It was not a normal meeting of the Penn State board of trustees.
The trustees met in the same room at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel and drew much of the same audience. The table, however, was a lot smaller.
The meeting was called by the nine alumni-elected trustees. Of the others — from Gov. Tom Corbett to his Cabinet secretaries to the appointed trustees and those elected by business and industry or agriculture — just one, Penn State graduate assistant and gubernatorial nod Allison Goldstein, attended. In a room where the membership usually fills the space, one table wasn’t even completely filled.
“I’d be less than candid with you if I said I was anything but disappointed, said trustee Anthony Lubrano, who ran the meeting in the absence of Chairman Keith Masser and Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Casey.
They wanted to discuss a resolution that was proposed at the November meeting, asking that the university flip sides in the lawsuit brought by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and Treasurer Rob McCord over the enforcement of the Endowment Act, the legislation that would keep $60 million in post-Sandusky fine money in the state. The request comes in the wake of emails that suggest Penn State was “bluffed” into accepting the NCAA’s unprecedented sanctions.
With no quorum, there could be no vote on the resolution.
“That will not stop us from having a discussion today,” Lubrano said.
For trustee Al Lord, the issue was “gamesmanship,” because, he said, Masser had encouraged other trustees to not attend the meeting.
“The fact is this is not a game at play here. This is unbelievably serious business,” Lord said. “As the situation is evolving it’s getting more and more serious and more and more ugly.”
The Corman-McCord case goes to trial Jan. 6. The next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 16. The alumni-elected trustees were attempting to renew their push on a discussion that had been pushed back, hoping to have a decision before the trial begins.
Two trustees attended the meeting by phone. Adam Taliaferro was in Puerto Rico. Bill Oldsey was recovering from hip surgery. He took issue with Masser’s suggestion in a Dec. 10 email that the alumni were “single focused” and “deflected attention” from more important matters.
“I do not feel the least bit distracted,” he said. “I am tired of being portrayed as people who are single-minded and don’t have the best interest of the university at heart.”
Trustee Bob Jubelirer spent 26 years in leadership positions in Harrisburg, including serving as the Senate’s president pro tem and the lieutenant governor after the death of Catherine Baker Knoll. He called the meeting “one of the saddest days of my career,” characterizing the missing trustees’ actions as “irresponsible” and “absolute arrogance.”
“There’s always been a saying: The minority will have its say and the majority will have its way. The least they could have done is show up,” he said.
One other voice was heard at the meeting. State Sen. John Yudichak has worked with Corman to try to achieve board reform. The trustees overrode their requests and those of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf last month, proceeding with a vote that would actually enlarge the board, a move he called “outright defiance.”
Other trustees agreed. Lord said the General Assembly should step in and “start over” with restructuring the board.
“I reluctantly surrender,” he said. “We can’t change the board from inside.”
In a statement released after the meeting, Masser expressed his own frustration.
“It is disappointing that the meeting was called to discuss a matter the board of trustees has already considered at numerous meetings, rather than to discuss many of the important issues that have a dramatic effect on our more than 90,000 students and their families,” he wrote, citing the affordability of education, President Eric Barron’s economic development agenda and development of the medical school as “vital issues” to address in the coming year.