The Penn State Alumni Association is having a council meeting in State College this week, but some members are not happy about it.
Laurie Anne Stanell, a fourth-generation member of the Penn State family, is one of a contingent of members unhappy that the meeting is closed, not just to the public but to the membership. She says she feels “absolutely disenfranchised” by the association’s decisions.
Focus on the alumni association’s role on campus has grown since the university’s board of trustees granted a voting seat to the immediate past president of the PSAA. That focus intensified when the alumni council ballots went out and the association denied an opportunity to run to several members, including four alumni-elected trustees, calling it a conflict of interest.
While the association’s executive director Roger Williams has vehemently defended the decision — calling PSAA’s participation on the board of trustees a “confluence of interest” while trustees on the council would be different due to the different missions of the organizations — that is only one of the reasons members are questioning the association and the current meeting.
Changing bylaws is another.
Williams told the Centre Daily Times last week that the bylaws needed to be updated and were last tweaked in 2005. The proposed changes have been on the table for two years.
But for council member Deborah Beidel, little is known about the changes. She said the new rules will be 32 pages long, up from just eight, and calls them “sweeping.”
Williams, who was busy with the two-day council meeting, did not return calls or email Thursday to comment, but did address changes in the earlier interview, saying “There was a lot out of date, a lot that was ambiguous.” The bylaw changes also will cover the rules that govern the new trustees seat and nail down some aspects of the executive director’s position.
Beidel said she would be fine with a majority vote on the bylaws, but questions how it is being done.
“We are being given an hour to discuss. There is no way that this should be functioning in this way. We should be having a meeting where we can freely discuss and vote at a later date,” she said, saying the quick presentation feels like “a cram down, a choke hold.”
Other concerns include a larger concentration of power in the hands of the small executive board over the 86-member alumni council, as well as changes to how a council member is elected. Williams calls the process streamlining, with all decisions made by the nominating committee. Stanell likens it to taxation without representation and says “there’s going to be an uprising.”
“Keep alumni council as it is and ballot position as it has always been,” Stanell said. “This will keep the alumni involved in their university.”
Beidel also supports opening the doors to the membership, whether at a council meeting or another similar event.
“I would definitely support a general membership meeting. I think a lot of people on council are not aware of discontent. There is no forum to get input,” she said.
PSAA is the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world, with members topping 170,000 and more than 600,000 total graduates.
The meeting continues Friday.