Board of “DisTrustees”?

The “Board of Trustees” has been the focus of both local and national scrutiny these past few weeks and the lack of transparency and communication between the board students and alumni has been a major concern for Penn Staters past and present.

As a result of their PR strategies–or their lack thereof–during the Sandusky scandal, many  feel uncomfortable with the Board of Trustees’ leadership, and for anyone who wanted questions answered, the board remained quiet as if to prove they did not learn from mistakes. Silence alone is the cause of this scandal, and that silence has continued, unmitigated, to this very day.

However, the “Board of Trustees” has been thrown around in conversation very generally as if to explain an omnipotent identity when for the most part, its actual structure and power dynamics are overlooked.  It is the purpose of this article to explain the bigger picture, to answer the questions “What is the Board of Trustees?” and “What makes one eligible to be on the board?”.

In the wake of social discontent, it is just as irresponsible to react blindly without first understanding the context of those held accountable, and  placing blame and pointing fingers is an injustice in principal by prolonging the time it takes for the truth to come out.

The Board of Trustees has 32 trustees, a size and composition of people that has remained constant since 1951. The trustees are categorized by five sections and each each section has its own requirements for trusteeship.

The sections are:

  1. Ex Officio members (5 members)
  2. Appointed by Governor (6 members)
  3. Elected by Alumni (9 members)
  4. Elected by Delegates from Agricultural Societies (6 members)
  5. Elected by Board Representing Business and Industry (6 members)

The following 5 trustees have an ex officio seat on the board by virtue of their position in Pennsylvania or in the university. “Ex officio” comes from the Latin and literally means “from the office.” In other words these specific trustees are members of the board by the nature of their occupation and are automatically a trustee when they are in office.

The ex officio trustees are:

  1. Penn State President Rodney A. Erickson (Secretary of the Board)
  2. Pennsylvania Governor Thomas W. Corbett Jr.
  3. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary George D. Greig
  4. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard J. Allan
  5. Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ronald J. Tomalis

Note:  Jennifer Branstetter represents Governor Corbett and is listed among these members.  She does not have her own vote, however.

The next six trustees have been appointed either by former Governors or by Governor Corbett:

  1. Alvin H. Clemens (appointed by Gov. Ridge, 1995)
  2. Mark H. Dambly (appointed by Gov. Rendell, 2010)
  3. Michael DiBerardinis (appointed by Gov. Rendell in 2010; also held ex officio seat as Secretary of the Deparment of Conservation and Natural Resources from 2003 to 2009)
  4. Ira M. Lubert (served as a trustee from 1997 to 2000; appointed again in 2007 by Gov. Rendell to serve a three year term)
  5. Student Trustee Peter A. Khoury, (appointed by Gov. Corbett in 2011, he will serve on the BoT until 2014, though he graduates in 2012)
  6. Paul H. Silvis (appointed by Gov. Rendell effective 2010)

Elected by Alumni:

  1. Marianne E. Alexander
  2. H. Jesse Arnelle
  3. Stephanie Nolan Deviney
  4. Steve A. Garban (President of the Board)
  5. David R. Jones
  6. Joel N. Myers
  7. Anne Riley
  8. Paul V. Suhey

Note:  David Joyner stepped down from his trustee position in order to fill the vacancy of the athletic director.  Currently he has no replacement; he was formerly the 9th elected trustee.

Elected by Delegates from Agricultural Societies:

  1. Keith W. Eckel
  2. Samuel E. Hayes Jr.
  3. Barron L. Hetherington
  4. Betsy E. Huber
  5. Keith E. Masser
  6. Carl T. Shaffer

Elected by Board Representing Business and Industry:

  1. James S Broadhurst
  2. Kenneth C. Frazier
  3. Edward R. Hintz Jr.
  4. Karen B. Peetz
  5. Linda B. Strumpf
  6.  John P. Surma (Vice President)

Effective July 1, 2003, a limit of 15 years in term became the maximum amount of time anyone could serve in office.  However, any elected member already serving on the board before July 1st, 2003, had to mark the beginning of their 15 years in term “effective with the date of the most recent election or re-election as trustees elected by the alumni, elected by delegates of agricultural societies, and/or elected as business and industry trustees.”

This limitation however does not apply to any elected member who is either President or Vice President of the board of Trustees.  The bylaws state nothing about maximum length for terms concerning governor appointed trustee members but the official charter does explain that the governor will appoint a member annually.

The Delegates of Agricultural Societies that elect 6 members onto the board are plainly described in both the charter and the bylaws as “agricultural societies” but such societies aren’t named specifically in either document.  The website for the BoT says that “two trustees are elected each year by delegates representing county agricultural societies. Societies shall endeavor to select delegates that reside in the counties they represent,” but again the nature of the societies aren’t made specific.

Members elected by the board representing Business and Industry are chosen as candidates by the “Selection Group”, which comprises of 5 total trustees. Of the selection group, three are”seated or emeritus members” (who aren’t standing for reelection) and the other two can be selected from any trustee.

It should be noted that the President of the Board Steve Garban appoints the trustees for this Selection Group annually, given the official approval of the board.  The BoT can only approve or reject the recommendations that the selection group suggests, not nominate new trustees as a whole body. Thus, the final say is given to the members selected by President Garban, who ultimately are in charge of the recommendations.

It appears that a great deal of power is given to the President of the Board and a number of his capabilities could be seen as self-serving.  For example, the official standing orders explain that the president appoints members to a Governance Advisory Group.

This group is described as being “strictly advisory in nature”, but as an advisory group, there are “additional responsibilities” that are “assigned by the Board’s leadership”.  The responsibilities of this advisory group include (but aren’t limited to) recommending  candidates for the board’s executive committee and also reviewing the service of a retiring trustee to see if they deserve to be awarded emeritus status for the board.

Doesn’t it seem odd that the president can appoint members under his authority to recommend which members should be on the executive committee?

Not to mention the fact that President Garban also appoints every member to the standing committees, along with the chairman and vice president of each committee, after he consults with the president of the university.

As State College has become just another quiet college town void of media trucks and reporters, a feeling of abandonment from those in charge is probably the only thing that hasn’t left.  But in reality there isn’t much any amount of people can do in order to change the leadership, no matter how unanimous the sentiment.  Voting in new alumni onto the board only means that nine out of the 32 can possibly be switched–only three each year–and the nine new board members don’t even meet the minimum requirement for quorum, the disproportionately low amount of people necessary to vote on any policy.

In spite of all that has happened, the trustees have made it a point to stonewall the community, students, alumni and faculty, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

They don’t have to answer to anyone.  The corporation exists independent of private and public outcry and there isn’t anything in their own rules of conduct that require them to answer their motives as long as they can exist as a standalone group.  No one can impeach them.  No one can audit them.

Let us remember those who lead us, those free of responsibility and culpability to the people who they promise to serve.

The Board of Trustees is the final repository of all legal responsibility and authority to govern the University,
under the Corporation Code of Pennsylvania. It can delegate but it cannot abandon this responsibility and authority. . .

— The Final Responsibility of the Board


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About the Author

Chadwick Lynch

I am a creative thinker and content contributor for Onward State. There is always a madness to my method; it's easier to see in the darkness of abstraction when truth causes blindness. I'm only as serious as you think I am. Obscuris Vera Involvens

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