Board of Trustees

Reactions to board of trustees decisions a broad spectrum

Penn State president Eric Barron addresses the Penn State Board of Trustees during their meeting at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on Friday. Barron said the university needs to do more to capitalize on its research and inventions.
Penn State president Eric Barron addresses the Penn State Board of Trustees during their meeting at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on Friday. Barron said the university needs to do more to capitalize on its research and inventions. CDT photos

There was a time when many people were barely aware of the Penn State board of trustees and were barely aware of its meetings.

Then came the Sandusky scandal, the Freeh report and the NCAA consent decree. Since then, more attention has been paid to the board’s makeup, its moves and its decisions, and the reactions are varied.

There are the people like Barry Fenchak, a State College resident who holds degrees from Penn State and teaches finance at the university. On Friday, he was escorted from the trustees meeting after trying to speak after the public comment portion, when three of the 10 speakers who gained spots on the agenda didn’t show up.

“We are Penn State. They are not Penn State,” he said, referring to the fact that many of the board members are appointed by the governor or through business, industry and agricultural societies rather than the electoral process that puts alumni in their nine seats.

In the hall outside The Penn Stater conference room, Fenchak held court, trying to get his message of board change out to other alumni and reporters.

“There is no accountability to stakeholders,” he said. “Without that, what is the point?”

Even some members of that board have issues with making change.

In July, Penn State trustee Al Lord put forward a motion asking that the work begun with the Freeh report be completed.

“I am sure there are many people in the room who were expecting a vote on the Freeh report today,” Lord said Friday.

That didn’t happen.

Board President Keith Masser said that, although a “frank discussion” was held during an executive session on the independent report commissioned by the university by former FBI director Louis Freeh in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the board was not taking action on Lord’s motion at this time.

Instead, Masser emphasized that the board has still not taken an official position on the report.

Lord said the debate on his motion, in which he asked the board to move forward with what he believed to be an incomplete investigation, has been “lively and long.”

He said two factions have developed during discussions and that his opponents have asked that the vote be delayed.

“I have asked it be voted on within 30 days,” he said, then refined his statement to give it until the end of October.

“At that time, something will be voted on,” Lord said.

The Freeh report was part of the justification for the NCAA sanctions levied against the university in 2012. Those sanctions have been largely repealed, most significantly in the walk back of the bowl game ban and scholarship limitations announced last week.

More than 1,000 alumni and Penn State backers voiced their support for a meeting with Freeh, which he offered when his report was unveiled, in a 21/2-page ad in Friday’s Centre Daily Times.

The report has faced criticism from some corners, and former university president Graham Spanier, currently facing perjury and conspiracy charges in Dauphin County for his alleged role in the scandal, is suing Freeh for defamation.

Then there are the voices of the moderates.

“It’s so easy to be an alumni (sic) who just complains about the way things are. I want to move on,” said Evan Smith, a 2011 grad in economics and marketing now studying for a masters degree at Lehigh University. He wanted to speak to the trustees, but having addressed them earlier this year, figured it was a long shot. Still, he had a message to deliver.

“Let’s come together, now, with consensus. No more great chasm between trustees and alumni,” he wrote in his undelivered speech.

“In the end, that’s what we are going to need to move forward. We have to try to craft a plan to move ahead and end the unnecessary fighting between the two of us,” he said.

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