You don’t have to look far to find Penn State alumni calling for change.
Tune into a radio talk show or read the comments on Facebook and message boards. Alumni and other Nittany Lions fans have been dissecting trustees’ decision to terminate legendary football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier since the move was announced Nov. 9.
Now, some alumni are aiming their frustration with the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal squarely at the board of
trustees. One group has formed with a goal of voting three new members into the alumni seats that are open this year. Others want more — an overhaul of the structure of a board they say is too large and squelches dissent.
“I have no confidence in the board of trustees,” said Liz Bligan, a Valley Forge resident and Penn State graduate who has served on a number of university associations and boards.
In particular, she doesn’t think the trustees practiced good management in how they handled Paterno, because they didn’t get his side of the story before taking action.
“They didn’t do that at all with coach Paterno,” she said. “They simply went with the media demands for Joe’s head.
“Joe was presented as deliberately covering up heinous crimes to protect the football program, and the board of trustees validated that by terminating him summarily with absolutely no due process,” she said.
The crimes were charges of child sexual abuse filed against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on Nov. 5. The charges arose from a grand jury investigation. The grand jury heard testimony that assistant coach Mike McQueary, in 2002, walked into a shower on campus to see Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy. McQueary testified he told Paterno what he’d seen the next day.
Paterno, according to testimony, told Athletic Director Tim Curley. Curley and then-Senior Vice President Gary Schultz later heard McQueary’s account. But no further action was taken except to bar Sandusky from bringing children from his charity, The Second Mile, on campus.
Curley and Schultz were charged with perjury for testimony they gave the grand jury about the incident, and failure to report abuse. The day after charges were filed, the university announced Schultz would return to retirement, and Curley would be placed on administrative leave.
Three days later, at a hastily called news conference at 10 p.m., trustees announced that Paterno and Spanier were out of their jobs.
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the extraordinary circumstances in November gave rise to the need for swift action by the board.
“At that time, the board unanimously concluded that immediate action was necessary and that it was not in the best interest of the university for coach Paterno to continue in his position as head football coach,” she said.
But the decision sparked student riots downtown that night and has fueled alumni anger since.
Anthony Lubrano, a 1982 Penn State graduate who was the lead donor for Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, said he doesn’t think there’s enough in the attorney general’s 23-page presentment to warrant the board’s decision to fire Paterno. He thinks the decision was spurred by other factors.
“I think personal animus toward coach Paterno on the part of several board members was behind this decision,” Lubrano said. “The board just used this as an excuse for them to lay this at his feet.”
He and others think the board should have waited to gather more facts — preferably by an independent committee of outsiders, Lubrano said — and talked to Paterno before making a decision.
“We know that his integrity is impeccable,” Lubrano said. “To suggest that coach Paterno would jeopardize the well-being of a child to protect the football program is preposterous. The board’s behavior is simply inexcusable.”
He would like to see the structure of the board overhauled. In particular, Lubrano thinks more transparency is long overdue.
The board has 32 members, along with 16 emeritus members. Alumni elect nine members, the governor appoints six, agricultural societies elect six and the board elects six to represent business and industry. Another five are ex-officio members who have state leadership positions.
There are two avenues for restructuring the board: through legislation, or by trustees amending the school’s charter and getting approval from the Centre County Court of Common Pleas.
Mark E. Kubiske, who earned his doctorate from Penn State, said he thinks the way the board is put together is a big part of the problem.
“I don’t have a bone to pick with any individuals, but I think with the way it’s put together now the distribution of power is really skewed,” said Kubiske, who lives in Wisconsin.
He pointed to how some board members are selected and the trustees’ rules on governance. The expectations of members, for example, call for trustees to “(s)peak openly with the (b)oard and publicly support decisions reached by the board,” “(m)aintain confidentiality without exception” and “(a)dvocate the university’s interests, but speak for the board or the university only when authorized to do so by the board or the chair.”
Kubiske said he and others have just begun to reach out to alumni to gain support for working with the state legislature on changing the structure. He acknowledged that bringing that about with an institution of Penn State’s size will be an uphill climb, “not to mention the fact that there are also a lot of alumni, faculty and administrators who agree with the way everything has been handled until now and don’t see a problem.”
But, he said, he thinks there is support for change both from outside the university and from within.
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said he would be open to discussion and willing to listen to those who want to see a change in the university’s governance structure.
“But someone needs to show me or educate me about how the current composition of the board, which is done through different appointments, is a problem,” Corman said.
He said being unhappy with decisions the board has made or with someone on the board doesn’t mean the board’s structure is wrong.
A group called Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship is also calling for new governance at Penn State. That group formed on Facebook and in other outlets in the aftermath of the trustees’ announcement about Paterno. They’re planning to endorse three candidates for alumni seats on the board of trustees.
“Fundamentally, we’re frustrated and saddened by the way recent events were handled by the university board of trustees,” founder Michelle Murosky said in a news release. “We don’t agree with the board’s decision to fire or force the resignation of Penn State employees without completion of a proper investigation.”
Members of that group will likely attend the trustees’ Jan. 20 meeting.
Bill Levinson, a 1978 graduate and Wilkes-Barre resident who has been active in that group’s discussions, thinks the board made “a rush to judgment.” He would like to see them apologize to Paterno and reinstate him as head coach emeritus.
“I think it would help restore the board’s credibility,” he said.
He said he thinks the way the trustees handled the situation Nov. 9 caused its own problems.
“Trustees came in by acting, in my opinion, with an irresponsible rush to judgment and an act of moral cowardice, and that created an entirely new and much bigger problem,” said Levinson, speaking on his own behalf, not for the group.
Former trustee Ben Novak, who lives in Florida and is running for a seat on the board again, is among those who thinks the board membership needs to change. He outlines what he sees as the structural problems with the board in paid advertisements running in the CDT starting today.
“The simple truth is that it is not simply a few bad apples who have brought about the humiliating situation we face,” he writes. “Rather, it is the way the board of trustees has structured the whole governance of the university that has made this scandal not only possible but almost inevitable.”
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648.