Penn State trustees consider changes in board voting procedures

Posted: January 18, 2013

Continuing its path of reform since the child-sex abuse scandal, the Pennsylvania State University board of trustees appears ready to change some of its procedures, including eliminating the board voting rights of the governor and university president.

Board members talked about the potential changes in a private session Thursday morning and later in the day at a public meeting of the governance committee. Several outside reports have recommended that the board look at its makeup and questioned whether the university president should be a voting member, given that the board is supposed to provide oversight of the administration.

The criticism followed an independent investigation that found former president Graham B. Spanier too often kept the board in the dark and wielded too much power. Spanier was forced to resign as the abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky came to light.

"I personally think it's time for a change. I think it's bad practice" to have the president also vote, said board member Carl T. Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. He added: "In some cases, I think you really do the president a favor by not having him vote."

As for removing voting power from the governor, committee head James S. Broadhurst, chair of the restaurant chain Eat 'n Park Hospitality Group Inc., said the committee would check with Gov. Corbett before making a recommendation to the full board, probably at its May meeting.

"Obviously, we need to go back and get the sensitivities of the governor. It doesn't necessarily mean it would change what our recommendation would be."

Board members, however, reached no consensus on whether the 32-member structure is too big, as some outsiders have suggested. Discussion will continue on that and 30 or so other recommendations from various groups, including the state auditor general.

"We're trying to have the best governance process we can possibly have, and we're trying to be a model," Broadhurst said. "We want to make sure we're addressing carefully the recommendations that came in from constituents who are important to the university."

The board is also expected to vote on new leadership at its meeting Friday. Keith Masser, a Schuylkill County potato farmer, who has been vice chair, is the sole candidate for chair. Stephanie Nolan Deviney, an Exton lawyer, is the only candidate for vice chair.

"Penn State has transformed my life," Masser said, "and it's an honor and opportunity for me to be able to serve and help make sure Penn State continues to transform other students' lives."

In addition to helping the university recover from the Sandusky case, Masser said, he will focus on education costs and the search for a new university president.

"That's going to be a big job this year," he said of the search to replace Rodney Erickson.

Current chair Karen B. Peetz, who led the university through the Sandusky scandal, decided to step down after she was promoted to president of the Bank of New York Mellon starting Jan. 1.

"I was very conflicted about that, but the role of Penn State chair in the last year has taken every weekend and lots of nights. So my main job had to come first this time," she said.

She called the chairmanship "super challenging" and "equally rewarding."

"I believe that we moved the needle forward for Penn State for the future," she said.

Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

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