Board of Trustees

Report: Penn State’s choice for new president is suspended from current job

The Penn State University Old Main building.
The Penn State University Old Main building. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

Penn State’s choice for its next president was taken out of contention after the search process revealed he was allegedly padding his pay at his State University of New York job without authorization, according to a news report.

The candidate, David Smith, the president of SUNY’s Upstate Medical University, was placed on paid leave Tuesday, The Times-Union, of Albany, N.Y., reported.

According to the report, the head-hunter firm that Penn State hired to help find the successor to President Rodney Erickson found that Smith allegedly arranged for extra pay through outside companies linked to the university. The report attributes the information to anonymous sources.

The search firm contacted SUNY about the additional income, the report says.

The newspaper reported Smith was Penn State’s choice according to anonymous sources.

Penn State spokeswomen Lisa Powers and Annemarie Mountz declined to comment on the revelation.

“Because of the need to protect and preserve the current careers of highly desirable candidates, we will not make public any names of potential candidates, nor will we confirm that any given name has been considered in this process,” Mountz said.

Smith was named president of the medical university in 2006 after five years as the chancellor of Texas Tech University in Lubbock. At SUNY, he was paid $625,000 in salary, housing and money from a research foundation.

The report says Smith received almost $350,000 from the outside sources without the approval of the SUNY chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, who also was rumored to be in line for the top post at Penn State. Zimpher sent Smith a letter on Friday that his income was under review.

Penn State appeared close to naming the next president this past Friday, as the university had published a notice about special board of trustees meeting for a personnel matter. Sources said it was to name the new president.

But by Wednesday of last week, the meeting was called off, and on Friday, the trustees convened in a closed-door executive session on campus.

Later on Friday, board Chairman Keith Masser indicated something had set back the search process and that the university was moving forward under the notion that “all options are open.”

The trustees said in a statement last week that they plan to name the next president before June 30, the last day of Erickson’s contract.

Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano could not confirm the reports because he had not received a briefing from board leaders, and he said if the reports are true, it affirms the decision to delay the meeting last week.

“This is another example of why the full board needs to be engaged in discussions with the finalists before any decision is made as to Penn State’s next president,” he said Tuesday evening.