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BOT Discusses Detailed Reform Proposals

The immediate result of Friday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees’ governance and long-range planning committee is easy to sum up: Needing more time to discuss the issues in board reform, the committee decided to use its regular September meeting to decide on a proposal to send to the full board, and a special October meeting will be called for the full board to vote on the proposal.

Explaining the rest of the meeting, however, isn’t so simple.

The committee finally delved into the details of governance reform. For more than a year now, we’ve heard about the general issues the board intended to consider; on Friday, for the first time, the committee engaged in a substantial discussion of the issues.

That took a while: nearly four and a half hours.

It also took the existence of three proposals, which moved the discussion from hypotheticals and abstractions to concrete suggestions:

Proposal A, conceived by board chair Keith Masser ’73  and Richard Dandrea ’77, would shrink the board by three voting members—the three voting members of the governor’s cabinet, the secretaries of agriculture, education, and conservation and natural resources—for a total of 27 voting members. The three secretaries, the governor, and the university president would remain as non-voting members. This proposal also eliminates three alumni-elected trustees and replaces them with a trustee from the Penn State Alumni Association, a student trustee, and an academic (i.e. faculty) trustee.

Proposal B, conceived by Anthony Lubrano ’82, also eliminates the three cabinet secretaries for a total of 27 voting members. This plan has only one ex-officio non-voting member: the university president. Neither the governor nor members of his cabinet have any role. Lubrano said he intends for the plan to be a compromise. This proposal requires that one of the governor’s appointments be a student and changes the way agricultural trustees are elected (by alumni of the College of Agricultural Sciences).

Proposal C, conceived by Barbara Doran ’75, makes the biggest changes. It cuts the board to 18 voting members by eliminating as voting members the three cabinet secretaries, four gubernatorial trustees, all six business and industry trustees, all six agriculture trustees, and two alumni-elected trustees. It adds one student trustee, elected by the board, and eight at-large trustees appointed by the board. The university president and the state secretary of education remain as non-voting ex-officio members.

Those are the highlights—you can click here to see the 10-page matrix with all three proposals that the committee used as its basis for discussion, which was the most detailed the members have had about possible changes.

Everyone knows the big issues—the size of the board, the composition of the board, the way board members are chosen. Committee chair Keith Eckel used those issues as the framework for the meeting. What those discussions revealed were the more specific questions that must be resolved to come to a consensus on those bigger issues. I’m going to focus on some of those questions:

Why so many agricultural trustees, and how would shrinking the number reflect on the university’s land-grant mission?

Penn State has more agricultural trustees than any university in the country: Cornell, a private land-grant university, has two of 64, and Purdue has one, elected by alumni of the agricultural college. Penn State’s six ag trustees reflect the university’s roots as the Farmers’ High School and the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania (it became the Pennsylvania State College in 1874), and its land-grant mission. Doran pointed out, however, that only 3.6 of the student body is in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“My real question,” she said, “is why we have so many given the small percentage on campus. We are trustees of the university, not trustees of the state.”

That’s why Doran’s plan eliminates ag trustees—and also business and industry trustees. She says the board needs to be able to address its needs and would be better able to do so by making at-large selections.

The governance committee includes four ag trustees—board chair Masser, committee chair Eckel, Carl Shaffer, and Betsy Huber. Shaffer pointed out that agriculture is Pennsylvania’s No. 1 industry; Eckel called this issue “one that the chair is prejudiced on.” Roger Egolf, a non-voting faculty member of the committee, noted Penn State’s agricultural extension program, which has representatives in all 67 counties. The committee also noted the high proportion of research dollars pulled in by the college.

Lubrano said he saw a role for ag trustees but wondered how they fit proportionally into a reconstituted board. His proposal calls for ag trustees to be elected by alumni of the College of Agricultural Sciences, but Masser pointed out that he himself is an ag trustee who graduated from the College of Engineering. Egolf added that Lubrano’s proposal would “cut out people employed in the ag industry but not from the ag college” and that “also, ag grads go on to other careers,” so someone elected by college alumni may not be working in the field.

What’s the real issue about the alumni trustees—their large number, or the fact that the most recently elected alumni trustees have been vocal in criticizing the board’s previous decisions?

Dandrea started this discussion with a look at the benchmarking—of the 36 peer institutions the board identified, 33 have zero alumni-elected trustees. He noted the “highly unique situation we have at Penn State, where we have had this huge cadre of alumni trustee elected by alumni in contrast to all the other schools basically we decided were appropriate to consider.”

Dandrea further noted that a small percentage of alumni vote in the election—between 2.5 percent and 5 percent, he said, with the higher percentage coming in the three years since the Sandusky scandal. But even those numbers have fallen in the past three years. The combination, he said, means that the board is unbalanced if it has nine alumni-elected trustees.

