Four the glory: David Taylor and Ed Ruth became Penn State’s first four-time Big Ten champions on Sunday, leading the Nittany Lions to their fourth straight Big Ten team title. Next stop: The NCAA championships, which start March 20 in Oklahoma City.
All downhill from here: You might have seen our post Friday on the U.S. Paralympic duo of visually impaired skier Staci Mannella and her guide, Kim Seevers ’86g. Turns out we’re not the only ones who realized Mannella and Seevers are a compelling story: The pair was featured Sunday in a New York Times story on these unusual partnerships on the slopes. Mannella and Seevers will go for gold this week in Sochi.
Talk to the Hand: New offensive line coach Herb Hand on Friday continued his utter dominance of the internet. He took a break from tweeting long enough to take part in an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. Among the highlights, Hand revealed his favorite State College pizza spot, how he’s handling all this snow, and what he throws on the grill when his linemen come over for dinner.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
For the second day in a row, I find myself wrapping up the Board of Trustees meeting by starting at the end.
Just as board chair Keith Masser ’73 was preparing to adjourn the Friday’s meeting, Al Clemens ’59 jumped in to read a statement. He got right to the point, announcing that he was resigning from the board.
Clemens, a gubernatorial appointee, joined the board in 1995 and was the only one of the four trustees remaining as plaintiffs in the Paterno family’s lawsuit against the NCAA who was on the board when the Sandusky scandal broke. As a result, he is the only one of the trustees who was found to have standing to sue on the claim of defamation.
He said the board didn’t have much information or time to discuss the issues when it voted quickly on Nov. 9, 2011, to fire Joe Paterno: “I will always regret that my name is attached to that rush to injustice.”
He indicated, as well, that hiring Louis Freeh and accepting his conclusions “without review” was another mistake and that he joined the Paterno family’s lawsuit in an attempt to “reverse the misguided sanctions that were designed to punish a football program without blemish.”
He also said his resignation was in keeping with his belief in term limits; the current limit is 12 years, but members including Clemens were grandfathered in when that change was made. He has served for 19 years.
Clemens’ term on the board actually expired in 2012, according to the trustees’ website; staff from the trustees office said that there’s often a long lag between when a governor-appointed trustee’s term expires and when the governor nominates a replacement. Gov. Tom Corbett announced in late February that he was nominating Cliff Benson ’71 and Todd Rucci ’92 to fill the seats of Clemens and Ira Lubert ’73. Those nominations must still be confirmed by the state senate.
Lubert’s term technically ended in 2013, as did the term of vice chair Paul Silvis ’06g, for whom a replacement has not been announced. The terms of two other governor appointees, student Peter Khoury and Mark Dambly ’80, expire in 2014.
Also noteworthy from the meeting:
Alumni election changes pass: All alumni who have email addresses on file with the university will receive ballots in the upcoming alumni trustee election. Trustees unanimously passed a motion to change the procedure in the university’s charter; previously, only alumni who are Alumni Association members or have donated to the university in the past two years automatically received ballots, although any alum could request one.
After the issue was debated and unanimously passed in the January governance committee meeting, Penn State sent postcards to 186,610 alumni without email addresses on file, governance chair Keith Eckel said Thursday during the committee meeting. The cost: $82,000.
Eckel said Thursday that only 400 of the cards had been returned and noted that while he thought reaching out to alumni was the right thing to do, the “somewhat disappointing” rate of return meant that the gesture likely doesn’t need to be repeated. At Friday’s meeting, he said he’d been told that the number of returned postcards had increased to 700.
The alumni election starts April 10, and alumni still have time to return the cards. All of these changes are taking place after the nomination process for alumni trustees, which ran from mid-January to late February. In the future, all alums with email addresses on file will receive both a nomination form and an election ballot.
Public comment: After several meetings in which the number of speakers during the public comment session shrunk, nine speakers were announced for Friday’s meeting, although only seven showed up to speak. Also in contrast to recent meetings, when speakers covered a variety of issues, most criticized how the board has handled to the Sandusky scandal.
Ceil Massella, an alumna and wife of football letterman Brian, told the board, “Just as I always think of the shooting when think of Kent State, this university will always be associated with Sandusky’s guilt unless the record is set straight.”
