Wagner: Make Penn State more accountable to taxpayers

Posted: July 27, 2012

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner on Thursday called for changing the way Pennsylvania State University operates by subjecting the school to right-to-know laws and removing the president as a voting member of the board of trustees.

Wagner said his recommendations were geared toward making Penn State - a public land-grant university that receives hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding and support - more open and accountable to taxpayers.

"Penn State does not operate in an isolated fashion," he said. "Decisions made at Penn State are decisions that impact the commonwealth."

Wagner's recommendations come in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, a scathing report from former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and crippling NCAA sanctions leveled against Penn State's football program.

Each of the four recommendations Wagner made would require changes in law. He outlined those changes in a letter to the leaders of the General Assembly, which he urged to act when lawmakers return in September.

Wagner said just 6 percent of the nation's public university presidents were voting members of the board of trustees. The Penn State president is also the secretary and sets the agenda of the meetings.

"Why does the president of Penn State University have so much power?" asked Wagner, a Democrat who unsuccessfully sought his party's nomination for governor in 2010. "The president cannot be an employee and an equal of the board."

Penn State and three other state-related schools - Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln University - should be subject to the right-to-know laws, Wagner said, meaning information such as salaries and contracts should available to the public. Penn State also should have to disclose the source of the $60 million the university must pay to satisfy the NCAA sanctions, Wagner said.

He also said the governor should not be a voting member of the board because of potential conflicts, and the board's bylaws should be changed so that more than 13 members of the 32-person board would have to be present to establish a quorum.

Gov. Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, said Wagner's call to remove the governor as a voting member "sounds like a proposal made by someone who ran for governor but lost."

"Jack Wagner can sit on the sidelines and take political shots, but the fact remains that Gov. Corbett was elected by the people of Pennsylvania," Harley said.

He said Corbett previously called for state-related universities to be governed by right-to-know laws, but does not support the idea of removing the university president as a voting member of the board.

A spokesman for the university said "any comment would be premature" because neither president Rodney Erickson nor the board members has had sufficient time to review Wagner's recommendations.

Wagner said his office was preparing a fuller report to be released in about two months on Penn State's governance.

Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com.

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