He called accusations that his position is an assault on alumni-elected trustees a “mischaracterization,” explaining, “Nobody is proposing that we take the alumni-elected trustees from nine to zero, nine to one, or nine to two. It’s taking the alumni-elected trustees from nine to the same number as the other major mechanisms for appointment or election to the board. That’s fair. It’s not draconian.”

He pointed out that while Proposal A, which he helped to develop, cuts the number of alumni-elected trustees to six, same as the number of business and industry, gubernatorial, and agricultural trustees, it also requires that half of those three groups be composed of Penn State alumni. The proposal also allocates a seat to the Alumni Association.

That prompted a spirited dissent from Lubrano, who referred to a previous conversation between himself and Dandrea.

“I told you that having three children, I’ve done a fair amount of studying in the area of psychology. And one of the points driven home is that fair does not mean equal. So the notion that it’s fair to me is preposterous. The largest group representing this university is alumni—over 600,000. … I must confess that when I saw this proposal, it struck me that the hue and cry against the alumni election the last few years is in part against PS4RS, that folks at least quietly within the board are talking about how the process had been co-opted, that we can’t afford to have the kind of elections we’ve had the past three years. So this is really a control issue. If the alumni have nine, they can gain control of the board, and we’re going to harm the university. I find that insulting, frankly. … My only interest is to leave this school better than I found it.”

Lubrano, who had previously called the influence of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship “the elephant in the room,” then returned to a recurring theme—that the alumni election is the most transparent part of the board selection process.

Dandrea responded: “It is that. It is a good process. That’s why, even though only 2.5 to 5 percent or more than alumni participate in it, it’s out of respect for the bona fides of the process that we say, that I say, we should nevertheless still have six alumni trustees. Because if you look at the data and consider the micro-minority of the alumni who take the time to vote—and no criticism; there were many years after I graduated when I didn’t vote. Lots of people just don’t vote; that’s just a fact. When you take into account the micro-minority of alumni who vote, this proposal is reasonable.”

Dandrea added that a seat for the Alumni Association would give alumni representatives seven seats on the board, more than any other group, but Lubrano and Doran spoke against that addition.

Doran said that when she mentioned benchmarking with respect to the ag trustees, other committee members mentioned the importance of agriculture beyond those numbers; she said that position was “very eloquently explained.” And she said she was skeptical of benchmarking as a the motivation to reduce the number of alumni-elected trustees.

She described the perception as this: “Alumni trustees have marginalized themselves by violations of board confidentiality, violations of the standing orders, with being at odds with the majority. That’s an absolutely false narrative.”

A related discussion about the seat requested by the Alumni Association largely repeated the points from the discussion at the July meeting—that there is a conflict of interest because of the Alumni Association’s relationship with the university.

Can the process for choosing business and industry trustees be made more public?

The business and industry trustees are chosen by the board itself, a process that some reformers have decried, but that the Faculty Senate report noted was a typical means of board selection. Dandrea suggested that the process works—he noted that the two newest business and industry trustees, Daniel Mead ’75, ’77g and Walter Rakowich ’79, were unanimously approved by the selection committee, which included both a governor-appointed trustee and an alumni-elected trustee.

The committee discussed the procedure and logistics of the search with Eckel wondering whether the committee members could be made public and how important confidentiality was to those who may be nominated. (Mead, who’s on the governance committee, said it was very important.) There seemed to be some confusion over whether the names of the committee were known to the rest of the board. The members are chosen by the chair.

“What we’re saying is that I need to trust my colleagues on the board,” Lubrano said. “That’s what we’re all striving to do, develop a level of trust. It would go a long way if we had some level of information.”

And, finally, here are quick hits on the other discussion points:

—On board size, the committee discussed again having a small enough board to have all members be engaged, yet a large enough board to have members on all of the seven standing committees, which some consider an important part of the reforms that have already been implemented.

—There was widespread agreement that a board seat should be designated for a student, and that students should have input via a student selection committee.

—Dandrea said that he has “come full circle” on the idea of having a voting faculty member on the board and that any financial conflict can be managed by not having the faculty member vote, say, on the budget. Lubrano said he was still against this but noted that he was continuing to speak with “Professor Nichols”—that’s professor emeritus John Nichols, who chaired the Faculty Senate’s special committee on governance (which recommended two faculty trustees) and has extensively researched the role of governing boards.

—The need to find the right balance for emeritus trustees—taking advantage of their expertise, honoring them for their services, and making sure they don’t have undue influence after their terms expire—was discussed again. Specifically, the committee discussed the usefulness of having emeritus trustees on committees as non-voting members.