Evan Smith ’11 asked the board, “What are you personally doing with your position of power to help serve the Penn State family? How are you helping us fight this battle of public perception?”
Several speakers also reiterated their belief that the board owes an apology to the family of Joe Paterno.
Facts and figures: President Rod Erickson said applications for 2014-15 baccalaureate admission have increased by 9,000 over last year—19 percent at University Park and 8 percent at the commonwealth campuses. Out-of-state applications are up 26 percent, and international applications are up 18 percent. Minority applications he said, are running 16 percent of last year.
He also said that the quality of applicants is higher: Their average SAT score is 20 percent greater than last year’s.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Most of the world’s attention has turned away from Sochi, but for thousands of world-class athletes, the games are just getting started. The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games kicked off Friday, and among the American medal hopefuls is a young skier with strong Penn State ties.
Staci Mannella (above, right) is a fearless 17-year-old from New Jersey who suffers from achromatopsia, a congenital eye condition that severely limits her visual acuity and leaves her extremely sensitive to light. As such, she can only ski with the help of a guide—and that’s where Kim Seevers ’86g comes in. A life-long skier, Seevers (above, left) works with the New York-based Adaptive Sports Foundation, which is how she was paired with Mannella. This month, they’ll be on the hill in Sochi together, Mannella sometimes just a few feet behind Seevers as they head downhill at speeds reaching 60 mph.
Alumni Association members can read more about this dynamic downhill duo on page 28 of our March/April issue. In the meantime, some bonus video: Here are Mannella and Seevers in an interview with MSG Network, and below, the trailer for Partially Sighted. Wicked Fast, a documentary that tracks their progress toward Sochi.
Here’s wishing Staci and Kim the best of luck this week.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Perhaps in this case, the best place to start is the end.
Two hours into the Board of Trustees’ governance and long-range planning committee meeting Thursday afternoon in Hershey, chair Keith Eckel decided the group needed another session before its next scheduled meeting in May. The board’s governance consultant, Holly Gregory, agreed and pushed for a substantial chunk of time to find some consensus on what reforms to pursue—and to understand why those reforms are needed.
“We need to drill down,” Gregory said. “I’m still really, really challenged because I need to make sure we have a sense of what we are trying to move on. And it’s difficult to come up with ideas of what we’re going to do when we don’t know what we’re trying to achieve. That was my hope. I have some sense of that on the size (of the board) issue, but we haven’t had the time to go down as deep as I’d like.”
Then she added, “I’m supposed to help facilitate. Not come up with my own reform proposal. I can easily come up with one based on what I’ve heard, but that really isn’t the task as I understand that.”
The committee members and Penn State staff pulled out their calendars and started tossing out suggestions. None worked. (Perhaps a suggestion from the media seats—why not do a Doodle poll?—would have helped.) These are busy people, people with calendars full of other board meetings, vacations, grandchildren. The upcoming celebration of Penn State’s capital campaign took up a few days, as did the ag trustees election and the counting of alumni election votes. At one point, Anthony Lubrano ’82, one of the board’s most vocal critics, even after joining it, noted a week he was unavailable, prompting Jim Broadhurst ’64, an executive committee member and former board chair who has served since 1998, to quip, “Might be a good week to have it, then.”
Everyone laughed, even Lubrano, who said, “I gave you a softball, Jim—if you couldn’t hit that one …”
Consensus was almost impossible to find. They tentatively settled on May 7, the day before the officially scheduled governance committee meeting, and according to attorney Frank Guadagnino ’78, responding to a question from Jesse Arnelle ’55, ’62g, that meeting should be open to the public.
It’s no secret, of course, that Penn State’s board is divided and that proceeding on the next part of governance reform, which involves the size and composition of the board, plus qualifications for trustees, was going to be difficult. That’s why the governance committee said it hired Gregory, to help members find the right path.
The board’s stated intent is to vote on a reform package in the fall. But the trustees entered Thursday’s meeting, their first public discussion on reform with Gregory, having not yet determined which data they needed or which universities they wanted to use as benchmarks. After a lengthy back-and-forth, that was settled. (And if they want more data, they are welcome to check out a feature from our July/August 2012 issue in which we compared the size and composition of Penn State’s board to those of other Big Ten, land-grant, and Pennsylvania universities.)
