Changes may be Coming to Alumni BOT Election

November 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm 3 comments

For years and years, the election for the alumni seats on Penn State’s Board of Trustees ran smoothly and under the radar. Then the Sandusky scandal happened, and among the many changes around Penn State came an exponential increase in interest in the election—more candidates, and more alumni interested in voting.

The election process has been confusing and sometimes frustrating for alumni, and the Board of Trustees office was at times overwhelmed with requests for ballots. Which is why vice president for administration Tom Poole, whose office handles the administration of the Board of Trustees, presented suggestions at Thursday’s governance and long-range planning committee to streamline the process and make it less confusing. The goal: To increase alumni participation in the election.

The committee discussion ranged beyond Poole’s suggestions (below) to a broader discussion of who should automatically receive ballots. Currently, ballots are automatically emailed to alumni who have been an Alumni Association member in the previous two years or who have donated to the university within the previous two years. Other alumni don’t receive a ballot automatically, but can get one by making a written request to the Board of Trustees office.

The committee discussed the feasibility of amending the board’s charter so that ballots would be automatically sent to any alumnus with an email address on file with the university. Committee chair Keith Eckel summed up the discussion: “I’m hearing a desire expressed by the committee to expand this as broadly as we can.”

Poole made three suggestions to improve the alumni trustee election:

—Automatically distribute ballots to anyone who requested a ballot the previous year. This would make the process easier not only for alumni, but also for the board office, which fielded 11,000 requests for ballots in each of the past two years.

—Better publicize and explain the election and nomination processes.

—Allow candidates to include their websites and social media links on their official profiles on the Board of Trustees website, something that hadn’t previously been permitted.

The committee didn’t need to vote on the changes, but everyone appeared to be in agreement that those improvements should go forward. The biggest discussion concerned broadening the ballot distribution to alumni who are not members of the Alumni Association, which is the group currently defined by the charter.

Frank Guadagnino ’78, an outside attorney hired by the university to consult on governance issues, said the original language in the charter likely appeared because the Alumni Association maintains the database of alumni. He said the charter could be changed, but that under the Pennsylvania Non-Profit Corporation Law, the board would need to have 10 days’ notice before a vote. While that 10-day notice is possible before the board’s next meeting in January, the nomination period for the 2014 election will have already started by then.

This prompted trustee Carl Shaffer to say, “If we can’t change the charter this year, according to all of the discussion here, then I do think we should have more discussion before we attempt to change the charter.”

Barbara Doran ’75 noted that although the nomination process starts in January, the ballots for the election aren’t distributed until April; she asked if the issue of who automatically gets ballots could be decided after the nomination process has started. Guadagnino said he believes that is possible.

One other alumni election issue came up as well: the nomination process. Doran said she has heard from alumni that needing only 50 signatures to become a candidate is too few. “Because there have been so many candidates the past two years,” she said, “it’s really hard if you want to do your due diligence to get through the candidates.”

Poole said this is another area that may need attention, but he added that changing it for 2014, when anyone planning to run for the board would have spent the past year assuming he or she needed only 50 signatures, would not be fair.

This was a particularly busy governance committee meeting—it approved a recommendation to hire Holly Gregory as a governance consultant, and there was a spirited discussion about the presidential search process. I’ll have more updates later.

Lori Shontz, senior editor


Entry filed under: Alumni Association, Board of Trustees. Tags: , , , , , , .

The Penn Stater Daily — Nov. 21, 2013 Governance Committee Debates Presidential Search

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