—Doran’s proposal got deeper into the details than the other two—on the matrix comparing the three proposals, three pages were devoted solely to items raised in her Proposal C. Among the ones that received the most attention: term limits, conflict of interest language, and delivering executive committee notes to the rest of the board within three days of a such a meeting. The last point generated significant discussion: Penn State lawyers said that many gatherings of the committee, such as a traditional Wednesday night dinner before Board of Trustees meeting, are simply informational and not technically meetings.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

August 18, 2014 at 12:03 pm 10 comments

From the Magazine: Eric Barron, Data Driven

Barron_openerIf you followed coverage of last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, you’ll remember that Eric Barron broke tradition in his first address as president. Instead of reading a list of Penn State’s recent accomplishments, he gave a 25-minute seminar on issues of access and affordability in higher education. He presented a lot of charts, graphs, and data, too.

I wasn’t surprised. This past March, I spent a couple of days in Tallahassee reporting a profile on Barron for our May/June issue, and his love of data and metrics came up so frequently that we titled our story Data Driven. If you’ve not read the article, click here to download a PDF of the story and learn a little bit more about Penn State’s 18th president.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

 

July 17, 2014 at 11:42 am Leave a comment

Board of Trustees Report: Barron Addresses Affordability of College; Lord Wants Freeh Report ‘Finished’

The Board of Trustees meeting began with what seemed, at times, like a graduate-level seminar in finance and statistics. President Eric Barron, addressing the board for the first time, dispensed with the usual presidential address highlighting various accomplishments of students and faculty and instead presented a 25-minute talk about the issues of access and affordability in higher education, complete with 22 pages of bar graphs, scatter charts, financial data, and bulleted lists of potential ways to make a Penn State education more affordable.

When I profiled Barron for our May/June issue, he told me he liked data. Click here for a PDF of his presentation today—you’ll see he may have understated his love of data.

More than three hours later, the meeting ended with a surprise resolution introduced by newly elected alumni trustee Al Lord ’67, who called for a roll call vote on “finishing” the Freeh report. Lord contends that the report is incomplete because Freeh did not talk to seven key people and because the truth of whether Penn State officials were aware of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes is still unknown.

“I want the board to agree that we’re not done. That’s all,” Lord said after the meeting. “It’s very simple—that we’re not finished. There are a lot of people that complain there’s misinformation in the report. I don’t know. I do know it’s not finished.”

Discussion was suspended because Penn State general counsel Stephen Dunham advised that it would need, for privacy reasons, to take place in executive session. Lord said the board had decided to have the discussion at its next meeting in September, and then the board briefly debated whether it needed to table the resolution to assure that the meeting did not end with a resolution on the floor. Although newly elected alumni trustee Robert Jubelirer ’59, ’62g said he believed the motion was tabled with the intent of killing it, board chair Keith Masser ’73 Eng said it was merely a formality. The motion was tabled.

It’s a lot to digest. So here are some of the details on both:

Barron’s report: He identified six major areas of emphasis for the university: excellence, student engagement, economic development and student career success, diversity and demographics, access and affordability, and technology and curriculum delivery.

Barron spoke in intricate detail about what he called Penn State’s “evolution into a tuition-driven university,” and showed a chart that made clear how few state budget dollars Penn State gets in comparison with the other Big Ten universities. He broke down how students pay for college and provided a table that showed how family income affects graduation rates: For every additional $10,000 in family income, a student’s chance of graduating rises 6 percent.

He discussed the rising level of debt college students face—66 percent of students graduate with some debt, and the average debt has grown from $20,000 to $35,429 in the past decade. Worse, Barron said, some students don’t have enough money to finish, so they are saddled with debt but don’t have a college degree. (This topic was fleshed out in a recent study by the Brookings Institutions, written about here by the New York Times.)

Barron said the university must focus on helping students to graduate in four years; an extra year of college, he said, is the “biggest tuition increase.” Among the ideas he floated: emphasizing the summer semester, possibly through “online summers” with reduced tuition for students with financial need or a “cost-contained” summer on campus, once the university could determine the break-even point for expenses.

He also said that he’d like Penn State to raise money to cover the “unmet need” many students have in paying for college after loans, scholarships, and grants. He noted that those students work to make up the money, and that extra time on the job can cause difficulties in the classroom. He would like to find a way that students don’t need to work more than 20 hours a week—he calculated that would cost the university $25 million for all in-state students at Penn State. He called it the Penn State Promise.

“Some of these things won’t work,” he said. “I’m talking a little bit out loud—let’s get strategic, let’s focus on these things.”

Several of the trustees praised the report, and Barron indicated he would tackle the other five issues in upcoming meetings.

Lord’s resolution: Generally, the way Penn State’s board has worked is that resolutions come up through the committees. Lord introduced this resolution, however, to the full board.

He said the trustees haven’t done anything with the Freeh report—except to fulfill the recommendations Freeh made and hand the report over to the NCAA, which in turn used the findings to impose sanctions. “By virtue of the fact that we didn’t reject it, the board tells me that they didn’t accept it,” he said. “To me, the absence of a rejection is acceptance.”

