Give the Penn State board of trustees two choices, and the same thing always seems to happen: Most will want one, a few want the other and, ultimately, the majority goes with an eleventh-hour plan to go for a previously unknown third option somewhere in the middle.
They followed that path again Friday with the board reform plan that has been hashed and rehashed for months.
Gov.-elect Tom Wolf had contacted Penn State about delaying the vote on the topic, which would strip votes from three Cabinet members, as well as add new seats, upping the total number to 33 voting members. Wolf said he wanted to have time to review the plan.
Penn State President Eric Barron told the trustees that he had spoken with the incoming governor about his reservations and agreed that waiting until after the inauguration seemed like a “perfectly reasonable request.”
“Of course, this has been discussed for quite some time,” Barron said, but agreed “the timing of it makes it appear we are removing voting privileges from gubernatorial appointees.”
Newly elected state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, had also petitioned the board with a joint request to delay the vote, as did the nine alumni-elected trustees.
The majority of the board interpreted those requests not as a “wait” but as a “change.”
Trustee Richard Dandrea put forth a compromise. Pass the reform resolution, the result of months of haggling by the governance and long-range planning committee, but delete the portions that had raised problems for some.
That meant that the final resolution put forward for a vote had a red-pen taken to portions, like striking the part where it would have changed Wolf’s secretaries of education, agriculture, and conservation and natural resources from voting trustees to nonvoting ones. That would raise the total size of the board to 38, with 36 of them being voting members. Only the governor and the university president would be nonvoting.
It also meant striking portions that seemed to invest too much power in the chairmanship, like allowing him to determine the maximum number of members on the executive committee, substituting Robert’s Rules of Order for other guidelines or making the vice chairman a member of all committees.
That kept leading the opposition to the same question. Why not just wait?
“If we are interested in good governance, I do not think that the reform contemplated today gets us there,” said trustee Anthony Lubrano, making a motion to table the vote.
That motion was voted down 15 to 11. The changes to the resolution were approved by a vote of 17 to 9.
“This has been a long journey,” said governance committee Chairman Keith Eckel via conference call. “It’s interesting to me that there is criticism for moving too fast when there was criticism for moving too slow. ... This is not a rush to judgment.”
Trustee Cliff Benson was adamant about not bowing to the request of the legislators and governor-elect, calling it a “slippery slope” to allow Harrisburg that much authority.
Trustee Alice Pope was troubled by the lack of time for the full board to discuss the changes.
“I accept that the governance committee has gone through a lengthy process but the rest of us haven’t been involved in that,” she said, adding that it seemed to be motivated by internal politics.
Board Chairman Keith Masser said that changes “add valuable constituencies to this board,” namely with the additions of voting positions for a student trustee, a faculty trustee, three at-large positions that would be determined by the board and a position conferred on the immediate past president of the Penn State Alumni Association.
The resolution passed by a vote of 16 to 9, with the only dissenting votes being the elected trustees.
It was not the first time that a surprise change in the voting had been pushed through on the board reform topic.
The proposal that Wolf and the legislators had asked to be delayed was termed the “A+” option. It was selected by the governance committee at the September meeting after being proposed by Masser as a last-minute compromise designed to try to get unanimous support from the committee and the board. Lubrano was the lone dissenting vote on the committee opposing it.
Masser said that the portions of the governance resolution dismissed from the vote could now go back to the committee for additional discussion.
“This will be a work in progress,” said Eckel.
Yudichak was not happy Friday night, calling the board’s decision “frustrating.”
“They seem to want to have it both ways,” he said, referring to some trustees’ desire to distance themselves from state government while simultaneously requesting state funding.
“They are doubling down on bad decisions,” said Yudichak.