The next Penn State board of trustees meeting will move public comments from the very end of the meeting, after all official action has been taken, to an up-front slot before the roll has even been called, a move the university says has been taken “to better accommodate student needs, encourage broader participation” from the university community and provide time for public input prior to voting.
The public comment period for the Jan. 16 meeting will be from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. in Room 106 of The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, before the 1:30 p.m. full board meeting in Dean’s Hall.
According to the university, “a viewing room will be made available to anyone in the public wishing to watch in that setting, and the session also will be live-streamed online” at www.psu.org/live.
The university said the move was prompted by public concern about the comment portion. There have been grumblings about the comments being taken after the time had passed to do anything about any issues raised. Then the November meeting ran about two hours long, prompting more complaints when President Eric Barron had to leave because of a prior engagement before the comments were taken.
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“Neither the governance nor academic affairs committee discussed moving the public comment portion of the meeting, which until the last two meetings was at the beginning of the board meeting. I hope all trustees will attend despite Chair Masser scheduling it before the formal start of the meeting,” trustee Barbara Doran said.
The University Park Undergraduate Association passed a resolution in December supporting the earlier time.
But not everyone is happy about the change.
“I reserve judgment. Clearly Chairman (Keith) Masser is looking for ways to shorten the meetings as some of my colleagues on the BOT have complained that the meetings are too long,” said alumni-elected trustee Anthony Lubrano, who said he lobbied for the public comment period, which started in July 2012.
Lubrano said the change was instituted by Masser. He and fellow alumni-elected trustee Barbara Doran are members of the board’s governance committee. Both said the committee was not consulted on the change.
For some critics of the board, the move is prompting a heated response.
“Make no mistake, any changes made to the public comment period are nothing more than an attempt to marginalize the alumni viewpoint,” said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship.
“The trustees can move the comment period. They can limit the length of comment. They can even manipulate the location of the speaker who is making the comment. But they will not silence a growing chorus of alumni and supporters who have no confidence in the current governance structure or the board’s ability to lead Penn State University. It is shameful that this board of trustees has demonstrated time and time again that they have no time, respect or desire for healthy debate and discourse.”