Penn State trustees debate board reforms

mcarroll@centredaily.comJuly 10, 2014 

— The sometimes contentious debate about how to reform the Penn State board of trustees continued Thursday, and topics bounced from reducing the number of alumni-elected seats to adding permanent spots for stakeholders like students and faculty.

The committee, which has been divided on whether changes are needed to the size and composition of the board, tackled a number of issues during a rapid-fire meeting that lasted just less than two hours.

Discussion centered partly on feedback from the committee, which was asked to form small groups in May and answer a few basic questions about how to proceed.

Consultant Holly Gregory, who was brought in to help facilitate the debate, said the feedback showed there is no clear sense that the committee thinks a reduction in the size of the board is necessary.

Trustee Anthony Lubrano has been a proponent of shrinking the board, and he spoke in favor of that again Thursday, saying a smaller group would produce more engaged and educated members.

Lubrarno said that’s the mindset the board has had in the past, when “a few people were involved in the decision-making process, and the rest of the group went along.”

“I think that has to change,” he said.

Trustee Barbara Doran backed Lubrano, but other members of the governance committee opposed the idea of shrinking the board for the sake of having a smaller group.

Richard Dandrea said he doesn’t think the board is too large, nor does he think the size leads to a lack of engagement. Board chairman Keith Masser said there are benefits to having a larger panel.

“A larger size board requires a larger consensus, a larger number to form a majority,” he said. “It forces you into the larger point of view.”

Masser said he wouldn’t be opposed to a larger board, but thinks the current size is “in a sweet spot.”

According to Gregory, the feedback indicated that there is no magic number the board should achieve, larger or smaller, but that everyone agreed all members should be engaged.

The feedback also showed that the committee is split on whether to add a permanent faculty member to the board, but seemed to favor including a student and alumni association member under certain circumstances.

Representatives of all three of those groups attended the meeting Thursday to lobby for a position at the board table.

Penn State professor emeritus John Nichols said that faculty would like two seats on the board. He argued that his peers know the university and its mission best, and said that adding an internal academic member would improve governance.

Trustee emeritus David Jones said he doesn’t support the idea of having a faculty member on the board, because they are employees of the university.

President Eric Barron, when asked to weigh in, said he would prefer not to dictate who should be on the board, pointing out that board members ultimately are his bosses.

He did say he was comfortable having a student and faculty representatives on the board during his time at Florida State.

Masser said Gov. Tom Corbett indicated he would be willing to reduce his appointments from six to five to accommodate a full-time student member. That decision ultimately would be the board’s to make.

Kay Salvino, president of the Penn State Alumni Association, asked that the group gain a permanent member. The spot would go to the previous acting president under the plan.

Lubrano and others came out against that idea, saying that any member of the alumni association would also qualify to run for one of the nine seats elected by Penn State graduates.

But Dandrea and Masser later in the meeting questioned whether the board is too heavy with those seats. They cited a large number of alumni who are appointed in other ways and low turnouts in the alumni elections.

Masser asked whether there should be a “more diverse process” for alumni to get on the board.

The meeting Thursday ended before the group could discuss all of Gregory’s findings.

Dandrea said the committee plans to meet again next month and hopes to approve reform recommendations that can be passed along to the whole board in time for its September meeting.

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