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Trustees Approve an Expanded Board

In a busy and often contentious five-hour meeting Friday afternoon at the Penn Stater Hotel, the Board of Trustees ended months of heated debate by adopting a proposal to expand the board’s membership to 36 voting members. The board also voted to postpone action on a proposal to join a lawsuit against the NCAA—news that was tempered Saturday by the announcement that President Eric Barron will personally conduct a review of the Freeh Report.

The governance changes passed on a 16-9 vote, with the nine alumni-elected trustees voting against expanding the board. Under the approved proposal, the board will now include 38 trustees, 36 of whom will have voting rights. The new additions will include a student trustee, an academic trustee nominated by the Faculty Senate, and the immediate past president of the Alumni Association. In addition, there will be three at-large trustees elected by the board. All new trustees will begin their terms in July 2015.

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Anthony Lubrano. Photo by Tina Hay

Opponents of the board argued that a larger board would be too complex to function efficiently. Alumni trustee Al Lord ’67 was representative of his fellow elected board members when he said, “I find it hard to believe that a 30 to 40 member board will be effective. That certainly has not been the case.” The addition of the Alumni Association seat was particularly contentious for some, with Alice Pope ’79, ’83g, ’86g among those arguing that the seat created a potential conflict of interest. Alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82 also argued the board should heed the request of state senators Jake Corman ’93 and John Yudichak ’93, ’04g to hold off on reforming the board until the recently elected gubernatorial administration was in office.

The majority cited the board makeup of peer institutions, some of which have dozens more members than Penn State’s, as proof that there was nothing inherently problematic in increasing the membership. Business and industry trustee Rick Dandrea ’77 said, “I think our board functions well on a wide range of issues. We have disagreements on a very few important issues. On this issue, our board function is not what it should be because we have a majority and minority agenda. I don’t think it has anything to do with size.”

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Keith Masser. Photo by Tina Hay

After the vote, board chair Keith Masser ’73 called the expanded board “a more comprehensive reflection of the Penn State community.”

Given the established voting lines on the board, it was the expected outcome from a long and increasingly tense afternoon session. Citing threats made toward some board members, the university increased security for the meeting; visitors passed through a metal detector, and as many as two dozen officers from the State College and Penn State police departments were visible in the conference room, in the hallway outside, and outside the hotel entrances. Masser opened the meeting with a reference to outbursts at the board’s Oct. 28 special meeting, when three audience members were removed from the room, and reminded the standing-room crowd that “members of the public are here as observers, not as participants.”

Some of those observers got their chance to participate at the public comment segment, and about half of the 10 listed speakers used their time to upbraid the appointed trustees involved in the dismissal of Joe Paterno and the acceptance of the Freeh Report. That session followed a proposal from Lubrano that Penn State join Sen. Corman’s lawsuit against the NCAA. That proposal, inspired by the release of emails last week highlighting apparent conflicts in the NCAA’s handling of sanctions in the wake of the Freeh Report, was voted down, 14-10, but not before alumni trustee Bob Jubelirer ’59, ’62g argued that “with all that’s going on, to kick it down the road to January, I think we’re making a terrible, terrible mistake.” Gubernatorial appointee Kathleen Casey ’88 countered that the board would be better served by having more time to consider the resolution and revisit it at the next scheduled meeting in January.

On Saturday, President Barron added an unexpected twist with the announcement that he would “conduct a thorough review of the Freeh Report and supporting materials produced during the course of the investigation.” Barron’s statement offered no timetable for the review, but noted that he “assured the board I would move with all deliberate speed.”

Barron’s scheduled address Friday focused on student engagement, a topic he addressed last week in an open forum with students at the Hintz Family Alumni Center. Barron highlighted the many reasons that more engaged students—those who study abroad, intern, take leadership roles, and have the opportunity for one-on-one engagement with faculty—have better GPAs and make stronger candidates for internships and jobs. His proposals for improving the environment for student engagement ranged from the creation of an engaged student medal to greater funding for international experiences. He noted, “Just going in and out of class is no way to go through this university.”

