Penn State trustees testify to Senate committee on board composition

mdawson@centredaily.comMarch 19, 2013 

— Penn State trustee James Broadhurst thinks the size of the university’s governing body is OK for now, and he supports a new provision that will provide a way to remove a rebel trustee.

But fellow trustee Anthony Lubrano thinks the opposite. A smaller board means a more engaged board, and the state should take action to reduce the size. Plus, he thinks the remove-the-trustee provision is aimed at him.

The opposing stances were voiced Monday, when Broadhurst and Lubrano testified before the Senate State Government Committee about the governance reforms the trustees are taking up in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Their testimonies underscored the divide that exists on the board over some of the recommendations from former Auditor General Jack Wagner and the ideologies for best practices in a post-Sandusky atmosphere.

“This is serious business,” said Lubrano, the freshman trustee, about serving on the board. “For me, I found if this board were smaller, I think we could all be engaged.”

In taking the testimony, the senators said they wanted to discern whether the failures from the Sandusky scandal were because of the people involved or the way the governance was laid out.

For instance, Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said the board was left “flat-footed” because former senior officials such as Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley testified to a grand jury but most of the board did not know about it.

Broadhurst had to have left the hearing with the impression that the senators were gunning for him. He faced the critical questions, and got put in his place when Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, asked if the board consulted the “highly respected faculty” in the College of Education’s Center for the Study of Higher Education for feedback on their governance reforms.

“I have not personally done that,” Broadhurst said.

“Well, I hope you do touch base with them,” said Dinniman, who got his doctorate while studying in the center, “since, … their professors are some of the best in this nation and universities all over the world ask them for their opinion. And it’s right near your backyard.”

The reforms the board has rolled out already, Broadhurst said, include a public comment period during board meetings, which have turned into verbal assaults toward the trustees from angry alumni, as well as the creation of new committees and implementing 12-year term limits for board members.

The board is proposing removing voting powers from the university president and state governor. They also are recommending increasing the number for a quorum from 13 to 16 and having the secretary of the board be elected instead of that position being the university president’s responsibility.

The question over the president’s and governor’s voting powers likely will be approved by the board in May and should not be something the General Assembly has to debate with the university. The board’s governance committee forwarded those reforms to the board for a full vote in May.

But the question over the size of the board well may be one issue that dogs the university and may see state lawmakers take action.

Broadhurst said trustees do not agree on what the size of the board should be now and that trustees will have to take a deeper look at the issue before a proposal can be made. He told the senators that the committee structure has been revamped, and now there are six committees.

“We recognize that we’re a large board ... but we also feel that six committees that we have instituted are very important,” Broadhurst said.

Wagner’s report said to reduce the number of trustees, and Lubrano supports that. He thinks the issue will languish on the back burner if it’s not addressed now.

“I’m afraid we’re going to kick the can down the road,” Lubrano said.

Lubrano also told the Senate committee that he wants a more transparent process for the election of business and industry trustees. Lubrano said he asked to see the applications for that process and was told he could not see it.

Board Chairman Keith Masser, who sat with Broadhurst during his testimony, said the board is looking to review all the appointment processes and will even look at the alumni election process because of the large number of candidates who have run this year and last year.

Corman called into question the board’s provision to remove a trustee who violates his or her fiduciary duties or expectations of membership. Corman said voters should be the ultimate judge on that when the trustee is up for re-election.

Fellow committee member Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, said he was discouraged that a trustee could be removed for speaking out against a decision the board made.

Wagner’s successor, Eugene DePasquale, testified, too, and took a hard line on the status quo of the university. He said it would be a “big mistake” if Penn State officials were left to reform themselves.

He said trustees need to know their service is “not just some club anymore.” He also called the president’s powers a “recipe for disaster.”

The hearing had a few moments that were gag-reel worthy.

Dinniman said that serving on boards requires a total commitment, in that serving on them is more than honorary.

Masser responded, “I can assure you that it is no longer nice and it is no longer honorary” to be on the board.

The crowd hissed and heckled, some saying Masser should resign.

Masser later rescinded the comment and said it was an honor to be on the board.

Later, Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, asked Lubrano why alumni are angry at the board.

“You should have been at the meeting Friday,” Lubrano said, referring to remarks alumni and Penn State lettermen hurled at the board last week.

“I think, more than anything else, it’s a sense of a lack of fairness and due process,” Lubrano went on. “And now there’s an unwillingness to actually deal with that in an honest way, and quite frankly so much time has elapsed that it would be very difficult for those folks on the board in November 2011 to regain credibility.”

Though Lubrano did say the Penn State community is forgiving.

Trustee Stephanie Deviney attended the hearing but did not testify. After the hearing, when asked to respond to Lubrano’s comments, she said people appreciate his penchant for being outspoken.

Deviney, the board’s vice chairwoman, said Lubrano’s statements and recommendations from Wagner will be considered.

“Nothing is off the table,” said Deviney, who faces a daunting re-election campaign amid alumni furor. “We want to show everyone we hear them, we’re about change and moving forward with those changes.”

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