HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett has so far kept quiet while a child sex abuse scandal has enveloped Pennsylvania's largest and most prominent university out of a sense of obligation that dates back to his days as a prosecutor, his spokesman said Tuesday.
That may soon change, however, amid mounting pressure to remove key Penn State University leaders -- including President Graham Spanier -- from their jobs over their response to reports that a former assistant football coach molested a child in the team's locker room nearly a decade ago.
Corbett plans to attend Friday's meeting of the Penn State Board of Trustees -- he and three of his Cabinet secretaries are ex-officio members -- and could break his public silence about the investigation that he initiated and oversaw as attorney general before he became governor in January, press secretary Kevin Harley said.
"He is very much involved, but at this point does not think it's appropriate for him to make any public statements, but that may change later on this week," Harley said.
Although Penn State gets hundreds of millions in state funding, the governor has limited oversight because the school, along with Temple, Pitt and Lincoln, holds a quasi-public status as a "state-related university" run by its board of trustees. Pennsylvania governors have considerably more influence over the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education, as they control a majority of that 20-member board.
Corbett has avoided public comment on the arrest of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on charges of molesting boys and two high-ranking administrators on charges of not alerting authorities and lying to a grand jury.
Any discussions Corbett has had with other trustees will remain private for the time being, Harley said.
Through Harley, Corbett declined to say whether Spanier or football coach Joe Paterno should be fired or forced out. Both appear to be losing support among the school's trustees.
Spanier and Paterno have been criticized for how they responded when told Sandusky was seen subjecting a child around the age of 10 to anal sex in the showers of the football team's locker rooms in 2002.
Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 criminal counts on Saturday, and two of Spanier's top lieutenants, athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, were charged with not properly reporting the suspected abuse to state and local authorities and perjury.
Lawyers for Schultz and Curley said at their preliminary arraignment Monday that they were not guilty and would fight the charges, and Sandusky's lawyer said Saturday that he maintains his innocence. Curley has taken leave, and Schultz has returned to retirement.
Harley said Corbett preferred to let Attorney General Linda Kelly and state police Commissioner Frank Noonan outline the allegations in recent days. Kelly and Noonan were both nominated by Corbett, and Noonan serves under him as commissioner.
Noonan, who served as Corbett's chief of investigations in the attorney general's office, said Monday that while Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation by reporting the matter to Curley and Schultz, that was not a sufficient response.
"I think you have the moral responsibility, anyone," Noonan said. "Not whether you're a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building, I think you have a moral responsibility to call us."
Penn State funding emerged as a major issue earlier this year, when Corbett scrambled to plug a multibillion-dollar hole in the state budget. The school's funding was cut from $334 million last year to $272 million, including a $45 million transfer to Penn State's agricultural college.
Asked whether Spanier and Corbett have a good relationship, Harley did not answer directly.
"I really wouldn't want to comment on the status of their relationship," Harley said. "I mean, they know each other."
Spanier said at a Pennsylvania Press Club appearance last month that he hoped to remain school president for a few more years.