Executive VP and Provost Nicholas Jones address trends in faculty makeup, particularly the decades-long rise in non-tenure-track faculty. While acknowledging concerns about about the decline in tenure-track professors, Jones highlighted a number of non-track instructors whose work has been honored for teaching and research awards.

University scholarship was also highlighted Friday, with presentations from Schreyer Honors College Dean Chris Brady, Eberly College of Science Dean Daniel Larson (highlighting the Millennium Scholars Program) and Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. Welch focused on the Paterno Fellows program, and her presentation included clips from a 2009 video of Joe and Sue Paterno ’62 explaining their inspiration for the program they endowed.

You can find information on additional items from Friday’s agenda here.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 15, 2014 at 9:19 am 4 comments

Margaret Atwood on Campus

Michael Berube handled the introduction, emphasizing his guest’s rare standing as a giant in both the fiction and non-fiction worlds—”not just an acclaimed and accomplished writer,” said Berube, the literature professor and director of Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, “but also a brilliant contemporary critic.” He went on, and one got the impression Berube could’ve talked about Margaret Atwood all afternoon.

AtwoodInstead, he ceded the stage to one of his literary heroes, a woman whose career seems to justify such a gushing intro. Atwood was in town this week to accept the IAH’s 2014 Medal for Distinguished Achievement. (You can read more about the award, and find a list of past winners, here.) She’s best known as a Booker Prize-winning author, but is much more than “just” a giant of modern literature: poet, children’s book author, environmentalist and, as she showed Wednesday, a dryly hilarious speaker.

Her speech was titled “Genre and Gender,” and it covered the history, evolution, and often complicated intersection of the two in literature both classic and obscure. I think I wasn’t alone in not always following exactly where Atwood was going, but I laughed a lot, and thought about more than a few things I’d never considered—for example, the gender themes in The Wizard of Oz, where all the “whole,” powerful characters are female, and the men are cowardly, unfeeling, brainless, or frauds. Like so much of Atwood’s writing, it was sharp, often funny, and nearly always compelling.

Her newest book, the novel MaddAddam, is the third in a trilogy that she described as “a fictional saga set in the near future, on this planet, and within the realm of possibility.” (The trilogy is set for an HBO adaptation.) Like much of her fiction, it’s described as dystopian, a mix both gloomy and funny of science fiction and science that’s perhaps not so fictional after all. It’s here, in the overlap of observation and speculation, especially about the environment, that Atwood’s work holds so much power. As she said Wednesday, she’s fond of posing (and answering) the question: “Do you really want to go there? If not, change the road.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm Leave a comment

Legacies Examined on the Big Screen

Two very different cinematic responses to the Sandusky Scandal will premiere this weekend at the State Theatre in downtown State College.

Happy-Valley_612x907Friday night sees the debut of Happy Valley, a documentary from director Amir Bar-Lev billed as “the story behind the Penn State scandal.” Best known for his films My Kid Could Paint That and The Tillman Story, Bar-Lev filmed in and around State College for a year following Jerry Sandusky’s arrest; the end result is an attempt to explore the scandal’s aftermath, and the climate that allowed it to happen in the first place. Sue ’62, Jay ’91 and Scott Paterno ’97, ’00g were all interviewed and feature prominently in the film, which will be available through iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play and other digital platforms on Nov. 21.

DVD-posterThe People’s Joe debuts Saturday evening, and as the title implies, its focus is the life and legacy of Joe Paterno. It’s the third post-scandal documentary from the State College-based Porterfield Group, which also produced The Joe We Know and 365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley. The film traces Paterno’s life from his Brooklyn childhood to his decades at Penn State through archival footage and interviews with former players, fans, and friends. DVDs of the film are available to purchase at peoplesjoe.com.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 12, 2014 at 6:49 pm 1 comment

Easing an Alum’s Pain

For nearly 10 years, Justin Brown ’03 has suffered from an incurable disorder that he and his family attribute to a surgery gone wrong. Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome is a nervous system disorder that causes extreme, chronic pain; Justin told the Ambler Gazette that the pain he feels “is bone-crushing; I feel like my bones are being crushed throughout my body.”

