UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State Faculty Senate decided against sending university trustees a motion of no confidence for their handling of the child sex abuse scandal, instead opting to study how the university is run and look at what changes might be needed.
The Senate, which met Tuesday afternoon, also voted down a motion to call on the university to form an independent special committee to investigate the board of trustees.
Kim Steiner, with the College of Agricultural Sciences, said he didn’t see how the committee they were recommending would happen. He said he would be surprised if President Rodney Erickson would appoint such a committee to investigate his superiors.
“I think we all and probably many members of the board of trustees, (have) questions about the structure of the board that need to be addressed and that have never been answered. How do we as a Senate address that issue?” Steiner said. “We do what we do best, and that is investigation, scholarship, research.”
Steiner said faculty could ask questions about the board of trustees’ structure, its charge, how the board functions and how it compares with peer institutions and best practices. He said that would result in more than just accusations and pointing fingers.
The motion that failed had called for forming a nine-member committee, to include five people who have no affiliation with the university. It would have been a recommendation to Erickson to study the trustees’ “oversight role within the bounds of their fiduciary obligation.”
Victor Brunsden, with Penn State Altoona, said what is missing from the several investigations that are already under way — including the trustees’ review by an outside attorney, and an investigation by the state Department of Education — is an examination of the university’s constitution and how it’s governed.
“There are allegations that the governors of this university failed in some way. It behooves somebody to investigate those allegations,” he said.
“If this body is about shared governance, then we need, by God, to govern,” he said.
Steiner said he agreed with most of what Brunsden said, but that the motion to form a special committee wasn’t the way to do it.
Others agreed, questioning how long it would take to form a committee and complete a review.
After a vote against forming the committee, Chairman Daniel Hagen said he would work with the Faculty Senate’s officers to follow up on Steiner’s recommendation.
The vote came after about an hour of discussion and was followed by consideration of another motion — this one on whether to send a message of no confidence to university trustees for their handling of the allegations of child sex abuse by former coach Jerry Sandusky.
Jean Pytel, with the College of Engineering, said faculty need to work with trustees and “avoid an adversarial relationship.” She said it would contribute to a loss of confidence in the university.
“Seeking revenge for actions with which we may not agree as individuals, listening to vitriol from groups outside the university and setting ourselves up to be judgmental is destructive and counterproductive,” Pytel said.
That motion, by Anthony Ambrose, with the College of Medicine, cites allegations that pedophilia occurred on campus, and that because of allegations “of attempts to conceal the same from the public and appropriate authorities, the reputation of Penn State University has been publicly and seriously defiled.”
According to a grand jury that investigated Sandusky, coach Mike McQueary walked in on Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a campus shower in 2002. McQueary said he told Joe Paterno and two administrators about what he saw. No one, however, notified law enforcement authorities.
A third motion, calling for a subcommittee to take comments from the Faculty Senate discussions of the issues and put them into recommendations for an action plan, was passed.
Another motion — that failure of moral obligations alone should not be made the basis of job performance evaluation — was tabled for the March meeting.
Erickson said the votes mean that a majority of the faculty want to reach out and engage the trustees and work with them.
Chairwoman Karen Peetz and other trustees were originally scheduled to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but after Paterno’s death Sunday, they rescheduled to appear at the Faculty Senate’s March meeting instead.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648.