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Can This Woman Save Penn State’s Reputation?

We’re not sure if the task of doing damage control for Penn State is the toughest, most thankless PR gig in the country right now, but it’s got to be pretty close. According to a recent Reuters article, the University is hoping that Karen Peetz, chairman of the school’s board of trustees and big-name executive at Bank of New York Mellon Corp., can help them resuscitate their severely damaged reputation despite the fact that she doesn’t work in the PR field and never really signed up for the job.

While some grads remain true to their alma mater, Penn State’s star has clearly dimmed in the eyes of the public. All agree that the school made some huge ethical and public relations mistakes when dealing with (or trying to wish away) the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. While the school hired PR firms to deal with the fallout, Peetz has effectively served as its public face during this most difficult hour even as her dual roles in PR and finance threaten to collide with one another.

A recent mini-scandal involved the sale of land from Penn State to a developer called Toll Brothers, a business in which BNY Mellon’s asset management wing happens to hold a significant stake. The school’s board members, Peetz included, chose Toll Brothers over other bidders without specifically discussing the existing relationship, and the issue has led some to accuse her of committing conflict of interest violations and question her ability to lead the BOT. The last thing a staggering institution like Penn State needs is a loss of faith in the ethics of its public representatives.

This week, Peetz announced that the BOT will accept the NCAA‘s “unprecedented sanctions”, and some commentators believe that this announcement effectively marks the end of the school’s darkest hour. Still, the work of rebuilding the Penn State’s reputation has only begun, and alumni groups now wonder whether Peetz is the woman for the job.

Is Peetz’s reputation strong enough for her to allow her to stay on and guide Penn State toward better fortunes? Or has she been compromised beyond repair?

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