Board of Trustees Wrap-up: A Little Bit of Everything
Summing up a Board of Trustees meeting is never easy. I’ve covered them on and off since college, and they’re always a mix of mind-numbing reports and vital, critical information and decisions—often in the same agenda item. Since the Sandusky scandal, the meetings have been even more challenging, with more to consider and digest.
Take Friday’s meeting, for instance, which was moved from the traditional spot, the boardroom at the Nittany Lion Inn, to a larger conference room at The Penn Stater Conference Center, the better to accommodate the greater interest in such meetings since the Sandusky scandal. It had a little bit of everything. And I do mean everything.
Part of the meeting was celebratory—president Rod Erickson’s report, largely a list of achievements by Penn State students and faculty. Among them: the Dairy Judging team taking “top honors” at the Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest, the university being recognized as one of the top 10 producers of U.S. Fulbright Scholars, and the dedication of the new Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, which has nifty features such as beds for parents to sleep in when they’re staying with their sick children.
Part of the meeting did, truly, look forward. Erickson announced that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education had reaffirmed Penn State’s accreditation, and the trustees approved the members of the Trustee Presidential Selection Council, which will oversee the search for Erickson’s replacement. (Keep reading for more details, and we’ll have a full report on the presidential search in our January/February issue.)
Part of the meeting hinted at the division within the university community. The trustees approved a code of conduct for intercollegiate athletics, something required by the Athletics Integrity Agreement that’s part of the NCAA sanctions, but not without discussion. Joel Myers ’61, ’63g, ’71g, who said he was in favor of the code, nonetheless wanted to “assert that nobody takes this as us approving the NCAA consent decree.” He and Anthony Lubrano ’82 wanted to add that language to the resolution, but Penn State’s vice president and general counsel, Stephen Dunham, recommended against it to eliminate any confusion and because the code itself doesn’t mention the AIA or consent decree.
“This is a Penn State document,” Dunham said. “It’s based on Penn State principles. It’s based on Penn State core values. It’s based on the Penn State mission. It is 100 percent consistent with existing Penn State intercollegiate athletics policies.”
Note, by the way, that the document must be signed by student-athletes, coaches, athletics staff, and trustees.
And part of the meeting was just flat-out angry. Eight people who registered in advance were permitted to address the board for three minutes each. Six showed up to speak, and their anger was palpable, particularly Gene Lizardi—who called himself “most ashamed of the board members who went to the university” and suggested that auditor general Jack Wagner’s report on governance reform be sent to NCAA president Mark Emmert, so “maybe he can vacate some of your seats”—and Philip Schultes ’90g, who said he was visiting guidance counselors at high schools across Pennsylvania to ask them to discourage students from applying to Penn State.
Others asked why David Joyner ’72, ’76g, ’81g is still the acting athletic director (Board chair Karen Bretherick Peetz ’77 said in a post-meeting news conference that he will remain in the position for the duration of Tim Curley’s contract) and to see the documentation involved in hiring Louis Freeh. Said Peetz: “There were many pointed questions—I think they are important questions—and we’re going to have to go back and do the due diligence of what paperwork was done …. So that’s a fair question.”
Important issues, all. But I’m going to spend the rest of the post on the presidential search because, as numerous people have said, choosing the next president is among the most important—if not the most important—decision the trustees will make.
The process involves three committees, two of which are directly involved and one that has a more peripheral, big-picture role.
The Blue and White Vision Council will be led by former University of Illinois president Stan Ikenberry, and it includes trustees, faculty, and alumni. (Click here for the 27-person list.) The members are looking strategically at some of the issues Penn State needs to deal with—the example everyone mentions is the role of technology in higher education, particularly online education. They’re not directly involved in the presidential search process, but they will share their findings with the two committees that are.
The University Presidential Search and Screen Committee, which has yet to be named, will start the process in the spring. This committee will consist of eight faculty members (including the chair, chair-elect, and immediate past chair of the Faculty Senate), two deans or chancellors, one member of the president’s executive staff, three students (two undergrads, one grad), the president of the Alumni Association (that’s Katie Smarilli ’71 Lib), and one university staff member. It will work to identify 10 to 15 candidates.
That list of candidates will go to the Trustee Presidential Selection Council, which was authorized Friday by the board. This is the group that will conduct interviews.
The committee is comprised of 12 trustees—Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, James Broadhurst ’65, Mark Dambly ’80, Keith Eckel, Kenneth Frazier ’75, Edward Hintz ’59, Peter Khoury (the student trustee), Ira Lubert ’73, Keith Masser ’73, Peetz, Paul Silvis ’06g, and Linda Brodsky Strumpf ’69. The 13th member is Peter Tombros ’64, ’68g, chair of the current capital campaign.
This process is similar to the process that Penn State used in 1994-95, when it hired Graham Spanier.
There will also likely be an executive search firm involved to help identify candidates. Peetz said Thursday during a work session of the university governance and long-range planning committee that she has already made contact with some firms. The trustees’ committee will decide whether to hire a firm—which is common when hiring a university president—and whether to engage a firm that specializes in higher education or one that has also does corporate hiring.
The timetable is based on Erickson’s desire to retire in June 2014; the idea is to have a candidate ready about six months ahead of time, giving that person time to transition. The search is expected to take about six months.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble at all with fantastic candidates for the presidency of Penn State,” Peetz said. “I mean, it is one of the best institutions in the world; we’re always in the top hundred internationally, top 50 domestically. It’s a job that most anybody in academia would want.” She added that she doesn’t think the Sandusky scandal or aftermath will be a sticking point, “particularly since we’ve taken them so aggressively in terms of what the remediation is … by the time someone gets here in 2014, this will be just a distant memory.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor