PENN STATE'S TRUSTEE COUP REFLECTS A DEEPER CRISIS

February 21, 2003 

Editor's note: This 2003 column was picked up by a another news outlet.

All engineers and industrial professionals in Pennsylvania take notice. You have been snookered by a coup in the boardroom at Penn State. When the school was established as a land-grant college in 1862, its mission was to teach "agriculture and the mechanic arts." The governing board was expanded in 1875, adding trustees from engineering societies to those from agricultural societies to reflect this founding mission of Penn State. Now, engineers and practitioners of the mechanic arts have been amended out of the Penn State charter as the electors of six "industrial" trustees on the 32-member university governing board. It is a coup because it was spearheaded by trustees who occupy ill-gotten industrial trusteeships and who have now assured their own re election. Note that an analogous election process for the six "agricultural" trustees by delegates from agricultural societies remains unchanged by the amendment. E.R. "Ed" Hintz Jr., the current board chairman, and E.P. "Ted" Junker III, the previous chairman, hold seats that were hijacked from the designated engineering and industrial constituencies, using delegates who were employees of PMA Capital Insurance, a public corporation with which the university has had a long-term, multimillion dollar business relationship, and State College residents who were recruited by PMA. (See CDT, March 16, 2002, or www.centredaily.com/archives.) Frederick W. Anton III, chairman of PMA Capital Corp., has assisted Penn State in facilitating elections of industrial trustees for over two decades. Some have called him the 33rd trustee.

Both Hintz and Junker — and the other four industrial trustees — have now guaranteed their positions as brokers in a power bloc of trustees that has controlled the governance of Penn State in recent years. There is no further need for contrived elections. The stealth maneuver is revealed on the university Web site (www.psu.edu/trustees) in recently posted minutes of the Nov. 22, 2002, board meeting. The coup was accomplished by amending the charter to eliminate the election of six trustees by engineering, mining, manufacturing, and mechanical delegates, and replace that process with a "selection group" of board members who will recommend trustee candidates from business and industry. The selection group is a five-member subset of the current board, and three of the five will be industrial trustees. Such apostolic-like succession ensures that all future trustees from business and industry will be tainted because of the actions of their predecessors who will have ordained them. Those to be selected for 2003 will be confirmed by the total board at the May 16 meeting at University Park. While it may be perfectly acceptable and legal to amend the charter, doing it quietly and without the usual public relations fanfare begs the question on what other shenanigans or crises are under cover. The process that improperly assigned the industrial trustee seats to non-industrial benefactors ostensibly began in 1986. Even after the scam was discovered, documented and reported to the board and university President Graham B. Spanier in 1996, the cover-up and stonewalling continued for another six years. Changing the charter is a big deal. In the past, suggesting a change to the 1855 school charter was considered almost sacrilegious, and there had been no amendments to it for the last 40 years. The first amendment in 1862 changed the school name to The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, and there had been only a dozen amendments since then. I suspect that Hintz and Junker will attempt to put a ribbon on their successful coup by nominating their chief benefactor for a prestigious university award, such as honorary alumnus.

Now, the unethical and, I believe, illegal process that rewarded selected benefactors with trusteeships under the guise of a publicly-exhibited democratic election has been codified. The selection process will continue, but there will be no more fake and contrived balloting by delegates. A shameful chapter in Penn State governance is now history. But the environment and principals that permitted it are still active. The deeper crisis continues. The university will soon celebrate its $1.3-billion Grand Destiny capital campaign. Let all residents of the commonwealth ask what will Penn State's "Final Destiny" goal be as a "molder of men and women" — students, alumni, and future trustees with exemplary character and integrity. The Penn State alma mater states it best: "May no act of ours bring shame."

Bob Horst, of Lancaster, served as Penn State trustee from 1992 to 1995.