A former Penn State trustee and an alumnus battling the state to get the university’s contract with the law firm that compiled the Freeh report are both seeking spots on the university’s board of trustees.
Ben Novak, a 1965 graduate, served as an alumni-elected trustee from 1998 to 2010, and he ran again in last year’s hotly contested race that saw 86 candidates vie for three seats. Novak finished sixth, and his showing has encouraged him to try again this year.
Ryan Bagwell, a 2002 graduate, ran last year, too, and he will try again because he wants to bring new ideas, reform and transparency to the board. He also thinks the public has a right to see the contract between Penn State and Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan.
Alumni can nominate candidates through Monday by requesting a form at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both Novak and Bagwell said they have received the 50 nominations and expect to be on the ballot.
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Novak does not shy away from criticizing the Penn State administration or the board of trustees for its response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the issue that’s defined the trustees election the past two cycles.
“The so-called leaders of Penn State — in Old Main and on the (b)oard — have displayed a shocking disregard, bordering on disdain, for the reasonable calls for meaningful, wholesale reform that are coming from nearly every quarter,” Novak said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “We always knew this would be a long fight for the soul of a unique and wonderful institution. I am happy to climb back into the ring for another round.”
Novak, of Bellefonte, blasted the Freeh report and said the trustees should demand a refund of the $6.5 million spent on it. He said he supports making Penn State fully subject to state open-records laws and wants to challenge the NCAA’s sanctions.
Novak supports reforming the board’s governance structure, and he said if he is elected, he would prioritize releasing the contract the university signed with former FBI director Louis Freeh’s law firm.
That’s been a priority for Bagwell, who lives outside Madison, Wis., since the summer. The journalist-turned-web developer has spent time and money — even hiring Harrisburg lawyers — trying to get his hands on Penn State’s contract with Freeh’s firm.
“In order to move on, we need to know the actions that Penn State’s leaders played,” Bagwell said.
Bagwell believes that state education Secretary Ron Tomalis has a copy of the contract because he sits on the board, so he filed requests under the state’s open records law. The Education Department denied the requests, saying they were not specific enough.
But in January, the state’s Office of Open Records granted an appeal and ordered the department to release the records. When the department responded, its lawyers said Tomalis does not have the contract, a determination made after a “reasonable search,” according to the documents.
Earlier this month, the department counter-sued to block Bagwell’s attempts, a move the candidate said surprised him because the department said Tomalis did not have the records.
“I think challenging an order to release public records shows the extent to which they are willing to go to keep these records from the public,” Bagwell said.