Board of Trustees Approves Governance Changes, Construction, Election Results Announced
The Penn State Board of Trustees met yesterday afternoon at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center to approve a slew of changes and announce the three winners of the alumni trustee election. It was a full agenda, so let’s jump right in.
President Erickson began his remarks by thanking Paula Ammerman, the outgoing office director of the Board of Trustees who is set to retire. The highlight of Erickson’s remarks came with the announcement of updated application and acceptance numbers for the incoming class. Despite a 9 percent decrease in applications, paid accepts at University Park are up 6 percent, according to Erickson. Penn State also sent out 9 percent fewer offers University-wide this year to keep the talent pool standards up.
“I want to emphasize that the quality of the entering class — as measured by high school GPA and SAT scores — is comparable to the entering cohort in previous years,” Erickson said. “Also noteworthy is the fact that we have just over 2,000 paid accepts for the summer at University Park. This will be an all-time high for summer starts by first year students.”
President Erickson also recognized a number of achieving Penn State students who were in attendance, including Hearst journalism award winner Stephen Pianovich, THON Executive Director Ryan Patrick, the Nittany Lion Rob Nellis, and national champion wrestlers Quentin Wright and Ed Ruth.
Next up was the public comment session, typically held at the end of the meeting but moved up this time. Ten people spoke for three minutes each about issues they wanted to bring before the board. Most noteworthy this week was the addition of outspoken former football player Franco Harris to the speakers list. Here’s a rundown of the ten speakers:
- Robert Bannon, a World Campus student, was unhappy with the overall governance of the university. “This board continues to show its ineptitude,” he said. “Failure to resign from the board is unfortunate, to run for reelection is an abomination.”
- Bill Cluck, a then Board of Trustees candidate, spoke on a number of different issues, from naming a Creamy ice cream flavor after Ammerman to the conflict of interest provision in the governance reform motion that passed (which he disagreed with).
- Vincent Crespi spoke about being more transparent with the natural gas pipeline project that the board approved that would run a high-pressure pipeline through parts of the borough. The university has asked the contractor to reconsider the original proposed route.
- Gordon De Jong, a retired professor who spent 49 years at Penn State, emphasized that the priority should always be education. “The primary goal of Penn State now, and for the future, and certainly for the selection of the next president is academic excellence,” he said. Penn state had 28 academic programs that ranked in the top 10 — this is a phenominal record.”
- Janet Engeman also spoke about the pipeline and encouraged the board to be more transparent with decisions that involve the community.
- Franco Harris spoke about general board governance, focusing on Joe Paterno for about half of his remarks. “November of 2011 were the most turbulent time in Penn State history. We needed strong leadership and you gave us John Surma instead,” he said. “How did it feel like to go after an 85-year-old man to go after a sick, old, and frail man? Joe Paterno’s spirit is stronger than ever. We will never back down. We will never give up. Never”
- Paul Ferrera, a Penn State senior graduating this weekend, spoke in stark opposition to Harris’ statements. Ferrera was disappointed in the candidates for the board this year and said that the focus should not be on Joe Paterno, but on the students. “If we end up with a board full of Paterno faithfuls, we’re going to fall behind,” he said. “As a student who has gone through this for the last year and a half…please stop…Put your differences aside. Reunite. Refocus on what makes this place great.”
- Jeffrey Goldsmith, a trustee candidate, urged the board to table the governance reform proposal. “Your actions have caused a blemish on Penn State’s image,” he said.
- Former Penn State football player Brian Hand spoke about tuition increases and used a long football metaphor to say that the board needed to fight for the residents of Pennsylvania. “I think we’re going in the wrong direction,” he said. “I think we’re at halftime and down by 20 points…it’s time right now to fight…your quarterback’s name is Hope.”
- Herb Kunkle, an orthopedic surgeon, spoke on the general state of the university.
Trustee Ed Hintz made a few remarks after the public comment section, upset that most of the dissenting speakers seemed to only bring up “one or two issues.” The crowd jeered, but Chairman Masser brought the meeting back to order.
The Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life had two main issues to present to the Board. The first was the approval of the new Vice Provost Nicholas Jones. The next was the approval of the split between the Dickinson School of Law. The law school will be split into two independently accredited campuses by 2016-2017, which one campus in Carlisle and Penn State’s own campus here at University Park. Both campuses will continue to operate under the name the Dickson School of Law of Penn State University, differentiated by the location and educational programming of each campus, according to a release.
Next up was the Committee on Finance, Business, and Capital Planning. A number of projects from the committee were approved, including:
- 2-year, $44.6 million HUB Expansion project
- $8.5 million WiFi expansion to upgrade equipement and provider wider WiFi coverage on campus
- Naming the baseball stadium at Penn State Worthington Scranton “Matt McGloin Field”
- Expanding an agreement with Accuweather to provide emergency storm information
Described as the “most comprehensive change” made to organizational documents in Penn State’s history, the Committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning introduced a slew of reforms in the university governing documents. Some of the major changes included:
- Removing the Penn State president and Pennsylvania governor as voting members of the board, making for a total of 30 voting members down from 32
- Removing the president as the secretary of the board
- Term limits for trustees (other than ex officio trustees) limited to 12 consecutive years
- Waiting period for University employees to serve on the board extended from three to five years
- Quorum requirement modified from 13 to a majority
- Selection to the Executive Committee redefined
- Expanded conflict of interest policy
- A section describing the process for the removal of a trustee was added
“With these collective changes, practically all of the auditor general’s recommendations and to the extent they relate to the organizational documents, the Freeh Group’s recommendations, have been dealt with in whole or in part,” Jim Boardhurst, the chair of the committee said.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano took issue with the trustee removal process, calling it “too vague.” The policy would require a super majority to remove a trustee who violates his or her “fiduciary duty” but Lubrano insisted that only one other school in the Big Ten has a similar policy.
“I’d like to understand, before we get into what constitutes a breach, what we looked at before we determined that we needed this policy at this time,” Lubrano said.
Lubrano was the only trustee to vote against the changes.
Karen Peetz, chairwoman of the Trustee Presidential Selection Council, gave an update on the status of the search. Peetz says that there are over 300 candidates and expects the board to approve the next president in November.
“Facilitated discussions have been held with a wide range of stakeholders,” Peetz said, “including the University’s equity commissions, Student Leaders Roundtable, Faculty Senate leadership, Council of Campus Chancellors, Staff Advisory Council and the Executive Board of the Alumni Association to name just a few.”
Peetz encouraged interested parties to go to the presidential search website to give their input.
Finally, the alumni election results were announced. PS4RS endorsed candidates Barbara Doran, Bill Oldsey, and Ted Brown swept the election by a considerable margin, receiving 15,085, 13,940, and 11,403 votes respectively. Excited gasps could be heard throughout the room after the results were announced. The fourth place finisher Paul Suhey was a whopping 6,882 votes short of winning reelection.
“This is not just a small, crazy contingent of alumni, this is a very widespread group, and they’re not giving up,” said Doran after her victory. “The board dismisses PS4Rs as this militant radical group, and I can tell you it’s much deeper than that.”
“I’m going to make this a top priority in my professional life,” Oldsey said. “I think we need engaged trustees that are willing to make Penn state very much a priority in their professional lives, and I know I can do it.”
Paul Suhey, who has faced significant criticism from his fellow Penn State lettermen and others in the Penn State community during this election cycle, was gracious in defeat. He released a statement immediately after the results were announced.
“It has been an honor to serve on the Penn State University Board for 15 years. I am proud of my service and I am proud of this Board,” Suhey said. “I want to offer my congratulations to the newly elected alumni trustees. I know they will be as proud as I was to represent the best and largest alumni association in the world.”
The next board meeting will be held on July 12 at the Penn State Fayette campus in Uniontown. The three new candidates will be seated at that meeting.