Take a quick glance through the agenda for the Penn State trustees meeting this week and nothing too controversial jumps out at you.
There are interesting points. The budget, for example. Tuition rates for the coming year. A long slate of building projects.
But one of the first items on the table for Friday’s full meeting, right after the roll call and the approval of the minutes, is the election of officers.
Sometimes a vote like that is rote, a rubber stamping of the prior list or a natural progression of officers from a lower office up the ranks.
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With the board of trustees, however, many things that could be simple are a lot more complicated than they would appear.
Most of the officers on the list are incumbents, the simple procedural appointments of staff members to certain official positions, like Vice President for Administration Thomas Poole being formally re-approved as secretary, or the senior vice president for finance being named the treasurer.
But president and vice president are the leaders of the board, and the board makes the decisions about the university, so those positions have inherent authority.
Keith Masser is the present board president, but he is about to step out of that role. The man on deck to replace him is his current vice president, Ira Lubert, with Mark Dambly set to step into the VP role.
And that has elicited some reaction within a section of the Penn State faithful.
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship is a watchdog group of alumni and supporters created after the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal erupted. One of the group’s biggest sticking points is a vehement disagreement with the handling of the case, from the firing of Joe Paterno to the hiring of Louis Freeh for an independent investigation to the acceptance of the consent decree for punishment from the NCAA after Sandusky’s conviction.
“The leadership of Penn State has been under intense national scrutiny for nearly five full years. Rumors, accusations and unsupported conclusions — but very few proven facts — have divided our community and unfairly damaged the reputation of our fine university,” said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, the group’s spokeswoman, in a letter to the trustees.
For PS4RS, it all comes back to what they call the “old guard” board of trustees, the trustees who were in place in November 2011 when Penn State went from being known for “success with honor” to being consistently associated with a scandal they say rightly belongs in the lap of Sandusky’s charity, The Second Mile.
“The noose is tightening around The Second Mile ... and with very good reason,” Schmidt said.
While Penn State has paid out $93 million in settlements with 32 claimants, plus legal fees, plus Freeh’s $8 million fee, plus the $60 million fine imposed by the NCAA, which still got paid partially to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and partially to a dedicated fund at the university for child abuse programs despite the rollback of those sanctions in January 2015, The Second Mile has crumbled into nothingness. In March it was dissolved by the court.
And PS4RS is pushing Lubert as a connection to The Second Mile, saying he has “deep, far-reaching and questionable ties” to the group that was founded to help at-risk kids but was also where Sandusky found the 10 boys he was convicted of assaulting.
Schmidt claims Lubert served as a Second Mile director from 2005 to 2008, gave use of a camp facility to the group and “failed to adequately pursue claims” against the charity.
Lubert says none of that is true.
An alumnus and an entrepreneur, Lubert says he was never on the board.
“I never went to a meeting,” he said.
He did give money to The Second Mile, and at one point was listed as a member of an area group for it, but he told the Centre Daily Times that he pointed out the mistake and asked to have his name taken off materials, and said the charity complied.
“There is a lot of misinformation,” Lubert said. “I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest.”
The charity had a number of business leaders and elected officials who participated in its programs and operations until Sandusky’s charges in 2011.
Lubert was on the Penn State board of trustees before his latest appointment. He left but came back in 2015, taking the business and industry representative spot vacated by former vice president Kathleen Casey when she accepted a newly created member-at-large position.
“I’ve been on the board, on and off, for about 10 years,” he said.
Lubert confirmed that he is running for the board presidency, and that he will serve in that role if the majority of the board elects him. There are 36 voting members, plus the university president, the governor and the governor’s non-voting representative.
“I just want to continue to keep Penn State as an affordable place for people to come,” he said.
PS4RS is pushing for the election of Gov. Tom Wolf’s appointee, Robert Capretto instead.
“Dr. Capretto is eminently qualified, engaged and poised to lead. Moreover, through his words and actions, he has already demonstrated his ability to unify, not just the board of trustees, but the many loyal stakeholders of Penn State. That quality in a chairman is not only essential; it is long overdue,” Schmidt wrote.
In 2015, when the leadership vote was called, alumni-elected trustee Anthony Lubrano was put forth as an alternative to Masser. He netted ten votes. Fellow alumni-elected trustee Alice Pope got eleven votes in a bid for vice-president in lieu of Lubert.