Keith Masser | Penn State meeting recommendations, moving beyond scandal

About one year ago, former FBI director and Judge Louis Freeh released a report following his investigation into how Penn State responded to the child abuse committed by Jerry Sandusky.

The passing of this anniversary should not go unnoticed, because it’s an opportunity to show how Penn State has moved beyond the news that shocked not just the Penn State community, but also many across the nation.

The goal of the investigation was to identify where our system broke down, and recommend changes we could make in governance, compliance, security and human resources to better protect our students, faculty and community. In order to make the changes needed to build an even better university, we knew we needed an independent and unfettered investigation into how Sandusky was allowed to do what he did on our campus.

After an eight-month investigation, we received 119 specific recommendations from the Freeh report for how we should strengthen university policies and performance in areas such as safety and governance; it also made a number of conclusions about what transpired.

This distinction between Freeh’s recommendations for better governance and his conclusions is critical to understanding how Penn State has moved forward. People will continue to debate the conclusions, but they aren’t material to the governance of our University.

Countless Penn State employees have worked virtually around the clock to complete 115 of the 119 recommendations thus far. The recommendations have been invaluable. I doubt any person would argue with the value of ensuring that thousands of University employees are trained in identifying child abuse, or evaluating security and access protocols for athletic, recreational and camp facilities.

The report also was very critical in improving the governance system in place by the Board of Trustees. Recommendations from the report, as well as the state auditor general, University Faculty Senate and others led to the most sweeping Board governance reforms since Penn State was founded in 1855.

As a result, the Board has expanded its committee oversight; opened all meetings to the public; and created an opportunity for the public to comment at each Board meeting. Among other changes, it eliminated the president and governor as voting members, while raising its quorum requirement to a majority of the Board. As a result, Penn State now has the smallest board of any of the state-related university and requires the most members for quorum (a majority), Both were recommended by governing experts as improvements.

The road has been difficult, but important feedback indicates we’re on the right track. In a June 24 article, the Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed lawyers who work at various universities around the country and found the scope and degree of positive change achieved in a short time at Penn State was greater than most thought possible of the University.

Respected third parties, such as the highly esteemed former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and Moody’s Investors Service have given Penn State strong performance reviews. Evaluators from The Middle States Commission on Higher Education said they were “impressed by the degree to which Penn State has risen, as a strong campus community” to the events of November 2011.

I have always believed the vast majority of the Penn State community wants and deserves to move forward in a constructive and positive way. Let me assure all of you, our priority, our passion and our responsibility as a Board are to Penn State’s 96,000 students, 600,000 active alumni, and 24,000 faculty and staff. Recently, Penn State was named as one of the top 50 universities in the world for their dedication to teaching, research and service. Those are our core values and our mission.

Over the past year, many who make up our community have responded in a way that’s commensurate with the finest traditions and character of Penn State. We all share a willingness to take the hard but necessary road with optimism about what we can accomplish in the future.

Keith Masser is chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees and President/CEO of Sterman Masser Inc. This column reflects his comments made during a public hearing on board of trustees reform Wednesday in State College.