UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State trustees defended on Thursday the confidential search process to select the university’s next president after it came under attack by the most outspoken member of the board.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano criticized the confidential process as too exclusive and ignited a debate during the board’s governance committee meeting. Lubrano hinted at making a motion to modify the selection process, but the meeting ended without a move and it remains to be seen if he’ll try that when the full board meets Friday afternoon.
Twelve trustees are on the search group tasked with choosing the successor to Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who has said he will retire by June 30. The search council’s charge is to bring a candidate for approval of the full board, but Lubrano wants all 30 trustees to interview the finalists and narrow down the pool to the one choice.
“It’s a valid concern when you say to 18 members of your board, ‘Here’s a person, you can vote up or down,’ ” Lubrano said. “This is the most important role we play as trustees.”
Lubrano said he doesn’t think the next president will get a unanimous vote without all 30 being involved.
The debate Thursday underscored the growing dissatisfaction other trustees have with Lubrano’s dissent. Keith Eckel, Paul Silvis and Richard Dandrea took turns voicing their support for the search process, saying a confidential process will protect candidates from their employers finding out they’re shopping for another job and that the board members who’ve been selected to participate in the process should be entrusted to make the right decision.
Near the end of the meeting, the debate turned ugly and the figurative gloves came off. Lubrano told Eckel he doesn’t have confidence in those on the committee, and Dandrea described Lubrano as someone who was “getting disruptive when you don’t get your way.”
Dandrea, a Pittsburgh lawyer, and Lubrano, a businessman from the eastern part of the state, have butted heads before, as Dandrea lectured Lubrano about dissent at September’s meeting.
Dandrea, who is not on the search council, was frank in explaining why the group can’t encompass the full board. He said confidential information has leaked out of the board in the past, but he stopped short of naming names or scenarios.
“It’s a problem with our board, and it’s a good reason why we cannot have the full board engaged to interview three finalists,” said Dandrea, who was selected as a business and industry delegate in May and was not on the board when it approved the presidential search process last year.
Eckel struck a more diplomatic tone with Lubrano, although the exchange went south in a hurry, too.
Eckel disagreed with Lubrano about whether it matters if a constituency group is more represented than another on the selection council. A trustee is a trustee, he indicated.
“When I look around this committee or our board, I see members of the board of trustees,” he said. “I don’t see someone elected by the agricultural society, I don’t see someone elected by the alumni, I don’t see somebody from business and industry. I see trustees — all equal in their ability and right to serve.
“You have to have confidence in the people you’re working with.”
Lubrano shot back, saying the confidence in trustees has been whittled away over the past two years since the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocked the university.
“To refuse to acknowledge that is to keep your head in the sand,” he told Eckel. “So we clearly have a difference of opinion.”
Trustee Carl Shaffer asked Lubrano why he didn’t oppose the process before it was approved last November, and Lubrano said no one knew what the composition of the search committee would be at the time.
Penn State’s search for a president appeared close to the finish line a few weeks ago when the university had called for a special meeting of the board on campus. But the meeting was abruptly called off, and the following week, a New York newspaper reported the university’s choice had been found to have been padding his pay as the president of a medical school in Syracuse.
The reported candidate, David Smith, of the Upstate Medical University, was suspended and later resigned from his post.
The university has not confirmed or denied the report, citing the confidentiality of the search process.
Meanwhile, Penn State has restarted the search, and the board Chairman Keith Masser recently said “all options are open.”