Former state Sen. Bob Jubelirer has invited Penn State trustee Keith Eckel to debate university governance reforms in what is a follow-up to the challenge the ex-lawmaker made in the presence of alumni and fans during an anti-board rally two weeks ago.
Eckel said in a statement that he hadn’t received Jubelirer’s letter, which was sent to media outlets on Thursday. Jubelirer asked for a public, moderated debate sometime this fall in the region.
Jubelirer, who ran unsuccessfully for a board seat in the spring, and Eckel had an exchange during the public comment period of the Sept. 20 board meeting on campus. Jubelirer, the lawmaker remembered as being the author of the late-night legislative pay raise and subsequently losing in the following primary election, railed against the board of trustees, accusing the members of not being transparent and resisting popular calls for governance reforms.
For the first time, the board responded to criticism, with Eckel, as the chairman of the board’s governance and long-range planning committee, ticking off a list of reforms, such as strengthening a conflict of interest policy and setting term limits.
“We clearly have a difference of opinion on the appropriate role of the board in reforming critical governance issues,” Jubelirer wrote in the debate offer. “Therefore I would like to invite you to discuss these important issues in a public forum on or near campus this fall where the two of us can have a moderated debate on whether the changes you related in your response to me represents real reform, or whether significant new state legislation is needed to affect that change.”
In the statement from Eckel, the trustee did not accept or decline the offer, but he reiterated the reforms and pointed to the recognition others have made of the university as evidence of progress.
“The steps already taken by the (b)oard to improve its governance and oversight are well-documented and have been recognized by important third parties, including Sen. George Mitchell and Moody’s Ratings Service,” Eckel said.
The NCAA-appointed integrity monitor for Penn State, Mitchell praised the university in an annual report on its progress and recommended the NCAA consider changing the scholarship penalty that was part of the sanctions. The NCAA agreed, and its leaders said the scholarships will be restored incrementally by 2016-2017.
Moody’s Ratings Service upgraded in May Penn State’s long-term credit rating from stable to positive on the heels of the reforms the the board approved.
Jubelirer’s invitation also references being surprised that Eckel responded to his remarks during the public comment session. But Chairman Keith Masser had said during a Sept. 19 committee meeting, which Jubelirer attended, that the board would provide responses to comments when appropriate.
Eckel also said he extended an opportunity for people at the governance and long-range planning committee meeting on Sept. 19 to make comments, but Jubelirer did not speak up.
Jubelirer, of Boalsburg, appears to be positioning himself for the 2014 board of trustees election after he finished sixth in this year’s race. He did not receive the endorsement of the alumni group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, which ended up being the key to winning for those endorsed, Barbara Doran, Bill Oldsey and Ted Brown.