He said that “everyone has been sitting on their hands” waiting for the criminal trial of Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz ’71, ’75g, and Tim Curley ’76, ’78g. “I’m afraid that case is going to be dismissed,” he said, “and it’ll be ‘Penn State got out of it because of a technicality.’ I want the truth. I am hopeful of where it leads. I have very strong beliefs of where it will lead. But if any of those guys were guilty, then they belong in jail.”

Lord said he would be happy to provide specifics of incomplete parts of Freeh’s report, but he wanted to refresh his memory of the details before he did so. “I’m sort of brain dead after that mind-numbing conversation all afternoon,” he said.

Freeh did not have subpoena power; in his report, he indicated that was why he did not speak to the primary figures in the Sandusky scandal, among them Schultz, Curley, Joe Paterno, and Mike McQueary ’97.  (Spanier did meet with Freeh’s investigators.) Said Lord: “Louis Freeh would tell you that, Look, I couldn’t talk to this guy because he’s part of a criminal investigation. But you’re talking about seven people, the seven key people who know what happened or as much as anybody knows about what happened—he never talked to anybody. I understand that some of them have claimed privilege because they’re in a criminal case, but that means [Freeh is] not finished.”

As if all that weren’t enough, here are a few additional—shorter—items from the meeting:

—Masser ran unopposed for chair and will serve for another year. Kathleen Casey ’88, a gubernatorial appointeedefeated Bill Oldsey ’76, an alumni-elected trustee, for the vice chair position. As usual, vote totals were not announced.

—Casey’s election as vice chair opened up an at-large position on the executive board, and the trustees voted to fill the spot with Ryan McCombie ’70. He is the first of the alumni trustees elected post-Sandusky scandal to be appointed to the executive committee.

—The board granted emeritus trustee status to Samuel Hayes and Paul Suhey ’79, with all nine alumni trustees abstaining. Anthony Lubrano ’82 suggested again that emeritus trustee status be delayed until governance reform is enacted.

—The board approved a $4.6 billion budget for 2014-15 with a tuition increase of 2.99 percent for University Park and increases ranging from zero to 2.4 percent for other campuses.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

 

July 11, 2014 at 9:11 pm 4 comments

Getting into the Nitty-Gritty of Governance Reform

Some of what happened at Thursday’s meeting of the Penn State trustees’  governance and long-range planning committee—which began to get into the nitty-gritty of additional reforms—was predictable:

Veteran members of the board spoke in favor of keeping it the same size; newer members, elected by the alumni in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, insisted that a smaller board would be “more nimble” and “more engaged.” Agricultural trustees didn’t think cutting back the number of ag trustees was a good idea. Students said they need a permanent seat on the board, with the trustee being chosen by the students themselves, not the governor or the board itself.

But for the first time in public, the trustees went beyond the basics. Representatives from the Alumni Association, the faculty, and the students made their cases for permanent seats on the board. And among the issues the trustees considered Thursday were these:

How do the trustees define whether board members are “engaged”? Would having a faculty member—a university employee—on the board present an insurmountable conflict of interest? And how many board members should be alumni—not just trustees elected by the alumni, but alumni?

Additionally, Eric Barron, who is attending his first board meeting after taking over as Penn State’s president on May 12, weighed in.

He was careful to say that he wasn’t making recommendations and didn’t want to choose who his boss would be (the Board of Trustees is responsible for selecting the president). Barron said only that he wanted to let the committee know of his experience, and that he was familiar, as Florida State’s president, with having student and faculty representation on the board. He repeatedly used the word “voice” to describe what those trustees provided.

“If I got nervous about anything in this conversation, it wasn’t the notion of numbers and placement,” he said in the meeting. “It’s the notion of representing someone. My view is that this has to be a group of people that are here for one purpose: to ensure the success of the institution, not representation.”

As he spoke, governance consultant Holly Gregory and her assistant, Paige Montgomery, nodded their heads vigorously. Gregory had opened the discussion by saying, “Reaching agreement on these issues is difficult because it’s not quite as clear [as other reforms the board has already enacted]. There are issues of both power and trust. The trust among members of this board is already under some degree of tension. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about it. I know some are frustrated that we haven’t moved faster.”

Barron elaborated on his experience with student and faculty trustees, saying that in addition to the voice they provide, he found that the chance for additional back-and-forth about the issues was important. “Lo and behold,” he said, “a student will vote for a tuition increase because they participated in an in-depth discussion about the budget and understand what the university is up against, and they don’t want to give up quality any more than anyone else. A faculty member will vote on benefit changes because they realize that between health insurance and benefits, it’s going up at a clip of $25 million a year and that’s unsustainable. So the voice is not just that, but an opportunity to give input and have it go in reverse.”

