On the night of Nov. 9, 2011, the Penn State Board of Trustees was thrown into the spotlight.
As Trustee John Surma announced President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno would not work another day at the university, the board became the center of attention and the sole source of consistent power at the university.
Just two days after, members of the board convened at the Nittany Lion Inn to introduce Rodney Erickson as the 17th president of the university and briefly discuss the challenges that would ensue over the coming months.
After a year of investigations, special meetings, elections and rallies, members of the Penn State community and beyond can reflect on the board’s year of consistent controversy.
A year ago, the board had only three committees — the Committee on Campus Environment, the Committee on Educational Policy and the Committee on Finance and Physical Plant.
A new board structure has since been established that now includes six committees instead of three. A five-committee structure was originally announced at the March 16 meeting, but by the July 12 meeting, the board approved to divide the Committee on Audit, Risk, Legal and Compliance into two separate committees at the request of Committee Chair Keith Eckel.
The six current committees are the Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life; the Committee on Audit and Risk; the Committee on Legal and Compliance; the Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning; the Committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning; and the Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations.
A separate trustee task force also convened over the past year. The Special Investigative Task Force, chaired by Kenneth Frazier, was established at the Nov. 11, 2011 meeting to investigate the failures of the university and the members responsible for the circumstances surrounding what was outlined in the grand jury report.
Less than three weeks after the formation of the task force, Frazier announced the hiring of former FBI Director Louis Freeh to lead the investigation.
Following the July 12 release of Freeh’s report, Frazier spoke about the report at the July 13 board meeting. Speaking on behalf of the task force, Frazier said the board “delivered on [its] promise” to conduct a full independent investigation into the matters of the Jerry Sandusky case.
That meeting also saw several other significant actions and changes for the university.
The board voted to begin 30-minute public comment sections at every meeting and to reduce the maximum number of years certain board members can serve from 15 years to 12 years. New Vice President and General Counsel Stephen Dunham was also officially hired at this meeting.
The board also held several unscheduled special meetings this year. One such meeting occurred on Dec. 2, when the executive committee met to formally approve of the decisions to remove Spanier and Paterno from their positions, as well as to appoint Erickson as president.
To discuss the sanctions imposed by the NCAA in July, two other special meetings were held on July 26 and Aug. 12. More recently, a special meeting was held on Oct. 26 at which the board gave a committee the authority to approvee legal settlements with those Sandusky was convicted of abusing.
With elections and with resignations, changing membership has also defined the past year for the board.
In May, the highly anticipated and competitive election for three alumni-elected seats on the board led to the additions of Ryan McCombie, Anthony Lubrano and Adam Taliaferro. An unprecedented 86 candidates were on the ballot, and a record 37,579 votes were received for the election, as previously reported.
The only resignation the board saw this year was of former Chairman of the Board Steve Garban. Following the release of Freeh’s report, Garban was criticized for his knowledge of the Sandusky case that he may have had prior to the release of the grand jury report.
Hundreds of people attended the “Rally for Resignation” in September, which called for the resignations of Erickson and those who were on the board during the events last November.
Lubrano spoke critically at the rally about the way the board handled the events last year.
“I don’t know who many of the people I serve with represent, but I know they don’t serve all of you,” he said at the event.
And alumni continue to call for resignations of the board. Ray Blehar, who earned his MBA from Penn State in 2008, said any actions the board has taken to become more transparent have failed.
“They want to move forward because they’ve made some very critical mistakes, and some of them were not unintentional,” he said.
Eileen Morgan, Class of 1990, said she is also critical of the way the board has handled certain situations, including their decision not to review Freeh’s report, which cost the university $6.5 million.
Though she said she recognizes that the board is trying to make positive changes, she and others still have “questions they don’t want to answer.”