New Leadership for the Board of Trustees
Generally, the January meeting of Penn State’s Board of Trustees is a pretty straightforward affair. There’s a lot of routine business to take care of—choosing meeting dates for the next calendar year, authorizing the president to confer degrees at commencement—and even the more notable items, such as the board electing its officers, tend to be only minimally noteworthy.
Not so Friday, at the board’s first public meeting since the Sandusky scandal.
The meeting was moved from its usual location—the boardroom on the ground floor of the Nittany Lion Inn—to the larger ballroom on the first floor. We in the media got hand-stamped at the door, assuring us entrée into the post-meeting news conference. Milling around outside the inn were alumni with signs supporting “due process for Joe Paterno,” and milling around inside was a larger-than-usual number of police officers.
And although the day started slowly—at one point, the Twitter hashtag #PSUBOT was agog over the revelation that Penn State had purchased 20,000 pounds of peanut butter in anticipation of a rise in peanut prices, interesting but hardly the key news everyone was waiting for—by the end, there was plenty of news to digest:
—Steve Garban ’59 stepped down as the chair of the board, and John Surma ’76—who made the announcement that Paterno and president Graham Spanier were gone—stepped down as the vice chair. (Garban and Surma will remain on the board; they simply gave up leadership positions.)
—The board elected new leaders. The chair is Karen Peetz ’77, vice chairman and CEO of financial markets and treasury services of the Bank of New York Mellon, who was elected by the board as a representative of business and industry in 2010. The vice chair is Keith Masser ’73, chairman and CEO of Sterman Masser Inc., a family farm, and who was elected by agricultural societies in 2008. Each ran unopposed.
The rest of executive committee, which was to be chosen at this meeting, has been delayed until March.
—Peetz said she will focus on three themes: change, reform, and transparency.
—At a news conference after the meeting, Peetz said Penn State intends to reach out to the alleged victims to pay their medical and counseling bills related to abuse.
—Peetz also said that the trustees will meet with Penn State faculty, staff, and alumni, a decision made after the town hall meetings with President Rodney Erickson made clear that the community wanted to hear directly from trustees. The outreach will start Tuesday at the Faculty Senate.
—Gov. Tom Corbett, an ex-officio member of the board, abstained on what is generally a routine vote—the trustees approve the Committee on Finance and Physical Plant’s construction recommendations. This time, there was one vote on 14 items, which included buying land for a 200-car parking lot at Penn State Abington and awarding final contracts for the renovations of Moore and Cedar Buildings, for installing air conditioning in Rec Hall, and for the much-awaited Pegula Ice Arena.
Corbett objected, saying that he was unable to determine how much state funding was used in the projects and suggesting that with the state having budget problems and the economy still struggling, this is not the time for all such projects. (He said he didn’t have a problem with the hockey arena, funded by a donation from Kim and Terry Pegula ’73.)
Another trustee made a motion to vote individually on each of the projects, but Corbett said that wouldn’t make any difference; he still didn’t have enough information to vote on each, and he would abstain. So that motion was withdrawn, and the construction projects passed. Seven trustees, however, voted no.
—At the news conference, Corbett said Penn State needs to decide whether it will be a public entity—and thus subject to the state’s Right to Know Laws—or a private entity. (As a state-related institution, Penn State is exempt from some.)
—The board also voted to adopt five initial recommendations from the special investigations task force chaired by Louis Freeh: strengthening University policies for programs involving minors, prompt reporting of incidents of abuse and sexual misconduct, compliance with the Clery Act’s training and reporting requirements, administrative reforms, and security at athletic facilities.
As you can see, that’s a lot to digest. We’ll have more coverage of these issues in upcoming issues of the magazine.
Lori Shontz, senior editor