As usual, there’s no easy way to sum up what happened during the meeting, which lasted for 90 minutes and moved briskly. Even at that pace, the committee didn’t discuss all of the reform items it had previously discussed in small groups that were closed to the public in May. Here are some highlights from today’s meeting:

Alumni trustees: Alumni Association president Kay Salvino ’69, in making the case for an Alumni Association seat on the board, highlighted the association’s “mission of service” to its 174,379 members and 631,000 living alumni. “We have responsibility for serving the largest constituency of the university—substantially larger than students, faculty, and staff combined, and growing larger every year.” She noted, as well, that Alumni Council, the association’s governing board, includes alumni society presidents from each college and campus.

[In the interest of full disclosure: The Penn Stater magazine and this website are both published by the Alumni Association.]

In addition, Salvino said, the Alumni Association is “one of the largest cumulative donors” to Penn State with more than $15 million in gifts for scholarships, fellowships, programs, and facilities since 1988. And in the just-concluded capital campaign, Alumni Association members donated nearly $800 million, meaning “90 cents on the dollar of all alumni giving came from members of the Alumni Association.”

She finished by showing the scope of the Alumni Association’s programs, which involve students, showcase the university’s academic prowess, and communicate with alums: “We touch and serve Penn State and our alumni in a way that no other organization can do, and we do it every day, in countless ways.”

Trustee emeritus David Jones ’54, for one, was skeptical. He said he had “great respect and admiration” for the Alumni Association, but pointed out that alumni already elect nine trustees and noted that “historically, in recent years, at least two-thirds of our trustees have been alumni.” He called that proportion of trustees who are alumni “really full, if not too full.”

He added: “I sometimes think we would benefit by having more outside voices on the board.”

Alumni trustees Anthony Lubrano ’82 and Barbara Doran ’75 spoke up for the current system of elected alumni trustees; Doran called the alumni election “one of the most robust, transparent processes you can run.”

Business and industry trustee Richard Dandrea ’77 floated the idea of reducing the number of alumni-elected trustees, saying that election turnout is low and that so many of the other trustees are alumni that perhaps alumni are overrepresented on the board. Lubrano disagreed repeatedly, saying “no one” is more invested in the success of the university than alumni, but board chair Keith Masser ’73, an ag trustee, agreed with Dandrea, saying that the business and industry trustees may be misnamed. He said he isn’t aware that a non-alum has ever been named a business and industry trustee.

Faculty: John Nichols, professor emeritus of communications and chair of the Faculty Senate’s special committee on university governance, which issued this report in 2013, made the case for a faculty representative on the board. He stressed two things: first, that his committee’s report had been unanimously approved by the Faculty Senate, which is a particularly rare feat; and second, that he was proposing not a faculty trustee, but an “internal academic trustee.” The distinction, he said, is “very important.”

A “highly specialized institution like a university,” Nichols said, needs trustees who have a “deep understanding” of its mission. Penn State’s board has two members with a background in higher education: elected alumni trustee Alice Pope ’79, ’83g, ’86g, a psychology professor at St. John’s University, and Bill Oldsey ’76, who has worked in academic publishing.

Additionally, he said, a university is “essentially a professional association, and professional institutions are best governed with considerable governance by the internal professionals that deliver the goods. … Not to have that happen is a serious disconnection between the core mission of the university and the governance of the university.”

Jones said he had reservations about having employees on the board; ag trustee Betsy Huber noted that Pennsylvania law prohibits schoolteachers from serving on the school board in their own districts for just that reason. But Dandrea (who was chairing the meeting in Keith Eckel’s absence) said having one faculty trustee out of 30 meant that any conflict of image could be managed.

Students: University Park Undergraduate Association president Anand Ganjam and vice president Emily MacDonald spoke on behalf of students, and they made largely the point that their predecessors have made in previous meetings: that students don’t want to rely on the whim of the governor to have representation on the board and should have a representative who is chosen by students themselves. (For years, the governor has used one of his appointments to include a student on the board, but there’s nothing saying he has to.) They also detailed the procedure by which they assure student input.

Lubrano said he was in favor of the governor continuing to appoint a student trustee, but Masser said Gov. Tom Corbett had agreed to give up one of his appointments and allow the board to choose a student.

The tension surrounding reform was evident earlier in the day at the outreach committee meeting, when alumni trustee Ted Brown ’68 questioned Mike DiRaimo, the university’s governmental affairs representative, about a letter DiRaimo had written to the Senate’s state government committee asking that a bill sponsored by state Sen. John Yudichak, which would cut the board to 23 members, be tabled. Brown said he was upset that the letter indicated that the Board of Trustees did not support the bill because that is not, in fact, the case.

