By Alexis Kunsak
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Pennsylvania State University President Rodney Erickson told a meeting of hundreds of often angry alumni on Wednesday that the school would strive to be more open as it deals with the child sex abuse scandal that has sullied its reputation.
At the first of three town hall meetings this week, Erickson told about 600 alumni in Pittsburgh that he had received thousands of letters and e-mails from alumni "full of sadness, anger and disappointment" following the abuse charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, once a top aide to Hall of Fame head football coach Joe Paterno.
Erickson acknowledged "the perception that we haven't always done as well as we could have to be open and transparent."
But many alumni at the meeting were sharply critical of the university board of trustees and its communications in the media storm following the November arrest of Sandusky, who faces 52 charges of sexually molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period.
"We have a magnificent university and it's being ruined by the management," said Jerry Kintigh, a 1954 alumnus living in Mt Lebanon, Pennsylvania. "What makes me the angriest," he said, "is the way that Paterno was treated and the way the alumni have been treated, like a bunch of dumb frat boys."
Sandusky, 67, has pleaded not guilty and awaits an expected prolonged court process. But two school officials were also charged with perjury by the grand jury that indicted Sandusky.
The board also fired Paterno and then-university president Graham Spanier for failing to tell police what they knew about sexual abuse accusations against Sandusky.
Many alumni expressed anger at the sudden firing of Paterno and several wondered about the extent of the board's prior knowledge of the scandal. A question seeking resignation of the board sparked a round of applause lasting over a minute.
Erickson pointed to the election of three new board members last May. He also said the board expected the results of a special investigation into the scandal by former FBI director Louis Freeh in May. Freeh was hired on November 21.
"The university will also start putting the bills out on the web as they come in," he told the alumni. "The legal costs will not be paid by tuition, taxpayers, or donor dollars."
Crisis communication expenses in November cost the university $360,000, Erickson said.
A 1987 alumnus, Jeffrey Pugh, a schoolteacher from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, said he was disappointed.
"I respect that the president can't give specifics," he said, "but I sincerely hope for change in management and ultimately the upper echelon. It's not about football, it's about the lack of decision-making shown in handling the crisis."
On Tuesday, the university said Erickson signed an employment contract as president that runs through June 2014.
Separately, the family of former Penn State University Athletic Director Tim Curley, who faces perjury charges stemming from the scandal, said he was suffering from lung cancer.
A malignant tumor was discovered in June 2010, and half of Curley's lung was removed, his family said in a statement. He has not undergone chemotherapy or radiation, his family said.
Curley and finance official Gary Schultz, who formerly was in charge of the university's police, were charged with perjury for their testimony to the grand jury in the case.
On Wednesday, Erickson said Curley remained on administrative leave and the university had not started a search for another athletic director. Schultz has retired. Both Curley and Schultz have said they were not guilty of the charges.
Other alumni meetings this week include one on Thursday in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and another on Friday in New York City.
(Editing By Peter Bohan)