Time to end the chaos

“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t ...”

This nursery rhyme truism describes reality surrounding post-Sandusky legal actions and reactions by Penn State and the principals involved during and after the 11/9/11 late-night debacle by the university’s governing board. Trustee chairman Steve Garban stepped aside as a matter of conscience, President Graham Spanier resigned (or was fired), and head football coach Joe Paterno was fired.

Nobody, not the university president, board of trustees, legal teams representing contesting parties, or innocent parties drawn into the never-ending university scandal — misnomer for Sandusky scandal — can ever put the pieces back together again.

But the chaos must be ended.

As a former trustee elected by alumni (1992-95) and with knowledge of the principals, here is a perspective on how to stop the turmoil and, hopefully, end the continuing acrimony:

1. President Eric Barron should drop the defensive posture (CDT 5/8/16 — “Penn State president responds to court claims …”) and recuse himself as a spokesman on events before his tenure.

2. The power bloc of the board of trustees should resign and cede leadership to trustees who are legally appointed or democratically elected. For decades, the board chair, vice chair, or both, have been financial big-hitters from “business and industry.” They became trustees via contrived elections facilitated by PMA (Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association) using fake delegates. After discovering the scam in the mid-’90s and reporting it to no avail, I made it public via op-ed articles in the Centre Daily Times (still available online in CDT archives). Finally, in 2002, this group of controlling trustees eliminated the fake election and replaced it with a new process that amounts to a formalized means of self-reappointment.

3. Both Penn State and the Paterno family should drop all lawsuits and pending legal actions in the interest of ending the continuing adverse publicity and the animosity that blemishes all parties including Penn State students and alumni. Coach Paterno’s honor and 409 wins have been restored.

4. Pending charges against former Penn State administrators Spanier, Schultz and Curley should be dropped. Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are victims of their own honesty and forthrightness, in my view. Both are straight-arrows and appear to be scapegoats in a Shakespearean-like tragedy wherein Curley documented some facts and Schultz maintained a file. This documentation was key for the Freeh investigation’s conclusions.

The power bloc of the board of trustees is guilty of triggering the chaos. The modus operandi of the board as told to me by a power trustee early in my tenure was that “our only function” is to elect the university president. In other words, hands off and let PSU administrators take care of stuff. That mindset might explain why the first published news story (by Harrisburg Patriot-News writer Sara Ganim in March 2011) about a Sandusky investigation apparently didn’t trigger a concern regarding possible culpability of the university. There was no public mention or expressed concern until the infamous November 2011 trustee meetings.

I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate State Government Committee at the state Capitol in Harrisburg on March 18, 2013. I expressed the opinion that the power structure at Penn State during my trusteeship was circular and resided in a triumvirate of key players, namely, “the university president as chief executive, business and industry trustees as the governing power, and a third perceived influencer euphemistically known as the Lion King.” The latter, of course, was Paterno. The testimony is available online.

The structure remains today but now the power attribute resides solely with the governance board. It is time for the trustees to disband the power bloc and act to end the chaos they triggered.

Bob Horst was elected by alumni to the Penn State board of trustees in 1992 where he served on the executive committee until 1995. He holds a BS degree (EE’58) from Penn State and MSEE (’62) from the University of Pennsylvania. He is retired from Armstrong World Industries where he served as corporate manager, new manufacturing technology. He has served on the Penn State Harrisburg board of advisers and currently serves on the Industrial and Technical Advisory Board at PSU/H. He is a consultant and founder of the technical consultancy Peak Productivity USA and is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In 2008, he was named Engineer of the Year by Central PA Engineers Week Council.