DiRaimo explained that he objected to the committee taking action on the bill for two reasons: because the bill would apply only to Penn State, and the university had been assured that would not be the case, and that the bill stipulates that only the General Assembly can make changes in the board’s size and composition in the future. He said, “That I know to be against the interest, against the position, against the actions of the trustees.” (The Senate committee did vote, unanimously, to approve the bill, which still needs to be considered by the full Senate.)

Brown wasn’t satisfied: “You said the Board of Trustees is opposed to this bill. I don’t remember any discussion to that, ever.”

New alumni trustee Robert Jubelirer ’59, ’62g chimed in, suggesting that DiRaimo could have phrased his objections better—and more accurately. He said that Yudichak ’93, ’04g and co-sponsor Jake Corman ’93 had previously agreed to hold the bill through May 2014 to see what progress the board made itself on reform and that the bill had been amended so to extend the time period to two years to allow the board to pursue reform itself.

“I think that’s significant,” Jubelirer said. “There’s plenty of time if this board is intent on reforming.”

He added that not only did the full board not discuss or vote on its position on the bill, but that he would not have opposed it had the board done so. Therefore, he said, the letter to the legislature was inaccurate. DiRaimo did not respond.

Here’s what comes next in the process:

Dandrea said that any committee members interested in working on a formal proposal to vote on at the next committee meeting would work with university attorney Frank Guadagnino ’78, who will “labor over” the draft.  The committee will schedule an additional meeting within the next month to vote on recommendations to bring to the board. The idea is to have the board in position to vote on a proposal at its next meeting, Sept. 19 at University Park.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

July 10, 2014 at 8:52 pm 6 comments

Another Alumni Election Sweep for PS4RS

Alice Pope and Robert Jubelirer react to the announcement that they won BOT seats.

Alice Pope and Robert Jubelirer react to the announcement that they won BOT seats.

For the second year in a row, candidates endorsed by Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship swept the three seats in the Board of Trustees alumni election. When the new trustees take their seats in July, none of the nine alumni trustees who were on the board when the Sandusky scandal broke—and when Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier were fired—will remain.

Alice Pope ’79, ’83g, ’86g, a psychology professor at St. John’s University, finished first with 10,025 votes; Albert Lord ’67, former chairman and CEO of Sallie Mae, finished second with 9,516 votes; and Robert Jubelirer ’59, ’62g, an attorney and former state senator, finished third with 8,101 votes.

“We do have nine new people in three years, and I think that should put to rest the idea that the concerned alumni are a vocal minority,” Pope said. “The Alumni Association survey showed that the alumni who are concerned about the leadership of this university are not a minority. So now it’s really time for us to be taken seriously and to work together in a very genuine way. It is over the time to be saying ‘us’ against ‘them.’ That time is gone. We must do whatever it takes to bridge that divide.”

A divide does exist. Jubelirer, who said he was involved in about a dozen elections as a politician, said this campaign was both the most difficult—because of its length and structure, and the importance of social media—and the nastiest in which he was involved. “People can say whatever they want,” he said. “My whole personal life was laid out on Facebook. … There’s a handful of people who made it that way. I want to make that clear. Not everybody’s nasty.”

Board turnover isn’t limited to the alumni trustees. Two new gubernatorial trustees, Cliff Benson ’71 and Todd Rucci ’92, were confirmed by the state legislature April 9 and took their seats at this meeting, replacing Ira Lubert ’73 and Al Clemens ’59. Business and industry trustees Linda Brodsky Strumpf ’69 and Jim Broadhurst ’65 stepped down; they’ll be replaced by Daniel Mead ’75, ’77g, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, and Walter Rakowich ’79, retired CEO of Prologis.

Pope, Jubelirer, and Lord (who did not attend the meeting) were endorsed by PS4RS, which has criticized the board for its firing of Paterno and Spanier, its acceptance of the Freeh report, which they say led to NCAA sanctions, and the board’s unwillingness to keep pushing to find the truth of what happened in the Sandusky scandal. But Pope and Jubelirer say they also bring additional qualities to the board.

Jubelirer says he has “relationships in Harrisburg that I think will benefit the university,” and Pope, as a college professor, says her understanding of higher education is particularly important on a board that has far more trustees with corporate backgrounds than higher ed backgrounds.

“The business of education is not like other business,” she said. “The products are not the same. Yes, corporate models have some place in universities, but the educational mission has to be put first and foremost.”

Jesse Arnelle is recognized for his 45 years of serves as a Penn State trustee.

Jesse Arnelle is recognized for his 45 years of serves as a Penn State trustee.

The PS4RS candidates won their seats handily. The fourth-place finisher, Ted Sebastianelli ’68, was 2,400 votes behind. The only incumbent running, Joel Myers ’61, ’63g, ’71g, finished seventh with 3,511 votes. The other two incumbents, Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62 and Jesse Arnelle ’55, ’62g, decided to not run for re-election. Arnelle served as a trustee for 45 years; he was first elected in 1969.

