Despite bipartisan support, Penn State board reform bill stuck in Senate committee

mdawson@centredaily.comMarch 2, 2014 

The Penn State University Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Monday, February 17 to vote and announce their selection of Eric Barron as the next president of the university.



    • Eight elected alumni

    • Five governor appointees

    • Five elected members from the agricultural societies

    • Five members elected by business and industry. They would be appointed by a trustee committee composed of the chairperson and one member from each constituency group.

    • Secretaries of Education and Agriculture would serve as nonvoting members.

    • Governor, lieutenant governor and all state row officers prohibited from serving on the board

The state lawmaker who drafted legislation to revamp Penn State’s board of trustees has gotten wide, bipartisan support from his fellow senators, but the bill itself has not yet gotten traction.

Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, has 34 co-sponsors on the bill, No. 1240, which would reduce the size of the board from 30 members to 23 and change the way trustees are selected.

Yudichak, a Penn State alumnus, said his legislation would restore public confidence in the board after its leaders were criticized over their handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The support Yudichak has gotten represents two-thirds of the Senate, with 19 Democrats and 15 Republicans behind it, including local Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township.

Despite the support, the bill has sat in the Senate’s State Government Committee since Feb. 4.

“We think it has merit,” said committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster. “It seems to be a comprehensive and well-thought-out approach.”

Smucker said the bill has not been brought up before the committee because he wants to see what kind of reforms Penn State’s board leadership comes up with. The board has hired a lawyer to consult on topics such as the size of the board and the trustee selection processes.

Last May, the board adopted a series of reforms, such as taking away the president’s and governor’s voting powers, expanding its committee structure and revamping the executive committee.

“They’ve taken some steps in the right direction, in my view,” Smucker said. “We’ll keep watching what they’re doing.”

Smucker seemed hesitant, though, for lawmakers to act unilaterally.

“There’s a clearly a role for the legislature in this, but we would prefer that be done in conjunction with the board,” he said. “We’re glad to see the direction they’re moving.”

Yudichak is eager to get his proposal moving forward, and he is of the opinion that Penn State’s board reform hasn’t gone far enough.

For instance, he pointed to Gov. Tom Corbett’s support of the board changing his membership to that of a nonvoting trustee. Yudichak questioned what would happen if Corbett doesn’t win re-election and the next governor wanted voting powers on the board.

“I’m concerned some of the internal changes don’t hold the same weight as the statute,” he said. “I think the changes should be enshrined in state law.”

During a state Senate Appropriations Committee hearing for Penn State and other universities last week, Yudichak told Penn State President Rodney Erickson that he has yet to hear from Old Main administrators about his bill. Yudichak now says he has a meeting this week with board leaders to discuss his proposal.

“I’m hopeful, but not encouraged, by the response that I’ve seen so far from the board of trustees,” he said.

After being questioned during the hearing, Erickson said board size is a question that needs more studying before anyone makes a decision.

“I think you can have large boards that operate very successfully, and you have small boards that operate very successfully,” Erickson said last week.

Yudichak’s bill would eliminate one trustee from each category of trustees. That means eight elected by alumni instead of nine and five instead of six from agricultural societies, governor appointees, and business and industry representatives.

The secretaries of the state departments of Education and Agriculture would lose their voting powers, too.

Penn State board leaders have been proponents of keeping the board at the same size, saying the number of committees — seven — requires a large number of trustees.

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