Penn State

Barron rejects alumni trustees’ request for legal fees

Penn State President Eric Barron.
Penn State President Eric Barron. CDT file photo

Factions on the board of trustees at Penn State have been taking sides for months, but after a recent communication, the university’s president has gotten involved.

On Monday, the alumni-elected trustees who are suing the university for access to the Freeh report investigation documents upped the ante, submitting a letter notifying President Eric Barron that they also expected the university to pick up the tab.

The letter cited the November 2014 bylaws, claiming the trustees were indemnified against the expenses “paid or connection with...any (a)ction.”

They gave a deadline of confirmation by Wednesday.

“If not, the (a)lumni (t)rustees are prepared to file an action to enforce our indemnification rights,” read the letter signed by Ted Brown, Barbara Doran, Bob Jubelirer, Anthony Lubrano, Ryan McCombie, Bill Oldsey and Alice Pope.

Barron did not wait that long.

“Your request is made even more outrageous by your threat of yet another lawsuit against Penn State if we do not pay your costs of suing the (u)niversity,” he wrote back in a letter the administration released to the media, along with copies of the trustees’ communication.

Barron denied that the bylaws required the university to pay the legal costs, and called the most recent suit filed, asking for access to documents detailing how the business and industry trustees are selected “completely unnecessary.”

“It is difficult to fathom why you would squander (u)niversity resources in such a manner,” he wrote. “The (u)niversity will not pay you to sue us. If anything, you should be offering to reimburse the (u)niversity for its legal costs in responding to this lawsuit.”

The alumni trustees have been adamant that they required additional information to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. Their last suit spoke of a class system among the dozens of board members, where a privileged group is entitled to all information but others, including the elected trustees, are not.

Barron did not agree.

“I am very concerned about your approach to confidentiality and to your fiduciary responsibilities,” he wrote. “We have a growing number of failures to abide by the (b)oard’s (e)xpectations of (m)embership, even when the potential for serious financial harm to the (u)niversity is evident.”

In November, Barron seemed to take the group’s side when, after the board shot down a request to look into Louis Freeh’s independent investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the president said he would conduct a review himself.

He has also followed that up in January by telling the Associated Press he found the report overly prosecutorial, giving an “absurd” portrait of the university.

Four months later, though, he is asking the alumni trustees to take a step back.

“I now hear regularly from students, faculty, staff and alumni expressing both concern and fatigue in seeing our own (t)rustees suing their (u)niversity,” he wrote. “Penn State’s mission is teaching, research and service. Your actions are not serving that mission. It seems to many of us that this is becoming a campaign against Penn State. Please reconsider these unfortunate actions.”