Emeritus Trustees Become Point of Contention

July 12, 2013 at 7:03 am 17 comments

It’s certainly not news that Penn State’s Board of Trustees has some divisions:

—In the past two alumni trustee elections, candidates upset with the board’s handling of the Sandusky scandal—and particularly its treatment of Joe Paterno—won election by large margins.

—Friday’s election for vice chair won’t be a formality, because there are two candidates, Ryan McCombie ’70 and Paul Silvis ’06g. Although it’s not unprecedented to have an actual vote, it is rare. (And there were three candidates until Linda Brodsky Strumpf ’69 withdrew Thursday morning.)

—Five of the trustees have joined the Paterno family, former Penn State football coaches and players, and Penn State faculty in a lawsuit against the NCAA.

But for a vivid example of the division—and the emotion involved—look no further than the governance and long-range planning committee’s discussion Thursday afternoon at Penn State Fayette about whether to recommend two former trustees for emeritus status.

The background: Emeritus status is granted to former trustees who have “served as a board member for 12 years or more with distinction,” according to the board’s standing orders (click here for a PDF; scroll down to page 11 for the specific criteria considered). Making clear the role of emeritus trustees and deciding upon more specific criteria has come up in discussions about governance reform, but the issue hasn’t really been discussed deeply.

On Thursday afternoon, for the first time since the scandal, the governance committee considered recommending former trustees for emeritus status. Keith Eckel, the new chair of the committee, put forth the names of the two alumni trustees who left the board in June 2012: David Jones ’54, who decided to not run for reelection, and Anne Riley ’64, ’75g, who was defeated. Both had been on the board since 1997.

Immediately, alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82 spoke up.

“These two may well be qualified to receive that status from this board,” he said. “But I think we would be sending the wrong message to our community if we granted them the status today when we haven’t yet decided what status we give to Joe Paterno, who gave 61 years of exemplary service.”

Barbara Doran ’75, who just joined the board after becoming the top vote-getter in the most recent alumni trustee election, immediately backed him up. “I think it’s a legitimate issue because of where the alumni are,” she said. “One issue is how Joe Paterno has been treated. I know the board has said at some point in time it’s going to honor Joe Paterno, but that time is not here yet. So I think this timing on this … the time now is not ideal in terms of alumni feeling about this.”

The first voice for the opposing view was another alumni trustee, Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, who has been on the board since 2005: “I think it would be unfair to hold these two people hostage. … We’re talking about status for people who have served on the Board of Trustees; this is a very narrow subject that we’re talking about. In the case of these individuals, they’ve done exactly what I think would qualify them to be an emeritus trustee. Quite frankly, I think we need their help out there … for example, as ambassadors for the good of the university. I think they should be recognized. This is a separate issue from the former issue.”

The discussion continued in the same vein for about 15 minutes and included a heated exchange between Lubrano and board chair Keith Masser ’73 over the procedure used in May to vote on the governance reforms. Lubrano accused Masser of going back on his pledge to vote on each individual reform separately; Masser said he had provided an opportunity to do so via a procedural move to save time and added, angrily, “I fulfilled my word!”

Another new trustee, business and industry appointee Richard Dandrea ’77, said he agreed with Alexander. “There’s no reason to obstruct the recognition of these individuals because, Anthony, of your desire to see the recognition move at a different pace than apparently the board has decided to go.”

Also weighing in was Bill Oldsey ’76, another newly elected alumni trustee, who is not a member of the committee but was sitting at the end of the meeting table. It’s not unusual for trustees from other committees to sit in on discussions, but they generally sit in the area provided for the public to observe, as McCombie was doing during this discussion.

Oldsey said he doesn’t know Jones, but that he knows Riley well. “Anne will never stop being an ambassador for Penn State, whether she’s granted emeritus status or not,” he said. “She’s one of the truest Penn Staters. I may not agree with every decision she’s made, but she’s an extraordinary Penn Stater. I don’t think you can take that out of Anne Riley. It’s just part of her DNA.

“Many times in business, you have to hold off on one decision to leverage what is perhaps a more important decision. This is the way things happen sometimes. The phrase holding hostage, I’m not sure is completely apropos here. I do think some of us have an extraordinarily good radar right now for how the alumni base will react to certain things. You may believe it or choose not to believe it. That’s up to you. But the alumni base may not respond particularly well. We have to decide as a board whether we care or not.”

After a little more back-and-forth about the qualifications for and duties of  an emeritus trustee, Oldsey’s statement prompted Jim Broadhurst ’65, the former committee chair, to weigh in on behalf of Riley:

“I hate to do this,” he began. “But you can’t know her that well in that you don’t know how important this distinction is to her. I have never, in my many years on the board, ever seen anyone up for this status that was so anticipating that occurring in her life.” Broadhurst turned to address Oldsey directly. “You ought to go talk to her about it, see how important it is to her. It’s extremely important.”

Broadhurst talked a bit about how the role of an emeritus trustee has changed; they are less involved than they were in the past, and the board is still considering exactly what the emeritus trustees’ role will be in the future. He talked about what Riley has done for Penn State, how she teaches classes and has been helping oversee the restoration of the Land Grant Frescos in Old Main. He pointed out that in the past, trustees qualified for emeritus status received it within months—at the meeting after their final board meeting—but that the current contenders had been on hold for a year.

“I think to hold this up would be a travesty,” he concluded. “As much respect as I have for Joe and everyone else … I feel sorry for the alumni that would be disappointed in this action, I really do.”

