The Penn State Board of Trustees met this morning at Penn State’s Fayette campus to discuss and vote on a number of issues, including the 2013-2014 operating budget, a contentious vice chair election, tuition increases, and settlements with Sandusky victims.
The meeting began with the infamous public comment session. This month’s session was much less contentious than usual, with only two speakers interested in discussing the NCAA sanctions, Sandusky scandal, or Joe Paterno. The rest of the speakers were concerned with the Bennett Center proposal to outsource management, the pipeline project, or just wanted to speak about how great Penn State Fayette is.
Linda Berkland, an active member of PS4RS, used the public comment session to speak out against the intent of the session itself. She said the trustees have used it only to “to pacify what you call the vocal minority” and told the trustees that she predicts a decline in public speakers “just as you hoped.”
After a relatively quiet public comment session, President Erickson dipped into his lengthy full report to the board. He addressed Penn State’s increasing enrollment numbers as well as the proposed tuition increase.
“We continue to be on track for an incoming first-year class of about 17,000 University-wide, an increase of about 800 freshman compared to last year,” Erickson said. “We stopped admitting students to University Park after the May 1st deadline. The yield for all campuses is excellent – with the yield rates for both University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses up significantly compared to last year.”
Next up was a number of agenda items from the Finance, Business, and Capital Planning committee. Most notably, the $4.4 billion 2013-2014 university was up for approval. The budget includes a 3.39 percent tuition increase for in-state students and a 2.76 percent increase average for all students.
“Our top priority for the 2013-2014 budget was to recommend another low tuition increase,” Erickson said. “If adopted, this would be the second lowest percentage increase in 45 years after last year’s increase.”
President Erickson also noted “modest” staff raises will take effect on October 1. New trustee Ted Brown was concerned that the in-state tuition was increasing higher than the rate of inflation. President Erickson said he “shared” his concern and outlined the challenge of balancing tuition costs and university needs.
“The grand challenge for higher education in the 21st century is finding out how to enhance he quality of learning while at the same time holding down cost increases,” Erickson said. With the new budget approved, in-state students at Penn State will pay $26,362 in fees and tuition for the coming year.
Other notable items unanimously approved on the agenda include:
- Extending the borrowing authority of Penn State until September 30, 2013 up to $600 million.
- A new $10 million state-of-the-art high definition video board at Beaver Stadium.
- A $6.5 million on campus WiFi upgrade to extend coverage to all 8,228 rooms on campus.
- A $9.6 million addition to the contract with Columbia Gas to reroute the controversial pipeline through campus. Ford Stryker, the VP of the Office of Physical Plant, said that although running the pipeline through campus instead of downtown is more expensive, the administration recommended the change to satisfy both the needs of the West Campus steam plant and the safety concerns of downtown residents. Chairman Masser said after the meeting that “there is no safety issue” for Penn State students or staff working on campus.
- The acquisition of a 8.54 acre property on Science Park Road for $11.5 million to accomodate a 3-story office building and parking lot.
The committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning convened next to discuss granting Trustee Emeriti status to former trustees Anne Riley and David Jones. Riley lost her election handedly last year and Jones decided to leave the board, and both candidates were trustees during the controversial events in November 2011. While these recognitions are usually uncontroversial, trustees Anthony Lubrano and Ted Brown objected to the distinction.
“The optics are horrible,” Lubrano said. Brown agreed, saying “They are probably deserving but I don’t agree with the timing.” Lubrano had previously said that he would not vote to honor these trustees who were on the board during Joe Paterno’s termination before honoring Paterno himself.
Despite the stated opposition, both trustees were granted emeritus status by a large margin. It’s worth nothing that Trustee Emeriti comes with no real power but the recognized serve in more of an advisory role. Trustees who serve at least 12 years “with distinction” are eligible.
The new trustees took another loss in the next action, with Paul Silvis defeating Ryan McCombie in a private election for Board of Trustees Vice Chair. Twenty-seven trustees voted by phone to select Silvis, and Chairman Keith Masser said that he was “looking forward to working” with Silvis.
Next, the Board swiftly authorized settlement offers to an undisclosed number of Jerry Sandusky victims. There was no discussion and no details were mentioned about the dollar amount or number of victims that have reached settlements. The Legal and Compliance committee decided that it was best if the full board voted on the settlement authorization, but as expected, the board is not immediately releasing any details about these settlements.
“We’re just chipping away at getting these issues behind us,” Chairman Keith Masser said after the meeting, “Every one that we get behind us allows us to keep moving forward.”
Masser would not go into any more details at the post-meeting press conference and was visibly annoyed at reporters’ consistent questions about the issue.
Joel Myers, chair of the committee on Outreach, Development, and Community Relations, also reiterated his remarks about the greatness of Penn State delivered yesterday.
“The 2012 football team was epitome of class and character, and I think will long be remembered as one of the defining moments in college football lore,” Myers said. “What we saw here was the true epitome of the ideal football culture. It should be a shining beacon on the hill for all colleges and all football teams to aspire to.”
After lengthy remarks from the outgoing Alumni Association president and an update from the For The Future campaign, the meeting was adjourned.
At the post-meeting press conference, Chair Masser addressed the private meeting with Bill O’Brien earlier in the morning.
“I invited him to give us an update on the football program,” Masser said.
Masser also said on asking the NCAA about reducing the sanctions, “We would like to do that at some point…We have some work to do yet before we consider that.”