A benefit to raise money for Justin’s therapy will be held this Saturday, Nov. 15, in his home town of Fort Washington, Pa.

After complications from a 2006 surgery, Justin and his family spent years and more than $600,000 searching for a diagnosis and relief for him. They haven’t found a cure for his pain, but according to the Gazette story, they have discovered that warm water therapy is the best next step for his treatment.

“This is really just a dire, dire situation at this point,” his mother, Joan told the Gazette. “Everything is an issue and everything is hard and the only thing that can help is to get warm water therapy until medicine catches up.”

The nearest location with warm water therapy is located 45 minutes from the Browns’ house, and the journey is difficult for Justin to handle. The family is looking to install a warm water pool in their home, an addition that would cost about $85,000. This Saturday, they’ll hold a benefit from noon to 4 p.m. at Magerks, 582 S. Bethlehem Pike, in Fort Washington. The benefit will feature live music and a free buffet, and the football game against Temple will be shown.

For those who can’t attend the benefit, donations can be made on Justin’s youcaring.com page.

Mindy Szkaradnik, intern

November 10, 2014 at 11:54 am Leave a comment

Trustees Vote Against Examining the Freeh Report

In a contentious 90-minute special meeting Tuesday, the Board of Trustees voted down a proposal to formally examine the findings of the Freeh Report, voting instead to maintain its current stance of waiting until legal proceedings related to the Sandusky scandal run their course.

Alumni trustee Al Lord ’67 presented the initial resolution, which proposed the creation of an ad hoc committee to “examine the Freeh Report, meet with Freeh and his investigative team, review the full set of undisclosed communications and report its findings to the full board.” That resolution was defeated by a 17-9 vote, with Lord and the other eight alumni-elected trustees the only “yes” votes. A second resolution, presented by gubernatorial appointee and board vice chair Kathleen Casey ’88, proposed that the board “continue to actively monitor the discovery and factual investigations … and, upon conclusion of such proceedings, shall determine whether any action is appropriate and in the best interest of Penn State.” That resolution passed 17-8, with alumni trustee Adam Taliaferro ’05 abstaining.

It was Lord, during discussion of the second resolution, who asked Casey to clarify whether the action in her proposal (written in collaboration with Ken Frazier ’73) was simply to “continue.” When Casey said yes, Lord replied, “Continue to do what we’re doing? Resolutions should do something. This is ‘continue to do nothing.’” It was an exchange that got to the heart of the divide among the board’s members: The alumni trustees remain committed to repudiating the most damning findings of the Freeh Report, while the majority of board members argue that any such action is at best premature.

Lord introduced the amended resolution, first proposed in July, by acknowledging other issues that demand the board’s attention. “I wish that instead of talking about being pleased with only increasing tuition two or three percent, we were talking about decreasing tuition,” he said. “But what needs immediate attention is the Freeh Report… My feeling is that the consequences of the Freeh Report and the NCAA consent decree live on.” He cited comments and signs encountered by Penn State fans at the Rutgers football game last month as proof that the damage to the university’s reputation remains unchecked. “When I saw those signs, it occurred to me how far we’ve fallen, or how other people think we’ve fallen, because we don’t stand up for ourselves. I’m bothered by how meekly we react. Generally speaking, we don’t react at all … there’s a sense of ‘Suck it up, we deserve it.’ We don’t deserve it.”

The four-person ad hoc committee proposed in Lord’s resolution would have included Lord, fellow alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82, and two members appointed by board chair Keith Masser ’73. The alumni trustees were unanimous in their support: Ted Brown ’68 argued that any trustee who said they’d be willing to defend the university’s reputation in a one-on-one conversation was obligated to support the proposal, while Bob Jubelirer ’59, ’62g disputed the need to wait on the legal outcomes: “There is no downside, none at all, if we review the Freeh Report.”

