One unlikely venue for fallout from the Penn State University sex abuse scandal is the campus Hillel, for which now ousted university president Graham Spanier – the school’s first Jewish leader – was a fundraiser and vocal supporter.
On Tuesday, the Penn State community was stunned when the NCAA levied a $60 million fine against the university and a four-year postseason ban on its football program based on a university-funded report by former FBI director Louis Freeh released several weeks ago. The report looked into the crimes of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is now awaiting sentencing for multiple counts of child rape, and alleged a cover-up by Spanier, iconic football coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Timothy Schultz.
Paterno died in January at 85, Curley is on administrative leave and Schultz has retired. Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on perjury charges.
The school has about 40,000 students on its main campus in State College, Pa., some 10 percent of whom are estimated to be Jewish, according to data collected by Penn State Hillel.
Aaron Kaufman, executive director of the Hillel, declined to address specifics about Spanier’s impact on the organization.
“The events of the past year have reinforced the need for students to be part of a caring and supportive organization where they can engage in dialogue and address issues that are troubling them,” he said in a statement to JTA. “As we prepare for the start of a new school year, we remain steadfast in our commitment to helping our students – and the entire university community – heal and move forward in a positive way”
But Bill Jaffe, a former longtime member and past chair of Hillel’s board of directors, said the former president’s role was large. In addition to regularly attending High Holidays services, Spanier helped Hillel secure major speakers, such as Noble laureate Elie Wiesel, and make a case for larger on-campus facilities for the Jewish student organization.
“Clearly his energy and enthusiasm will be missed as part of the Hillel community,” said Jaffe, a member of the university’s endowment campaign executive committee. “I don’t think one can deny the impact he’s had on Hillel and therefore, if he’s not here and not involved, I would think there may be some impact” on the group, he said.