The committee then voted on whether to recommend Riley to be named emerita trustee. Lubrano voted no loudly and said he would like his vote “absolutely recorded.” Doran voted no as well, but she did so silently, by raising her hand, and Tom Poole ’84g, the board’s secretary, made sure to clarify what the final vote was. It was 5-2.

The committee next considered Jones, and while the discussion was shorter and less passionate, it followed the same basic framework. The vote was the same, too: 5-2 in favor of recommending emeritus status for Jones. Among its other business Friday—including approving a tuition increase and electing a vice chair—the full board will vote on the recommendations.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

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17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. R Thomas Berner  |  July 12, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Lubrano and Doran are petty people. In the end, they will not serve Penn State well. The sooner they are unelected the better.

  • 2. Marie Cornelius  |  July 12, 2013 at 7:57 am

    I can assure you, they will be easily reelected. They won by large margins in the Alumni vote and they will continue to receive the alumni vote, because they REPRESENT the alumni voice.

  • 3. Bern Baby Bern  |  July 12, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Maybe if Dr Berner had trained his journalism students better, this whole mess could have been avoided. Poor journalism made a major contribution to this debacle

  • 4. Psusmc  |  July 12, 2013 at 8:31 am

    There is no one on the 11/11 BoT who deserves positive recognition of any sort. Regardless of which side you are on with regard to the hundreds of individual contentious issues involved in the Sandusky scandal, there can be no doubt that Riley, Jones and the others watched while our university was figuratively and unfairly burned to the ground. Those who believe the road to recovery will be enhanced by rewarding people like Riley are simply fooling themselves.

  • 5. R Thomas Berner  |  July 12, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Not sure, Bern Baby Bern, how this becomes my fault. Did you skip a course on logic?

  • 6. KrisC  |  July 12, 2013 at 9:23 am

    In good conscience I find it very difficult to consider anyone on the BOT in November 2011 for Emeritus status. Many open questions about the BOT’s actions remain unanswered.

    Maybe I will feel differently with the passage of time, but today it is difficult to believe anyone on that BOT served PSU with distinction.

  • 7. Lori Martini  |  July 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I believe the squabbling over insignificant issues will continue until the trustees deal with the issues that has the alumni voting them out in the first place. Perception is reality… come to terms with it Trustees!

  • 8. Scott E Phillips  |  July 12, 2013 at 10:21 am

    The recognition of any Trustee who stood by silently or actively contributed to the attacks upon our great University is simply repugnant. Yes ladies and gentleman, all of the cute and nice things you’ve done are meaningless when compared to your actions and inactions since Nov 2011.
    Keep the University moving forward, keep costs down and get donations up, deal with Freeh, and apologize to and honor Paterno. Then, when you have actually done some good work, may you pat yourselves on the back.

  • 9. Steven Pierce  |  July 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

    We should not rush to judgement that all of their actions were commendable. The job of a trustee is oversight of the University and its management. There are far too many open questions to be able to formally recognize any trustee that was on the board in November 2011. I implore the alumni trustees to make their arguments against granting the emeritus status without using Joe’s name as it is still a strong argument without the emotionally charged aspect.

  • 10. Mack  |  July 12, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Let’s remember that AG Jack Wagner devoted a whole chapter in his recommendations about how the trustees SHOULD NOT be giving emeritus status to other trustees.

    But of course, the BOT won’t implement any recommendation that would have any direct impact on their own little clique.

  • 11. Scott E Phillips  |  July 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    My apologies for not including this in my earlier post, but:

    What is a Trustee Emeritus anyway? Don’t feel bad if you cannot answer, the Board of Trustees doesn’t know either. Another very good reason not to confer a status upon anyone.

  • […] ’68, objected to the timing and voted no. (For more details on the emeritus trustee issues, click here for coverage of the Thursday governance committee […]

  • 13. Kathleen Pavelko  |  July 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Dave Jones fought for years to get term limits established on the BOT. For this achievement alone–and there are many others–he deserves the emeritus honor.

  • 14. Jeff Roby  |  July 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    I have to agree that no one serving on the BOT in November 2011 deserves any honor. Nor do they deserve to continue in any way as a member of the BOT.

    And Mr. Jones may have tried to get term limits established, but he failed. So for that we “honor” him?

  • 15. Bern Baby Bern  |  July 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Prof. Berner: shoddy, sensationalistic journalism at ESPN, the Patriot News, and other outlets created a feeding frenzy that the BOT was ill-equipped to handle. Penn State suffered badly as a result.

    Are you directly responsible? No. Is your profession (journalism professor) responsible? Undoubtedly it is partially to blame given that you and your colleagues trained today’s reporters.

    The arrogant attitude you display here, on the CDT discussion boards, and elsewhere has defined your character for decades.

  • 16. Tina Hay  |  July 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Hi all — We don’t like to step into debates here, but we do ask that everyone refrain from personal attacks. Let me repeat what’s found on our About page:

    “We encourage you to comment on our posts—we love active discussion and information-sharing. Please be civil, keep the language clean, and make sure your comments are relevant to the post in question. We reserve the right to delete any comments that contain personal attacks, use obscene or vulgar language, are off-topic, or are otherwise over the line.”

    Thanks. –Tina Hay

  • 17. R Thomas Berner  |  July 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    If posting under my own name is arrogant, I plead guilty. I’m not ashamed to put my name on my opinion

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