Maybe Penn State trustees won’t have to keep their lips zipped after all.
In September, the committee on governance and long range planning voted to send a change to “expectations of membership” to the full board that aimed to make sure the board was presenting a united front.
The problem? The board doesn’t have a united front, and some of the members really want to talk about that — to the alumni, to the public, to their constituents and even to the press.
The board has 36 voting members, representing areas such as business and industry, agriculture, gubernatorial appointments, students, faculty, the alumni association and the group that has been the vocal minority since 2012, the nine members elected directly by the alumni. It has been hard to get the group to walk in step with the nine frequently voting as a block against the remaining board and even going as far as taking their case to court when they have felt shut out of information they believed they were entitled to see.
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The motion never went before the full board to become official policy after concerns were raised, including by some of those who voted for it, like David Han, who told the committee Thursday that he now believes “some of the changes are not aligned with where I think we should be going.”
“I think we need a thorough and thoughtful assessment, especially around civility and commentary,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t think changes couldn’t still be on the table. Of all the committee members, he was the only one who repeatedly returned to the theme of likely changing some aspects of the bylaws. He just wants to make sure they are the right changes, which he doesn’t think were reflected in the wording of the motion.
Among the contested points have been restrictions in comments on social media and groups of alumni in less formal situations, something even supporters of the measure in September seemed conflicted over.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s non-voting representative William Shipley said he thought the goals could be handled with “not so much revision as clarification.”
President Eric Barron’s concerns were less about message than information.
“It seems to me that it would be a good idea to say, ‘What is the purpose of this? Is it achieving its purpose?’ ” he said, pointing toward information leaked to the press. “You have to be able to have the confidence that sensitive information will not become part of the public domain until the board decides.”
The issue was referred back to a subcommittee.