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Fireworks at First Public Comment BOT Session

They had to know it was coming.

For the first time ever, the Penn State Board of Trustees allowed public comment at their meeting yesterday at the Nittany Lion Inn. Seven people preregistered online to speak at the meeting, and as you can imagine, they weren’t all happy with the job the Board has done recently with its handling of the Freeh report or NCAA sanctions.

But first, here’s the usual:

Chairwoman Karen Peetz began with her opening remarks. “We Are Penn State,” is in the hearts and minds of our students once again as they focus on their university life,” said Chairwoman Peetz. “Penn Staters show a constant drive to do better than yesterday, act decisively in the present while we anticipate and prepare for the brightest of futures.”

As has been the standard in her opening statement, Peetz also addressed the NCAA sanctions and Freeh report. “We accept the consequences of failure and we are remedying any wrongs,” said Chairwoman Peetz. “We never lost sight of, nor will we ever, our fundamental mission as educators and molders of character.”

Peetz also said that all of the Freeh report recommendations will be implemented by the end of next year, and those that they do not find practical to implement will be discussed with “proper explanation.”

“While we cannot minimize the financial impact of recent events, I can assure you the financial condition of Penn State is solid,” concluded Peetz. “I can tell you unequivocally, that the reputation Penn State graduates carry with them is one of intelligence, hard work and integrity…We are Penn State, and we will succeed.”

Rodney Erickson delved into his opening remarks next, starting with a joke about all the departmental potlucks he’s attended since the fall semester began. He outlined many recent Penn State initiatives, such as Lion Walk and the upcoming THON documentary “Why We Dance.” A question was raised about the Middle States accreditation warning, an issue Erickson says he “hopes to have behind us” by November.

Then the first public comment session in the history of the Penn State Board of Trustees came to fruition. Some speakers were critical, others were cordial, but the tension in the room was best expressed on the long faces of the Board of Trustees as 7 (and a half) speakers took to the microphone to voice their opinions.

Here’s a rundown of all 7 speakers, with a fun little surprise at the end.

Speaker 1: Questioned the validity of the Freeh report, and asked if the board planned on doing an investigation to verify its findings. Chairwoman Peetz answered her question directly, “We have not, nor do we actually plan to do a detailed review of the rest of the Freeh report…that is not why it was commissioned.” This was met with murmurs and ridicule from the audience. This speaker needed to be cut off by Chairwoman Peetz when he pressed her for more explanation.

Speaker 2: A student at Penn State who has attended multiple board meetings before. He criticized the leadership of the board, and concluded his remarks with, “It’s not these students that are bringing shame to this university. It’s all of you…except for the new trustees.” Karen Peetz smiled and said “Thank you!”

Speaker 3: Criticized the lack of public showing for the public comment section of the meeting. “People who are attending the resignation rally should be here and not there.” Went on to discuss his displeasure with the Board’s unwillingness to fight the NCAA sanctions.

Speaker 4: Was concerned about the financial impact of the Freeh report and other projects.

Speaker 5: Lauded Penn State for its leadership in early childhood education. Recommended renaming the Gary Schultz Childcare Center after childcare leader Linda Duerr.

Speaker 6: Critical of Freeh report and NCAA sanctions.  “This board wants the public to move forward, but I am here to tell you that will not happen,” she said. “By [accepting the sanctions] you are ruining the heart of the University you are commissioned to protect.” Asked President Erickson if the possibility of a “death penalty” was real, since the NCAA has denied that it threatened Penn State with such a penalty. Erickson reiterated the points he’s been making for months now, and implied that the death penalty was indeed on the table.

Speaker 7: Made brief remarks on the Freeh report. Was “disappointed” in the way that the NCAA sanctions were handled.

Then, Franco Harris, who had been lurking in the gallery behind the speakers, stood up to the microphone, and said “Let me pinch hit for number eight.”

Chairwoman Peetz immediately objected, but the crowd jeered, and Harris continued speaking. Peetz continued to talk over Harris, informing him that he needed to register in advance to speak. Eventually, Harris’s microphone was cut, and Peetz continued with the meeting. Harris continued to speak for around 30 seconds, until he relented and left the room to speak to the media outside.

Peetz was correct in following protocol and not allowing Harris to speak. Had Harris preregistered like the other seven speakers, it is likely that he would have been allotted time to make his comments. Instead, he’ll have to wait until 10 a.m. today to get his two cents in at the “Rally for Resignations” in front of Old Main.

The item on the agenda that garnered the most media attention was a vote to rename the Gary Schultz Childcare Center at Hort Woods. The motion was introduced by Linda Strumpf, Chair of the Committee on Finance, Business, and Capital Planning.

Anthony Lubrano opened up discussion by saying that it would be premature to vote on such a measure before Gary Schultz’s upcoming perjury trial. Ryan McCombie backed him up, saying, “If it went eight months without a name, it can go four more.”

The motion was eventually tabled, and no vote was taken. The Board of Trustees not rushing to make a decision for positive PR points — they say there’s a first time for everything I suppose.

I had to leave at this point, but Laura Nichols (@LC_Nichols) of StateCollege.com has the rundown of what happened during the rest of the meeting:

  • An update on the search for the next Penn State President; proposals for the various search committees are expected to be presented to the board at its November meeting. The search process will take at least a year.
  • Approved Penn State’s budget for 2013-14 includes a request to the Commonwealth of Pa. to provide $10.6 million more than Penn State will receive in 2012-13. That would bring Penn State’s appropriation to $289.5 million.
  • An update from the legal subcommittee revealed a fourth civil suit has been filed against the university, putting the count at two writs and two lawsuits. The committee continues to review the recommendations passed on by Judge Louis Freeh in his report. To date, more than a dozen of Freeh’s recommendations have been implemented.

The next Board meeting is scheduled for November 16.

About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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