Our View | Governance cuts shouldn’t stop with Penn State board

November 29, 2013 

With local Sen. Jake Corman at his shoulder, Luzerne County legislator John Yudichak proposed further reducing the size of Penn State’s board of trustees to improve efficiency and increase engagement among board members.

As we’ve said repeatedly, we support trimming the size of the Penn State board, and we think the cutting should not stop there.

Pennsylvania’s other state-related universities have larger boards than Penn State, which would seem to suggest that those groups are even less efficient and members are even less likely to be fully engaged in their work.

And we think Yudichak, Corman and others should look in the mirror and take steps to reduce the size of the state General Assembly while they’re at it, to save taxpayers some money and to bring similar efficiencies to the governing process.

Despite a decade of debate and unfulfilled promises of reform, Pennsylvania still has 203 House members, 50 senators and a government that is too big and too expensive.

Sitting with our editorial board on Tuesday, Corman said he supports looking at Temple, Pitt and Lincoln University’s boards while addressing reform.

“If the argument is that Penn State’s board is too big,” Corman, R-Benner Township, said, “then how do you rationalize not including the others?”

Bingo.

Perhaps the Keystone State could become the model for university boards across the country, much as Penn State has become a model for operational reforms, as stated by NCAA sanctions monitor and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

In November 2012, when the Freeh findings and NCAA penalties were still fresh, Auditor General Jack Wagner proposed extensive governance reform measures for Penn State. Wagner later appeared at a public forum on the topic that was hosted by state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, who also supports reforms.

Wagner’s lengthy report included some illuminating information:

• Penn State had 32 trustees. But the other state-related schools all had more. Pitt had 40; Temple and Lincoln had 39. For each, the governor and president were voting members, although Penn State has since removed voting status from those two trustees.

• Across the Big Ten Conference, all governing boards had fewer members than Penn State, which joined in 1993. The exception might be Northwestern, which is private and did not disclose its numbers.

• Penn State had by far the most alumni members elected to its board (nine). Two other Big Ten schools — Indiana and Purdue — had three. The rest had zero.

• Penn State had six of its 32 trustees appointed by the governor. Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska had none. But Ohio State (17) and Iowa (9) had their entire boards appointed by their states’ top elected officials, and percentages were much higher at Illinois and Wisconsin than at Penn State.

• Wagner listed the country’s top schools by main-campus student population. The leaders included Arizona State, Central Florida, Ohio State, Minnesota, Texas and Florida. Penn State was ninth, and the highest-ranking university that elected alumni to its board.

Wagner’s reports would seem to show that university governance, at Penn State and everywhere, is a complicated topic. Opinions about what is best are as varied as the colleges and their boards.

And when government gets involved in anything, the level of complexity only goes up.

Corman acknowledged that there is no blueprint for university governance, either for legislators or the schools themselves.

“At the end of the day, the people who make up the board are more important than how many people are there,” Corman said.

He added: “I don’t think any of us is going to come down from Mount Sinai with a plan.”

We applaud the elected officials for paying attention to what’s happening at Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.

Corman said he and his colleagues want to “make sure the board knows we’re watching.”

We urge Yudichak, Corman, Conklin and any other lawmakers looking to wade further into the governance debate to include all state-related schools.

To do otherwise would be a punishment at Penn State rather than a policy improvement, the equivalent of legislative spot zoning.

And we urge our lawmakers to take the same “size matters” approach to their own ranks.

Corman noted that Yudichak “did a lot of research, and he came to the conclusion that, if nothing else, smaller is better.”

On that point, we completely agree.

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