Overall, voter turnout was down, with 29,791 ballots cast. More than 33,000 alumni voted in 2013, which was in turn down from more than 37,500 in 2012, immediately after the Sandusky scandal.

Other notes from Friday’s meeting:

—Agricultural trustees Keith Masser ’73 and Betsy Huber were re-elected, but trustee M. Abraham Harpster ’94 said that a candidate had complained about voting irregularities in one county.  He added that election officials had not been able to confirm this, and so the election results stood.

—The resolution to add a permanent student trustee—selected by students—was withdrawn because governance chair Keith Eckel said Gov. Tom Corbett will appoint a student to replace Peter Khoury ’12, who is graduating with a master’s degree this weekend, before the board votes on tuition in July. Should the appointment not materialize, the board will call a special meeting to assure there is a student on the board for the tuition vote. The possibility of a permanent seat for a student will be considered with the rest of the governance reforms, not separately.

—Speaking of governance reform, Eckel said that consultant Holly Gregory has a sense of the issues that trustees want to address after Wednesday’s small-group sessions of the governance committee, which were not open to the public. He hopes to present the full board with recommendations at its July meeting, making it possible to vote on the package at the September meeting.  This will likely involve an interim committee meeting between now and then, and trustees have said that will be an open meeting.

—In his final presentation to the board, retiring president Rod Erickson gave updated application numbers: As of May 5, Penn State had received more than 81,000 undergraduate applications, 14 percent higher than 2013 and 5 percent higher than 2012. Including grad school, law school, and medical school applications, Penn State has received more than 120,000 applications, 600 more than in 2013 and 1,200 more than in 2012.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

 

 

May 9, 2014 at 10:07 pm Leave a comment

Trustees Honor Erickson on his Retirement

DSC_4188_EricksonWhen Board of Trustees chair Keith Masser opened Friday’s meeting, he noted that Rod Erickson would be giving the president’s address for the last time before he retires. There was a round of applause, and Masser noted that there would be plenty of opportunities to honor Erickson throughout the meeting.

He wasn’t kidding.

Erickson, who is retiring after 37 years at Penn State, the last 31 months as president, was unanimously voted president emeritus and professor emeritus of geography and business administration. He received an additional $50,000 to a $100,000 bonus in his contract. He had the Food Services Building—home of the Berkey Creamery—named after him, also by unanimous vote. The resolution naming the building saluted Erickson’s tenure as executive vice president and provost.

It was announced that more than $500,000 had been raised in his honor to fund the Erickson Discovery Grants, which will allow undergraduate students to conduct individual research outside the classroom, attend professional conferences, or travel for additional study. The program, according to this news release, is designed to “address an unmet need of several students who cannot afford the associated costs, or the sacrifice of time that might otherwise be spent in paid work, to pursue such engaged scholarship opportunities.”

And Erickson also received the Penn State Medal, which the board adopted in 1957 to honor people who “made an outstanding contribution to higher education in Pennsylvania,” according to this news release, and then modified in 1987 to honor anyone whose accomplishments, in or out of higher education, inspire Penn State students. Since the change, it has been awarded to only two people—former presidents Bryce Jordan and Joab Thomas.

Erickson was also the subject of this tribute video, which includes good wishes from everyone from Essence of Joy director Anthony Leach to students at various Commonwealth campuses to Mike the Mailman. The best part, in my opinion, is an old family photo in which Erickson is supporting a trendy 1970s hairdo—i.e., long and a little wavy … and possibly with sideburns?

Erickson said repeatedly that he was honored and privileged to have served at Penn State and said that two Penn Staters expressed his feelings better than he could. He quoted the late William Schreyer, who said, “It feels good to be a Penn Stater. You feel like you belong to a great institution that is only getting better.”

He joked that the Food Services Building was a fitting tribute because of his love of agriculture (he and his wife, Shari—who was also honored—live on a 52-acre farm, and he told me in 2012 that he believes he’s the only university president who owns a bulldozer) and his love of ice cream. And when he received the Penn State medal, he said, “I accept this on behalf of the faculty, staff, student, and alumni who have made Penn State the great institution it is.”

Lori Shontz, senior editor

 

 

May 9, 2014 at 7:57 pm 2 comments

Governance Committee Wrestles with Reform—Again

The Board of Trustees’ governance committee began discussing the details of potential reforms on Wednesday afternoon. But what the trustees discussed isn’t yet known.

On Wednesday, at an extra meeting of the committee—called after the March meeting, when the trustees and governance consultant Holly Gregory spent a couple of hours discussing what data they needed in order to begin discussing reform—the trustees received a report benchmarking Penn State’s board with 20 peer institutions.