Even a potential reform that has widespread support—the addition of a permanent student trustee, necessary because there’s no guarantee of student representation, only a tradition that a student is of the six trustees appointed by the governor—required a sustained, sometimes contentious, discussion.
The issue has some urgency because the current student trustee, Peter Khoury, is graduating in May, and the board realized that unless it acts, it could be without a student representative when tuition is set at its July meeting. Eckel said Gov. Tom Corbett has assured that he will select Khoury’s successor in plenty of time to have the selection ratified by the state senate, but the committee wanted a back-up plan in case that doesn’t work.
The plan: for the committee to vote on the permanent student trustee reform immediately, but bring the item to the full board for the necessary approval only if the process in place now hasn’t moved forward by the next meeting. There’s a chance that the full board will not vote on this in May. But this action separated the student trustee from the rest of the reform package, which does not yet exist.
The student trustee position involves three changes: The size of the board would increase from 32 members to 33 (both numbers include non-voting trustees) because the governor would still have six appointments. The board itself would select the student trustee, but the University Park Undergraduate Association, the Graduate Student Association, and the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments would recommend that student. And the student trustee term would be two years, not three, to make it less likely that students would have to choose a freshman.
Barbara Doran ’75 suggested that Khoury stay on, that he could still represent student interests as an extremely recent graduate. (His term doesn’t officially expire until November; he has agreed to resign to make way for a student-chosen trustee.) The committee’s student representative, Molly Droelle, the president of CCSG, said that is unacceptable to students: “That’s a very strong point for us.”
Vice president for administration Tom Poole told the committee that the governor makes his decision after student organizations recommend one or two candidates and the state secretary of education (also a trustee) interviews the candidates. Richard Dandrea ’77 noted that the board could decide to make the student trustee position permanent but officially designate that trustee as one of the governor’s appointees.
“Not in the eyes of the students,” Droelle said. “That’s not the proposal.”
“I know that’s in the eyes of the students,” Dandrea said. “I like your vigorous advocacy. I’ll write your recommendation for law school. But I’m just saying, that’s another alternative we should consider.”
That idea was discussed but never brought forth for official consideration.
Lubrano objected to the item because it was separated from other potential reforms and because while the issue of the student trustee has been discussed generally in committee, he hadn’t seen this official proposal until the meeting. He insisted on a roll call vote, and the proposal passed 8-1, with his dissent.
“It’s imprudent to move forward with one part without talking about the whole,” he said.
Dealing with that whole, however, is proving difficult. And the proverbial devil, it became clear as the meeting progressed, is not only in the details, but in the overall philosophies of board members.
Board reform became a hot topic after the Sandusky scandal, when the board was criticized for its actions, particularly not knowing that Jerry Sandusky was under investigation before he was charged, the decision to fire Joe Paterno and how it was carried out, and the handling of the Freeh report. Alumni trustee Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, who was on the board in 2011 and is not running for re-election, addressed that issue head-on late in Thursday’s meeting.
She referenced a report by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges from the late 2000s that cited Penn State’s board as a model of good governance because of the diversity of constituencies represented on the board (alumni, agriculture, business, state officials) and the diversity of ways in which they are chosen (direct election, self-selection, appointees).
“I don’t want to lose sight of that,” she said. “And also, since eight years ago … there’s been a steady evolution toward board reform that means every member of this board is more included and feels more engaged. Really, it’s been a revolution.
“And I think what we are doing here today is on a continuum. I just don’t want us to lose sight of that. Just because we had a terrible thing happen, suddenly we have this terrible system. I don’t believe that.”
Doran, a private wealth manager at Morgan Stanley who was elected by the alumni post-scandal, answered by citing the nation’s financial crisis of 2008. “Most of the banks concerned were very well run, had risk management systems, everything looked good—and then fell apart when they failed the ultimate stress test. … A stress came (to Penn State), and it hurt us. Wall Street has been undergoing massive reform. I think that’s where we are now. We need to continue to look at how to improve.”
Alexander, one of two voting members of the board with a higher education background, responded, “I don’t like the idea of Penn State being compared to those financial institutions.”
Replied Doran, “It’s out there.”
The back-and-forth called back to how Gregory began her section of the meeting, which was billed on the agenda as “facilitated discussion of governance considerations with consultant.”
