Penn State

Pope, Oldsey, Lubrano decry board secrecy

Bill Oldsey, member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, was added to the presidential selection committee at the board's meeting on Friday, November 22, 2013.
Bill Oldsey, member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, was added to the presidential selection committee at the board's meeting on Friday, November 22, 2013. CDT photo

Bill Oldsey didn’t just graduate from Penn State. He grew up there.

He remembers running through the Sparks building, playing in the halls when his father was there.

“This place is in my bloodstream,” he said.

Anthony Lubrano’s legacy can be seen just next to Beaver Stadium, where the field that bears his name is home to the State College Spikes and the Nittany Lions baseball team.

“I will forever belong to Penn State,” he said.

Alice Pope can trace her roots all the way back to Frederick Watts, the first chairman of the board of trustees at the university in 1855.

“This is Pennsylvania’s land grant university. That’s a trust,” she said.

But trust is exactly what the three alumni-elected trustees feel is lacking with the board.

There are nine trustees picked by graduates. Most have been part of a campaign for more information from the board leadership for months or years, culminating in formal challenges to look at the documents related to Louis Freeh’s university-commissioned investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and demands to know more about how some other trustees are appointed.

Both of those have led to concerns from Penn State about protecting the information and maintaining confidentiality. The trustees are taking offense to those statements, and repeated requirements for confidentiality statements as barriers to viewing information.

“They are poisoning the idea of our trustworthiness,” said Lubrano, who says safeguarding sensitive information is already part of the job description.

“They only pull the aegis of confidentiality on us when we ask for information,” Oldsey said. But every two months, confidential information is routinely released as part of the regular work of being a trustee.

According to an August 2014 letter from Chairman Keith Masser to “fellow trustees,” the nine were excluded from leadership positions because of actions including “breaches of the board’s rules regarding confidentiality,” but Lubrano, Oldsey and Pope deny that.

“Show me one instance,” Oldsey said.

The letter also highlights other actions that the three say are the real crux of the problem: disagreement and criticism. On a board that has enjoyed many unanimous votes in the past, the alumni-elected trustees who have come on post-Sandusky have asked questions.

“We demand answers,” Lubrano said.

Masser’s letter points to a common goal. “...We all share the same legitimacy and responsibility as trustees,” he wrote.

But the alumni-elected say they see questioning as an almost moral imperative.

That’s why, they say, when they had questions about how trustees representing business and industry were selected, they asked. Lubrano brought the issue up at multiple meetings over months before they submitted a hard and fast request.

The two sides came to an agreement on the issue on Thursday, when a stipulation on the matter was submitted in Centre County Court.

"Since we had already offered to give the trustees the documents several days before they sued, the case was already moot and frivolous when filed. We are pleased it has been dismissed, but regret the time, expense and distraction caused by a lawsuit that should never have been filed,” said vice president of strategic communications Lawrence Lokman in a statement.

But for Pope, that wasn’t the point.

“Any time anyone has a question of a committee, it should be answered gladly,” she said. “That’s not confidentiality. That’s secrecy. That’s a different thing.”

Oldsey called the board leadership’s actions “the antithesis of transparency.” Transparency became a watchword in the wake of the Sandusky issues.

The three also took issue with President Eric Barron’s recent statement, taking them to task for the lawsuits and their demands to be indemnified by the university for legal costs.

“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.”

“How dare they?” said Oldsey, citing the $8 million paid for the Freeh report and the $1.5 million Penn State agreed to pay for state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s legal bills from his lawsuit against the NCAA and the university over enforcement of the Endowment Act. Settlement of that suit brought an end to the NCAA’s epic punishments, including restoring the 112 negated football wins.

But football, they say, is not the point, though they claim the board has accused them of being focused on just the issue of restoring Joe Paternos wins and pandering to the Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship.

“This was never about football,” Lubrano said.

That’s a hard statement to prove, but the football scholarships and bowl games are back, and the questions being asked today are not just about the Freeh report.

The alumni-elected trustees are questioning things like proposed changes to uses of Robert’s Rules of Order, and they don’t always vote as a bloc. While Trustee Barbara Doran often questions points in governance and long-range planning committee, it is more often Lubrano who is an often lone dissenting vote, and the two are involved in a debate about the need for a nominating committee that has them on opposite sides while Lubrano is in the unique position of being in the same camp as his frequent counter-point, business and industry trustee Rick Dandrea.

And that, they say, is the point.

“It’s good governance,” Pope said.