Board of Trustees

Committee to discuss future of public comment at Penn State trustees meetings

If you want to talk to the Penn State trustees — all of them — you have to plan ahead.

You have to apply ahead of time for a slot, and let them know what you’d like to talk about.

You have to come to the meetings, scheduled every couple months in State College, or whichever of the commonwealth campuses they might be at for their traveling meeting.

You have to get up early in the morning because the behind-closed-doors public comment portion of the meeting is at 8:30 a.m., at the start of the trustees’ executive session So, unless you are local, you either have to drive a ways or come in the night before and get a hotel room.

And you can’t talk about a half dozen or so things on a list of no-no topics, such as pending litigation or contracts.

The committee on outreach, development and community relations would like to see some changes to that list.

“Every governing bone in my body tells me we need to provide more opportunity for the public to comment,” trustee Anthony Lubrano said.

At one time, the board had no public comment. It started in 2012, as trustees’ meetings became more attended in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. People were heard during the meeting. They were later moved to the end of the meeting, then to a livestreamed session at the end of the executive session. The livestream was then moved to the beginning before being dropped entirely.

Committee Chairman Ryan McCombie said he realized that sometimes, the commenters weren’t exactly kind.

“Sometimes they were abusive,” he said. “Sometimes I was ashamed they were Penn Staters speaking. But it was an opportunity to blow off steam.”

A subcommittee will bring back recommendations in July for new ways to change the comment session to make it both more accessible and more interactive. On the table were ideas such as Skype sessions that would allow Penn State’s 600,000-strong alumni base to comment from anywhere in the world, or ways to accept questions that would allow the trustees to reply with answers that can be hard in a board setting.

“We are without question a public institution. The state has invested over $12 billion in this university,” Lubrano said. “We have an obligation to let the public speak whether or not we like what they have to say. That’s democracy, folks.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce