Amid presidential search, PSU trustees focus on reform

Posted: January 18, 2014

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. Meeting for the first time since a public disagreement erupted over its search for a new president, Pennsylvania State University's board of trustees spent much of Thursday turning the spotlight inward.

During a closed-door retreat expected to stretch into the evening, the group met with a newly hired consultant who will help it make reforms following the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal.

"The thing that I would encourage everyone [to do] is participate," Keith Eckel, chairman of the committee on governance and long-range planning, told the board at the start of the retreat. "Be involved. Don't hesitate to ask the key questions, challenging or not."

The two-day board meeting, which will continue Friday, comes nearly three months after the university's search to replace Graham B. Spanier suffered a setback when a meeting to vote on a candidate was suddenly canceled.

The Albany Times Union later reported that the Penn State trustees had selected former State University of New York president David R. Smith, who at the time was under fire for accepting unauthorized payments and has since resigned.

The search continues, though a source with knowledge of the process said trustees were unlikely to name a new president this week.

Board Chairman Keith Masser has said the group will do so by June 30, the last day on the job for Rodney Erickson. A former provost, Erickson stepped into the role when Spanier was ousted in 2012 after Sandusky's arrest.

The divide over how the board has responded to that crisis - and handled its search for a new leader - came to the forefront in November when trustee Anthony Lubrano lobbied to let the full 32-member board interview potential candidates, instead of just the 12 trustees on the selection committee. Another member accused Lubrano of "getting disruptive" when he didn't get his way.

The conflict simmered when William Oldsey, a trustee backed by Lubrano and others critical of the board's leadership, was added to the selection committee.

Holly Gregory, the consultant hired in November, on Thursday encouraged debate but told the members to keep things civil.

"I want to underscore this point: Effective and efficient decision-making cannot be made in an environment of divisiveness," she said.

The board has been grappling with sharp criticism received from across the university and beyond since the Sandusky scandal came to light. The exhaustive report prepared by former FBI Director Louis Freeh placed some fault with the group for not monitoring Spanier more closely or probing further when it learned of a grand jury investigation in spring 2011.

Eckel said Thursday that the board had made many changes since then.

Board meetings now include a public comment period. The governor and university president no longer have voting rights. A newly formed compensation committee, whose first task was approving the contract of football coach James Franklin on Saturday, will now have sway over the pay of top executives.

610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny

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