Board of Trustees

John Surma to leave Penn State board of trustees when term expires in June

John Surma, the Penn State trustee who uttered the words “Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately” in November 2011, will not seek re-election to the board, the university reported Thursday.

Penn State said Surma, the CEO and chairman of U.S. Steel Corp., has new and ongoing business obligations, so he decided to leave the board when his term expires in June. He serves as one of six business and industry trustees.

Penn State said Surma informally told the board’s leaders about his plan in December.

In a news release Thursday, Penn State said Surma “reconfirmed that intention in connection with the most recent call” for nominations and applications for business and industry trustees, a process that is under way.

President Rodney Erickson and board Chairman Keith Masser thanked Surma for his service.

“His expertise and talents were particularly helpful as the inaugural chair of the board’s Subcommittee on Finance and exhibited throughout other key leadership positions,” Erickson said. “We are fortunate to have someone of John’s caliber who was willing to take the time and commitment required to serve his alma mater as a trustee and in many other ways.”

Masser said he was proud to have served alongside Surma.

“We thank him for his sacrifice and celebrate his unwavering commitment to Penn State,” he said.

Surma, a 1976 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, has served on the board since 2007 and was the vice chairman in 2010 and 2011.

But he will no doubt be remembered known around the Penn State community as the person who fired Paterno in 2011, days after the Jerry Sandusky scandal erupted.

Surma fired Paterno during a late night phone call Nov. 9, 2011. Fifteen minutes later, Surma announced Paterno’s and then-president Graham Spanier’s dismissals on national televsion.

According to a report last year from ESPN, it was Surma who barked at local trustee Mimi Barash Coppersmith when she begged the trustees to reconsider firing Paterno.

“We’re not going to drink the Kool-Aid,” ESPN quoted him as saying. “This is what we need to do.”

Surma did not seek the vice chairman’s office on the board in 2012.

On Twitter, the reform group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship cheered Surma’s announcement, saying the group “was pleased” he would not return after his term expires.

Surma’s seat will be one of seven filled by three separate elections.

Board Vice Chairwoman Stephanie Deviney is seeking re-election to one of three alumni seats. The other alumni-elected incumbent is local orthopedic surgeon Paul Suhey.

The third alumni seat was left vacant by the July 2012 resignation of Steve Garban.

Candidates for the alumni seats have until Feb. 25 to collect 50 nominations. The ballot will be released in April and the election results will be announced in early May.

The state’s agricultural societies will elect two trustees in May. The incumbents whose terms expire in June are Keith Eckel and Samuel Hayes.

The university is accepting nominations to elect two trustees to represent business and industry endeavors, one of whose seats is held by Surma. The other trustee whose term expires is Karen Peetz, the former board chairwoman.