UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State abruptly called off a special board meeting on Friday that sources have said was for hiring the new university president.
The university announced on Wednesday afternoon the cancellation of the public meeting Friday and a closed-door executive session that was to have taken place Thursday evening at the Nittany Lion Inn.
The meeting was “delayed indefinitely to allow for further consideration on the matter,” the university said in an announcement. A spokesman declined to elaborate.
Another executive session on Friday will still be held, but it will not be open to the public, the university’s announcement said.
A legal notice published Wednesday morning in the Centre Daily Times said the public meeting was for consideration of a resolution regarding a personnel decision. The board of trustees’ website says its members are responsible for one personnel decision, hiring the president.
President Rodney Erickson has said he will retire by June 30 next year, when his contract expires, and the search for his successor appears close to the finish line, as the university has repeatedly said officials hoped to make their decision around November.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano told the CDT he does not know why the meeting was canceled.
The task of selecting Erickson’s replacement has been the charge of a group of 12 trustees led by business and industry trustee Karen Peetz. The process has been confidential, and the group has released no details outside the target hiring date of November.
Marianne Alexander, one of 12 trustees on the search committee, declined to identify the name of the new president on Wednesday when reached by phone in Ellicott City, Md. “My lips are sealed,” she said.
Trustee Paul Silvis declined to comment and trustee Keith Eckel did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Erickson was promoted from provost to president on Nov. 9, 2011, when then-President Graham Spanier was fired by the board of trustees days after the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal rocked the university. He’s awaiting trial in Dauphin County along with ex-administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, and their lawyers say they are innocent of perjury and related charges stemming from the Sandusky scandal.
Penn State has used the headhunter firm Isaacson Miller in the search for Erickson’s successor, and officials said they would look cast a wide net by considering candidates in both higher education and private industry.
Board Chairman Keith Masser issued one of the few updates on the search during a Faculty Senate meeting last week, when he said he hoped the next president would be selected by the end of November.
As the rumors swirled on the Internet about possible candidates to be the university’s 18th president, one name was quickly batted down, the chancellor of the State University of New York system, Nancy Zimpher. Both Penn State and the SUNY system officials said Zimpher was never a candidate.
On campus Wednesday, students said they were excited about the prospect of a new president, whenever it would finally happen and whoever the person is. Students were quick to acknowledge Erickson for taking over amid the darkest days at Penn State, and they recognized his work to make Penn State a better place.
“It’s a way to get to solid ground after the shakiness of the scandal,” said senior Olivia Garbett, of Mount Lebanon. “We need to stop thinking about it, stop talking about it.”
Garbett said she hopes the the next president can work on other issues, such as minimizing tuition increases and including more in the cost of tuition, such as a gym membership.
Whoever is chosen to be the next president, he or she will face challenges on several fronts.
The president will be tasked with guiding the continued growth of Penn State’s research and teaching endeavors, according to an online candidate profile developed for the search. The president also will have to deal with challenges such as decreased state funding and the future of the university’s branch campuses, some of which have seen declining enrollment.
And university officials hope the next president will be able to restore trust with the people in the community who’ve been critical of the way the university handled the events of the Sandusky scandal, such as the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno.
The president is one of the top-level administration positions that have turned over since the Sandusky scandal led to a shakeup in Old Main and elsewhere on campus.
The university has hired a new provost, general counsel, athletic director and vice president for finance and business over the past two years. The most recent two of the four, Provost Nick Jones and General Counsel Steve Dunham, came from Johns Hopkins University.
In addition to Peetz, Silvis, Eckel and Alexander, the trustees on the search committee are board Chairman Keith Masser, James Broadhurst, Mark Dambly, Ken Frazier, Edward Hintz, Peter Khoury, Ira Lubert and Linda Strumpf.
The chairman of Penn State’s current $2 billion fundraising campaign, Peter Tombros, is also on the committee.
(This report was updated Wednesday to reflect the publication of the legal notice and the subsequent cancellation of the meeting. Watch here for updates.)