Penn State University is reassessing the role of its giant football program in the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal that has led to criminal charges against a former assistant football coach and the ouster of iconic head coach Joe Paterno.
In his first extensive interview since taking office last month, Penn State President Rodney Erickson told USA TODAY on Tuesday that he is seeking to transform the university's public image from a football school to a "world class research institution."
"We want that to be the front face of the university," said Erickson, who succeeded former president Graham Spanier, who was fired last month along with Paterno.
In a wide-ranging discussion, the former geography professor talked about the task of steadying the sprawling university in the aftermath of "shocking" abuse charges; an ambitious effort to reach out to child abuse victims across the country; and an attempt to remake a school — long known as "Linebacker U" for the NFL-caliber players it produced — more in his own image as Penn State's soft-spoken former chief academic officer.
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