Penn State trustee committee tabs consultant who advocated to ‘marginalize’ dissenters

mdawson@centredaily.comNovember 15, 2013 

The hiring of a governance consultant is creating the latest divide on Penn State’s board of trustees, as one member said Friday that the recommended pick once advocated for marginalizing dissenters on the board.

The board’s governance and long-range planning committee voted Friday to recommend that the full board hire a New York law firm to help lead it through tackling reforms such as the optimal size of the board, trustee term limits, and the way trustees are selected and elected.

The move came during a 30-minute conference call, and the board will take up the recommendation when the trustees meet next week on campus.

Neither the name of the firm nor the bid amount was disclosed. The university said the firm will be announced at next week’s meeting.

Trustee Anthony Lubrano was vehemently opposed to hiring the New York firm, saying that a woman from the firm that’s being retained for the work made the marginalization comment at a conference.

“I don’t understand how the board of trustees could possibly accept the notion that a consultant provides that you marginalize a dissenting view,” Lubrano said before the committee voted. “It’s foreign to me.”

Trustee Barbara Doran said she asked during the on-campus consultant interviews two weeks ago if the woman would explain her comment. Doran said the woman never emailed her.

“It’s a tiny red flag,” Doran said.

Lubrano also said he has concerns about the firm’s previous relationship with one of the trustees on the committee.

In addition to Lubrano, the committee consists of its chairman, Keith Eckel, and Marianne Alexander, Jesse Arnelle, James Broadhurst, Richard Dandrea, Doran, board Chairman Keith Masser and Carl Shaffer.

Lubrano and Doran voted against recommending the firm for approval.

The New York firm was six trustees’ top choice among the three consultants that had participated in closed-door interviews two weeks ago on campus. The names of those trustees were was not revealed. In all, the governance committee received 11 responses to the original request for proposals, and Doran, Eckel and Masser whittled that number to the three finalists.

Penn State’s board adopted a package of reforms in May after months of reviewing recommendations from internal and external groups.

Among them, the board stripped the president and governor of their voting powers, established a wider conflict of interest policy for trustees, and required a trustee wait five years before working at the university.

But not everyone thinks the board has gone far enough.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, and other lawmakers have proposed legislation to codify the reforms. Next week, state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and a northeastern Pennsylvania senator will introduce new legislation.

The Freeh report contained 119 recommendations to improve governance, security and other reforms, and the university has implemented all but two that it deemed not applicable to Penn State operations.

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