Penn State’s trustees are closing in on plans to shrink the size of the board, and the question now becomes: by how much?
The board’s governance committee, which has been toiling for months on possible reform, set out three proposals Friday at a marathon 41/2-hour meeting.
Two of the proposals would take the number of voting members from 30 to 27, and the third would drop that number to 18, dramatically reshaping the board.
The proposals set up three distinct looks for a future board:
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Proposal A would drop three alumni-elected members and add full-time seats for students, faculty and the alumni association in their place. The three state secretaries on the board would be stripped of voting powers but would be kept on as ex-officio trustees, along with the governor and university president. The board would remain at 32 members under this plan, but voting members would be cut by three.
Proposal B drops state officials from the board altogether. Only the university president remains as an ex-officio member. There would be no change in the number of alumni-elected trustees (nine) or those appointed by business (six) and agricultural (six) groups. The governor would lose one of six appointed spots, and that would be used to create a seat for a full-time student on the board. There are only 28 board members under this plan.
Proposal C includes the most drastic changes. Of the 18 voting trustees, seven would be alumni-elected, two governor-appointed, one student-nominated and eight picked at large by the board. The plan does away with business- and agriculture-appointed trustees. Penn State’s president and the state secretary of education would be nonvoting members, rounding the full board up to 20.
The committee clashed on issues — most notably, and heatedly, whether to cut alumni-elected seats.
They found common ground elsewhere: All agreed to add a full-time student who is nominated by fellow students. It would depoliticize the process (the governor has appointed the past few student members), trustees said.
In the end, the committee also agreed not to push forward with recommendations Friday. It initially had planned to send a proposal on to the full board by its September meeting. Now the committee will continue to talk next month, and the full board will hold a special meeting in October to consider reform.
Some other highlights from the conversation Friday:
On the size of the board:
Trustee Barbara Doran, who supports Proposal C, said she is concerned the board is too large and that decisions are being made by a handful of members.
“I have observed that happening here,” Doran said. “Smaller subsets are meeting regularly and being briefed, and others are not.”
The idea didn’t gain much traction with the committee as a whole. Board President Keith Masser said that having more members requires a larger consensus on issues and more votes to form a majority. Other trustees said more members are needed to fill the board’s seven subcommittees.
“ ... It doesn’t have anything to do with balance or control or anything else; I’m very concerned that we have enough individuals to do the job,” committee chairman Keith Eckel said. “I’m concerned that we have actively engaged individuals.”
On the composition:
The committee wrestled over a number of issues, including how state officials should participate on the board and how agriculture and business trustees are appointed.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano noted how rarely the governor and state secretaries participate in meetings and questioned how engaged they are.
Richard Dandrea said that having a dedicated line of communication with the state officials is good, and added that the government gives the university significant support.
Doran asked whether having six agricultural-appointed trustees makes sense today, when a small percentage of Penn State’s students are in that field.
Carl Shaffer, a trustee appointed by those groups, said agriculture is the state’s biggest business and that the university’s cooperative extension serves all counties in the state and “brings university research to the people in Pennsylvania.”