothing.”

November 1, 2012: Graham Spanier indicted; claims he is the target of an anti-PSU vendetta by Corbett, who’s still mad at him for having Onorato in his luxury box.

January 2, 2013: Sues the NCAA over Penn State sanctions.

January 22, 2013: Meets with former Penn State football players to smooth over the perception that he used Paterno as a scapegoat to cover up his own lethargy in prosecuting Sandusky.

February 8, 2013: Announces budget proposal. No proposed cuts to higher education for the first time.

November 4, 2014: Election Day.

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