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Alumni Trustees Ask For Legal Fees, President Barron Has None Of It

Eric Barron is playing no games with the seven alumni trustees suing the university.

Penn State’s president fired back today after Trustees Ted Brown, Barbara Doran, Bob Jubelirer, Anthony Lubrano, Bill Oldsey, Ryan McCombie, and Alice Pope — the seven alumni trustees who are currently entangled in litigation against the university over confidential documents — sent a letter yesterday asking for the university to pay their legal fees.

“We respectfully request that you confirm in writing by the close of business on Wednesday, May 6 that The University intends to promptly honor our indemnification request,” the trustees’ letter reads. “If not, the Alumni Trustees are prepared to file an action to enforce our indemnification rights.” The trustees cite a bylaw which states that Penn State will pay legal fees incurred by trustees — although it’s safe to say that people who wrote the bylaws could not have foreseen trustees of the university suing the university.

Barron denied the request in no uncertain terms, calling the lawsuits “frivolous and damaging.”

“Your request is made even more outrageous by your threat of yet another lawsuit against Penn State if we do not pay your costs of suing the university,” Barron said in his response. “The University will not pay you to sue us. If anything, you should be offering to reimburse the University for its legal costs in responding to this lawsuit. “

Barron’s letter was addressed to the aforementioned trustees and copied to the entire board. You can read the entire letter below:

This is in response to your letter to me of May 4, 2015, a copy of which is attached. In your letter, you made the demand that the University pay your legal fees and related expenses in connection with the growing number of lawsuits you have filed or threatened against the University and its Trustees. Your request is made even more outrageous by your threat of yet another lawsuit against Penn State if we do not pay your costs of suing the University.

First, the Bylaws do not require the University to pay for lawsuits against it, including frivolous and damaging lawsuits like the petition you filed yesterday.

As you are aware, your last lawsuit was completely unnecessary. You demanded the names and information about trustee candidates who were not selected, when confidentiality is a standard practice among non-profits to ensure that high-caliber candidates apply. You did so even though the requested documents have nothing to do with the exercise of your fiduciary duties. Board communications to you over the past few days clearly offered to make available to you the requested materials subject only to your commitment that you would keep the information confidential. Rather than simply agree to maintain that confidence, which, as fiduciaries, you are obligated by law and Board policies to do, you elected to litigate. It is difficult to fathom why you would squander University resources in such a manner. The University will not pay you to sue us. If anything, you should be offering to reimburse the University for its legal costs in responding to this lawsuit.

Second, as President, I am very concerned about your approach to confidentiality and to your fiduciary responsibilities. We have a growing number of failures to abide by the Board’s Expectations of Membership, even when the potential for serious financial harm to the University is evident. We have moved into a position of having to repeatedly reconfirm the commitment to confidentiality in order to protect the University from unnecessary harm. I now hear regularly from students, faculty, staff and alumni expressing both concern and fatigue in seeing our own Trustees suing their University. Penn State’s mission is teaching, research and service. Your actions are not serving that mission. It seems to many of us that this is becoming a campaign against Penn State. Please reconsider these unfortunate actions.

***

The full board meeting this Friday is shaping up to be a fun one.

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