Penn State trustee refutes criticism from auditor general

mdawson@centredaily.comNovember 15, 2012 

— One of Penn State’s trustees scoffed Thursday at recommendations from the state’s auditor general that include removing the president from its board of trustees and reducing the board to improve transparency and accountability.

“This is our university — this university is unique in a lot of ways from other universities,” said trustee Carl Shaffer during a committee meeting Thursday on governance issues. “I think it’s up to this board to decide how we’re going to take this university forward.”

Shaffer’s rebuttal came the day after Jack Wagner, the auditor general, called for state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett to change the way Penn State governs itself.

Shaffer said Penn State’s size and location are what make it different: “A lot of things might not fit for us,” he said.

Wagner thinks Penn State is operating under antiquated methods adopted in 1855 when the university was founded. Wagner said the board of trustees should be reduced from 32 to 21, the president’s powers should be reduced, trustees should not be allowed to slide into high-level university positions, the governor should not be a voting member, among others.

Local trustee Joel Myers said the university is in a period of introspection, given the fallout and scrutiny from the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, but that does not mean the university has to accept every recommendation people give.

“All these things are worthy of consideration,” Myers said.

Board Chairwoman Karen Peetz said the university will review Wagner’s recommendations. Peetz said she was not surprised by what Wagner proposed, and officials were told about Wagner was working on this past summer.

Wagner was most adamant about taking powers away from the university president, who is also the board’s secretary and serves on the board’s committees.

Peetz said removing that power could be seen as a negative by job candidates in the upcoming university’s presidential search.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said he plans to introduce legislation to change Penn State’s governing structure.

The university is already working on implementing the 119 recommendations by former FBI director Louis Freeh, and Peetz said the university’s Faculty Senate is planning to present its own recommendations to the board.

“Everybody wants to tell us what to do,” she said.

Peetz wants to have a consultant review all of the recommendations, find similarities and what it would consider best practices and then turn them over to the Association of Governing Bodies to get its experts’ take.

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.

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