Penn State trustees to debate proposed board changes

Posted: July 02, 2014

One thing seems certain: The makeup and size of Pennsylvania State University's embattled board of trustees will change.

But how much and what impact the changes will have remain uncertain, as alumni-elected board members remain locked in a struggle for a louder voice on the 32-member body.

The board plans to hold a special meeting in August to review proposed changes and aims to vote in September, trying perhaps to preempt legislation now in the state Senate to shrink the board.

The board will consider adding a student, a faculty member, and an alumni association representative but also debate the merits of reducing the board's size and how trustees are selected, trustee Keith Eckel said Friday.

"Our focus has to be the best governance for Penn State," said Eckel, who heads the governance committee. "My belief is there will be some changes."

The push for changes is further evidence of the ripple effects of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse case, which led to the ouster of football coach Joe Paterno and charges against ex-President Graham B. Spanier, and spurred a minor revolt among the university's legions of alumni and supporters nationwide.

In two years, alumni supported by Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship - a pro-Paterno group highly critical of the board's actions in the Sandusky aftermath - have swept six open alumni seats on the board. The year before, the group's candidates got two of three seats. But those alumni haven't come close to achieving a majority voice.

To that end, another conflict brews over board Chairman Keith Masser's proposed committee assignments for the next year, which will be finalized at the board's July meeting. According to a list obtained by The Inquirer, none of the seven committee chairs will go to any of the nine alumni-elected trustees.

"It's very disheartening," said Anthony Lubrano, president of a Chester County financial services and wealth management firm and alumni-elected trustee, who faulted Masser as again attempting to exclude some segments of the board from chief decision-making roles.

The seven committee chairs automatically serve on the board's 13-member executive committee, which sometimes meets separately and is briefed on major matters before the rest of the board. That left Lubrano and several other alumni-elected trustees concerned that none would get a seat on the influential committee.

Masser, through an intermediary, said Friday that he intended to recommend an alumni trustee to an at-large seat on the committee.

Several alumni-elected trustees say they favor a smaller board because it would negate the need for an executive committee and include all members in important conversation.

"A smaller group of people can be more reactive," said Edward Brown III, president and CEO of KETCHConsulting near Scranton.

"If I have a smaller board," Lubrano said, "I can engage them in debate and meaningful dialogue."

Lubrano and Brown say they support legislation by State Sen. John Yudichak (D., Luzerne) that calls for a 23-member board. It would exclude the governor, university president, and state secretary of conservation and natural resources, make the state secretaries of agriculture and education nonvoting members, and shave one each off of the alumni-elected trustees (nine to eight), agricultural society-appointed trustees (six to five), governor-appointed trustees (six to five), and business and industry (six to five).

Eckel, however, favors a larger board - in part to properly staff the seven committees and several subcommittees. He also pointed out that Penn State has the smallest board of the four state-related universities. Temple has 39 members, 36 of whom vote; the University of Pittsburgh has 56, 36 of whom vote; and Lincoln University has 39, all of whom vote.

"But I'm not going to prejudge," he said.



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