Two former Penn State trustees have been recommended to get the distinctive emeritus status, but the discussion turned into a verbal battle with two trustees who said they think the university should hold off on that until deciding about honoring the late coach Joe Paterno.
The board will vote Friday whether to grant the status to Anne Riley and David Jones, who left the board last year. Riley lost her re-election bid, and Jones decided not to run.
The discussion over the emeritus status came Thursday during a sometimes heated governance committee meeting. The friction, namely between trustees Anthony Lubrano and James Broadhurst, could possibly give a glimpse into head-butting on the horizon over the issues the new slate of trustees parlayed into their election wins.
Lubrano forecast fallout from alumni who’d be upset with the university honoring Riley and Jones after they voted to fire Paterno after the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case rocked the university.
“I think we would be sending the wrong message to our community if we granted them the status,” Lubrano told the committee. “That would be a very bad decision on our part.”
First-year trustee Barbara Doran said she agreed.
But trustee James Broadhurst, who’d been confrontational with Lubrano earlier in the meeting over a separate issue, fought back.
“I feel sorry for the alumni who would be disappointed in this action. I really do,” Broadhurst said.
Broadhurst defended Riley and Jones, telling Lubrano that honoring them and honoring Paterno were squarely different issues.
“We’re talking about trustees,” Broadhurst said, referring to awarding emeritus status. “We’re not talking about distinguished individuals like Joe Paterno or Graham Spanier or Tim Curley.
“This is about something totally different.”
Broadhurst wasn’t the only one spoke up in defense of Riley and Jones.
Trustee Marianne Alexander said it was “unfair to hold these two people hostage to a very serious issue in our alumni community.” She called both “exemplary trustees” and said they met the criteria of serving with distinction.
“Quite frankly, we need their help as emeritus trustees,” she said.
Riley served on the board from 1997 to 2012 and is a retired English teacher at State College Area High School and former university alumni association president. Jones served on the board for the same length of time and was a longtime journalist with The New York Times.
The governance committee’s chairman, Keith Eckel, praised both of the former trustees in a statement released by the university. He said Jones asked tough questions and gave every decision a “thorough analysis.”
He said Riley’s loyalty to Penn State is unparalleled.
“She made many difficult decisions during her years of service and always made the decision based not on her personal preference but what was best for Penn State,” Eckel said.
In another matter, the governance committee will hire a lawyer with governance expertise to help the board move forward with governance reforms, such as the size of the board, its structure and selection. The hiring does not require board approval, as committees can retain counsel, Eckel said.
“These are not simple issues,” said Eckel, who recommended the action. “These issues need to be addressed, in my opinion, with a great deal of study.”
Eckel said he liked the idea of hiring a lawyer so the attorney-client privilege will apply to the work done. He said the lawyer should have expertise in nonprofit and corporate board governance.
He said he also wants to seek out governance expertise from within Penn State.