Counterarguments came from Keith Eckel, an elected agricultural trustee, who cited strong applicant numbers and an upgraded credit rating as signs of the university’s health, and argued that the board’s responsibility was to “our students and our constituents. I urge the defeat of this resolution and the moving forward of the university, and the continued observation of the results of the trials that are ongoing, and because of which we cannot make any decision today.” That response brought an isolated “boo” from someone in the audience of roughly 100 people, many of whom applauded points made by the various alumni trustees. An otherwise tame exchange between the business and industry-elected trustee Rick Dandrea ’77 (an attorney who argued the wait-and-see approach on the ongoing court cases) and alumni trustee Ryan McCombie ’70 led to a more strident response from the crowd; two audience members were escorted out of the meeting after loud outbursts, prompting Masser to slam his gavel at the podium, while Lord turned toward the crowd and made a “time out” signal to try to quiet things down.

When order was restored, McCombie finished his point: “We accepted a scarlet letter that said we are a ‘football culture,’ when everyone knows we aren’t a football culture. I refuse to accept that letter; I don’t think the university should, either.”

After a bit more back and forth between the two sides—and the removal of one more audience member after an extended outburst—the trustees voted, with the the “nays” carrying the day. That was followed by the introduction of Casey’s resolution, a brief back-and-forth about when the board members had initially received it (the proposal was sent out electronically last Friday), and objections from Lord, Lubrano, and Bill Oldsey ’76 about the proposal’s wording. Taking issue with the final paragraph of Casey’s proposal, Oldsey noted, “It says ‘consistent with fiduciary duty’ … and then it says we’re going to wait and see. Unless I missed the last two hours, there is a lot of disagreement on the board about our fiduciary duty.”

That disagreement doesn’t figure to change anytime soon. A quick vote to table the proposal until a later date was shot down along the expected lines—the nine alumni trustees once again voted together—before the actual vote on the Casey/Frazier “wait and see” resolution. It passed.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

October 28, 2014 at 3:35 pm 4 comments

Climate of the Times

Faces@012_RAlley01CC_cropTuesday’s edition of The New York Times ran a special section on climate change, timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit this week in Manhattan. Two Penn Staters with very different perspectives on the issue feature prominently in the package.

The first is Richard Alley, the Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences in the College of Earth & Mineral Sciences whose work on polar ice cores and quirky, engaging style of bringing science to the masses has made him one of the country’s best known climate scientists. Alley serves as the primary source in the Times‘ explainer on carbon dioxide, our planet’s most prominent greenhouse gas. Alley has a gift for useful analogies, and his “pothole” comparison in the Times piece is a great example.

Then there’s Diane Ackerman ’70, the author whose latest book, The Human Age, continues a career-long passion for the natural world. Ackerman’s new book is one of three reviewed with climate change and its impacts as a unifying theme. As we wrote in our Sept./Oct. issue, The Human Age offers what Ackerman describes as a hopeful take on how humans are impacting the planet: “…how, despite our tendency to alter—and occasionally obliterate—our surroundings, humans still manage to cultivate beauty.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor

September 24, 2014 at 12:01 pm 1 comment

Real Genius

Danielle S. Bassett, PhD  University of PennsylvaniaWe have no reason to doubt that Danielle Bassett would’ve made a great nurse. But we think it’s probably a good thing that she chose a different, more indirect way of helping people.

On Wednesday, Bassett ’04 was announced as one of 21 recipients of the 2014 MacArthur Fellowships. Nicknamed the “Genius Grants,” the MacArthur Fellows Program, according to the foundation’s website, “awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

A physicist at Penn—her full title is Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering—Bassett studies interconnectivity in the brain, research with huge implications for everything from language and memory to disease treatment. In the video below, she explains her path to academia (including that detour in nursing school) and the significance of her work:

Bassett joins an impressive list of fellow scientists, artists, educators, and social leaders who have earned a MacArthur grant since the program began in 1981. Earlier this year, she was also awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. We’re proud to call her one of our own—though probably not quite as proud as her husband, fellow Penn physicist Lee Bassett ’04.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

September 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm 2 comments

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