Penn State trustees consultant: No ‘clear consensus’ on governance

mcarroll@centredaily.comMay 7, 2014 

Keith W. Eckel, chair of the Penn State Board of Trustees governance and long-range planning committee, talks during a meeting at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on Thursday, November 21, 2013.

CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE — CDT photo Buy Photo

— A study of governance structures at 20 other universities won’t provide easy answers for Penn State as it explores possible reforms here, a consultant said Wednesday.

Holly Gregory, hired to help move along a reform debate among members of the Penn State board of trustees, presented the study’s findings Wednesday, as several days of board activity got underway.

The study, which polled public and private universities from Michigan to MIT, offers a look at the sizes and compositions of boards at 20 other schools.

What the findings don’t provide, Gregory said, is a clear path for Penn State to follow. No two of the universities studied has the same structure, she said.

There are divergent opinions among the board members about the university’s governance structure, and they have had difficulties advancing the issue. The meeting Wednesday was the third since Gregory was brought on to help facilitate the process.

“A clear consensus has not yet emerged, nor does there appear to be, frankly, a clear consensus on what underlying problems we are attempting to solve,” she said.

Among the findings:

•  Penn State’s 32 total trustees is equal to the mean of the 20 universities surveyed, while its 30 voting members is slightly above the mean (26).

•  20 percent of the board’s voting members are appointed by the governor; that’s slightly less than the mean (21 percent).

•  The board’s eight committees is equal to the average.

•  Penn State’s nine seats allocated to alumni is significantly higher than the mean (3).

•  55 percent of the universities had a voting student member; Penn State does not.

•  A governor sits on 30 percent of the boards, and can vote on 15 percent; Pennsylvania’s governor sits on the Penn State board but doesn’t vote.

The governance committee broke into small groups after the presentation Wednesday and board members were tasked with discussing ways to move forward.

“We are now at the point where we need to dive deep into the results of Holly’s efforts,” said governance committee chairman Keith Eckel.

Eckel said the committee may have to hold an additional session before the board’s next gathering in July if members hope to advance reform discussions to the entire board by then. He said September might be a more realistic timeline.

“The key question we need to ask is: Is this best for the governance of Penn State University?” he said.

The governance issues under study are the best composition of the board, term limits for trustees, the way board members are elected and selected, the qualifications of trustees, and the board committees.

Penn State’s board previously adopted reforms in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, such as removing the voting powers of the university president and governor, expanding a conflict of interest policy, and requiring a five-year waiting period before a trustee can take a job at the university.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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