As PSU trustees meet, fur flies over presidential search

Posted: November 23, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. Weeks after Pennsylvania State University's search for a new president suffered a setback, a verbal battle over the process erupted Thursday at a committee meeting of the board of trustees.

Trustee Anthony Lubrano said the board should allow all 32 trustees to meet with and interview the final three candidates. Only 12 trustees now serve on the search committee; he and other trustees who have criticized the board's leadership were excluded.

"It's a valid concern when you say to 18 members of the board, 'Here's a person. You can vote up or down.' This is the most important role we play as trustees," Lubrano said of hiring a president.

The board last month suddenly canceled a public meeting where it was to have voted on a new president. The Albany Times Union subsequently reported that the board's pick was David R. Smith, president of the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University - but that Smith is under fire as allegedly accepting unauthorized outside payments. The payments were uncovered by a search firm working for both Penn State and SUNY, the newspaper reported.

A new pick now is likely months away.

The board, Lubrano predicted Thursday, will not get a unanimous vote on its next choice unless the process is more inclusive.

Board members Paul Silvis, Keith Eckel, and newcomer Richard Dandrea said they supported the current process, citing the need for confidentiality as critical to attracting the best candidate.

Board members, Eckel said, must put faith in their colleagues on the search committee. "You have to have confidence in the people you are working with," he said.

Lubrano retorted, "Well, I think the confidence has been eroded over the last two years quite significantly, Keith. And to refuse to acknowledge that is to keep your head in the sand."

Dandrea maintained that the full board had agreed to the search process and should not change course.

"That's the attitude. . . . We don't correct mistakes. We just have to live with it," Lubrano shot back.

Dandrea said it was "typical" to see Lubrano "getting disruptive when you don't get your way."

Lubrano said later that the board should add trustee William Oldsey, a publishing-industry executive, to its search committee, and said he might raise the issue Friday when the full board meets.

The board announced Thursday it had hired Holly Gregory, a New York-based consultant, to study board size, makeup, selection procedures, and overall governance structure - all under scrutiny since the child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky erupted two years ago.

Also Thursday, a task force offered proposals to boost tuition revenue in the face of declining state support - including new surcharges and fees and higher rates for some postgraduate programs. The board will discuss the proposals further next year.

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