She said: “We need to ask, ‘Is change likely to have a positive result on board effectiveness?’ And also, perception matters here—you govern in public, and having the support of the community is critically important. … I think we have to deal with both issues.”
Those issues have many parts. I’m planning to flesh out some of them in future posts.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
BOT news: The Board of Trustees began two days of meetings Thursday in Hershey, and there’s plenty to talk about. The ongoing debate over potential governance reform continued, while there was progress on the move toward the creation of an official student trustee. Our Lori Shontz ’91, ’13g is in Hershey covering the meetings; for more detailed coverage, check back soon.
Hoops on a high: The Nittany Lions enjoyed their trip to Chicago last night, walloping Northwestern, 59-32, in Evanston. The Wildcats’ tally marked the fewest points scored by any Big Ten team this season, and with the win, Penn State moved to .500 on the season. Meanwhile, the top-seeded Lady Lions were set to open Big Ten tournament play today at noon against eighth seed Ohio State. They’ll do so knowing that senior guard Maggie Lucas has been named a finalist for the Wooden Award as national player of the year.
Three for the hall: Three standouts from Penn State’s 1986 national championship team are on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame. Shane Conlan ’86, DJ Dozier ’01, and Steve Wisniewski ’89 are up for induction, with the class set to be announced in May.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
He lifts, bro: If, for some reason, you’re not impressed by the fact that junior defensive tackle Derek Dowrey can squat 500 pounds, then how about this fact: Derek Dowrey can squat 500 pounds — for 10 reps. It’s “Max Out” week for the Penn State football team, and assistant communications director Tony Mancuso ’08 (@GoPSUTony) tweeted this photo of Dowrey’s quarter-ton feat during practice yesterday afternoon. And judging by the crowd surrounding the squat rack, Mancuso’s next tweet might just be the understatement of the century: “The team was fired up.”
Good rep: Penn State nabbed the 39th spot in this year’s Times Higher Education World Reputation Ranking, a jump from last year’s 49th place. The rankings are based on a survey of 300,000 academics and researchers, who were asked to identify the best teaching and research universities in the world. Harvard University lands at No. 1. See the entire list here.
Wine of the times: Here’s a cool story from yesterday’s Tribune-Review: Denise Gardner ’07 is Pennsylvania’s state enologist — an expert in winemaking and wine. And thanks to the home winemaking trend, Gardner’s wine workshops for the Penn State Extension enology program are in hot demand.
Mary Murphy, associate editor
James Franklin, Coming Soon to a Town Near You: The Coaches Caravan returns in May, headlined by James Franklin, who will visit 17 area locales—13 in Pennsylvania, plus forays into Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and New York City. Among the in-state stops on the tour, which is jointly sponsored by the Alumni Association and the Nittany Lion Club: four Penn State campuses and one event at Franklin’s alma mater, East Stroudsburg. More details on tickets will be coming later this month, but you can click here for the dates and clear your schedule now.
Running strong: Fresh off winning the Big Ten indoor track championship over the weekend, sophomore Kiah Seymour has been named the conference’s Track Athlete of the Championships, and coach Beth Alford-Sullivan earned the conference’s Coach of the Year award for the indoor season. Seymour won the 400 meters and anchored the winning 4×400-meter relay, and she finished second in the 200 meters. Get the full scoop here.
ICYMI on Mike McQueary: ESPN The Magazine on Tuesday published “The Whistleblower’s Last Stand,” a story about Mike McQueary ’97, who will be a central figure in the upcoming trial of Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz ’71, ’75g, and Tim Curley ’76, ’78g. If you’ve not yet read it, it’s certainly worth the time.
RIP, EP: Ellen Perry, another of the women who spearheaded the development of Penn State women’s athletics, died Tuesday. She spent 36 years at Penn State, arriving in 1966 as the first coach of the women’s swimming team and retiring in 2002 as associate athletic director and senior woman administrator. Known by everyone as “EP,” Perry was one of those people who had boatloads of knowledge and expertise, but imparted it with a light touch. This Centre Daily Times story quotes Perry from a story about her retirement, and I particularly loved how she basically summed up her life philosophy: “Believe in the goal you’re trying to make and complete and go at it with a well-intended heart. A happy heart works much better than an angry heart.”