Gregory introduced the report today by saying that she and her associate Paige Montgomery had conducted more than 40 interviews, reviewed “a variety of reform proposals,” organized a January retreat for the Penn State board to identify goals and guiding strategies, and met with a legislative caucus in Harrisburg. “What’s become very obvious from all of these,” Gregory said, “is that a clear consensus on reform has not yet emerged. Nor does there appear to be a clear consensus on what are the underlying problems that we are attempting to solve by considering reform.”

The 29-page benchmarking summary report compares the structure, composition, and selection of Penn State’s board to Pennsylvania’s other three state-related universities (Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln), 14 Committee on Institutional Cooperation universities (the CIC is the highly regarded academic counterpart to the Big Ten and includes the University of Chicago), two private land-grant universities (Cornell and MIT), and Johns Hopkins.

(As usual, I feel compelled to point out that we at The Penn Stater benchmarked Penn State’s board against other Big Ten universities and land-grant universities in our July/August 2012 issue; click here for a PDF of our findings. I should also note that the Faculty Senate committee, which anyone who cares about governance issues should read, also did substantial work on benchmarking.)

No two boards are structured the same, but there tend to be consistent differences in how public vs. private universities are structured. For instance, private boards are larger—of the five that Gregory and Montgomery benchmarked, the median number of members is 64, with 55 having voting privileges. For the 15 public universities, the median size is 13, with 12 voting. As a state-related university, Penn State has characteristics of both public and private schools.

Among the consultants’ findings were these numbers on the percentage of the 20 peer institutions that include representatives from the following groups as voting members:

— Governor: 15 percent (Penn State’s board: no longer)

— Secretaries of state agencies: 15 percent (Penn State: yes)

— President/chancellor: 35 percent (Penn State: no longer)

— Student: 55 percent (Penn State: a student is traditionally appointed by the governor)

— Faculty: 10 percent (Penn State: no)

— Staff: 5 percent (Penn State: no)

— Alumni: 35 percent (Penn State: yes)

— Agriculture: 10 percent (Penn State: yes)

— Business: 5 percent (Penn State: yes)

The report also compares Penn State’s selection methods to the peer university group’s selection methods:

— Appointed by governor: 60 percent (Penn State: yes)

— Secretaries of state agencies: 25 percent (Penn State: yes)

— Appointed by legislature: 20 percent (Penn State: no)

— Elected by alumni: 15 percent (Penn State: yes)

— Selected by board: 45 percent (Penn State: yes)

— Elected by students: 20 percent (Penn State: no)

— Elected by statewide vote: 15 percent (Penn State: no)

— Elected by staff: 5 percent (Penn State: no)

— Elected by faculty: 10 percent (Penn State: no)

— Selected by Alumni Association: 20 percent (Penn State: no)

The committee had a brief discussion after several members noticed that the report indicates Penn State has about six fewer trustees who are alumni than it actually does. Board chair Keith Masser ’73 said, “It just makes me question—if this isn’t right, what else isn’t right?”

Gregory and Montgomery apologized and said the data was compiled from publicly available sources. I don’t know when they gathered their data—or what the composition of the board was then—but I just checked the Board of Trustees’ website, and there are several trustees without biographical information, including six who joined the board in the past year: Kathleen Casey ’88, Ted Brown ’68, Barbara Doran ’75, Bill Oldsey ’76, M. Abraham Harpster ’94, and Richard Dandrea ’77.

Including those trustees, there are 22 alumni serving on the board (nine who are elected by alumni).

After hearing the report today, the governance committee was divided into three separate breakout groups to spend an hour, behind closed doors, considering questions posed by the consultants. (Group one: trustees Keith Eckel, Dandrea, and Anthony Lubrano ’82; faculty representative Roger Egolf, and vice president for administration Tom Poole. Group two: trustees Masser, Jim Broadhurst ’64, Doran, and emeritus trustee David Jones ’54. Group three: trustees Carl Shaffer, Jesse Arnelle ’55, ’62g, Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, and student representative Emily McDonald.

At the March committee meeting, Arnelle had asked whether the next meeting would be public, and attorney Frank Guadagnino ’78 said it depended on what was being discussed. Eckel said Wednesday that the small groups were not open because there was no quorum and because there were non-voting members present in each of the groups. Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law says open meetings are required when there is “official action and deliberations by a quorum of the members of an agency.”

Each of the small groups was to consider the same questions and report a consensus back to the consultants; the results of their discussions aren’t yet known. Eckel said he would like to schedule another governance committee meeting between now and the July Board of Trustees meeting to further discuss potential recommendations. He hopes that the committee will be able to make reform recommendations to the full board in July but said that the complexity means it could stretch until September. The board needs at least 30 days’ notice before voting on changes to the university’s bylaws or charter.

The officially scheduled governance committee meeting is Thursday morning. More updates as events warrant.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

 

May 7, 2014 at 8:30 pm 2 comments

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