State Rep. Scott Conklin proposes bill to reduce size of Penn State’s board, limit powers of president and governor

mdawson@centredaily.comDecember 11, 2012 

— Penn State’s board of trustees would shrink by 10 seats and the university’s president would not be one who keeps a spot, according to legislation proposed Tuesday by a state lawmaker who wants to reform how the university governs itself.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said his bills will make the trustees and university more accountable and transparent and more in line with how other universities are run. The legislation comes on the heels of recommendations of outgoing state Auditor General Jack Wagner, who called on the legislature to take on reforming Penn State’s old way of governance.

“To say it’s time to update the current system is an understatement,” said Conklin, who said he has bipartisan support. “My legislation aims to reorganize what has been deemed to be an unusual, contradictory and conflicted board structure.”

The biggest proposed change is whittling down the board from 32 members to 22. Three alumni seats would be gone, as would the president’s seat. The governor would still keep his seat, but that post would be stripped of its voting power.

In his report last month, Wagner said the university’s 32-member board was among the largest in the country.

Board officers, such as the chairman, would be elected each year under the proposed legislation. And board members would be allowed three, three-year terms for a maximum of nine years on the board. They are currently allowed 12 years.

The proposed legislation would subject Penn State to the state’s Right-to-Know law. It would include the University of Pittsburgh as well as Temple and Lincoln universities.

Trustee Anthony Lubrano stood side by side with Conklin as the lawmaker revealed the details of the bills. Lubrano, who said he was not speaking for his fellow trustees, gave his support for the reforms.

“We need to make changes that will allow us to provide openness and transparency,” said Lubrano, one of the newly elected trustees. “This legislation does it.”

Conklin joins a growing list of people who have been offering up their advice on how to make Penn State better.

Penn State has been working toward implementing the recommendations from Louis Freeh’s investigative report. The university also has been implementing policies and procedures as part of an athletics department integrity agreement connected with the penalties from the NCAA.

Penn State spokesman David La Torre said the university welcomes Conklin’s ideas and will review his proposal in the coming months.

Trustees are slated to review Wagner’s suggestions at a retreat next month.

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a group whose members have been highly critical of the board of trustees, is in favor of reform that would remove trustees who were serving in November 2011, when the charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky became public and the board fired head football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier.

“We will remove them or replace them one way or another,” said spokeswoman Maribeth Schmidt. “They have demonstrated irresponsible leadership and absolutely no defense of the (u)niversity for more than a year.”

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

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