Some of Penn State’s governing policies date back to the days when Board of Trustees members arrived by horse and buggy — a sign it’s time for change, said outgoing Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner.
Wagner released an in-depth special report on Nov. 14, calling for reform of the university’s Board of Trustees in the wake of charges brought against Jerry Sandusky and former top administrators.
Tuesday, in a sit-down interview with The Daily Collegian, Wagner said he has not received a response from the university’s administration to his recommendations about the university’s governance. He’s received “virtually no communication so far,” from the board’s leadership, he said.
The university continues to review the auditor general's report and cannot comment further, Penn State spokesman David La Torre wrote in an email.
When the report was released, Wagner said he made a call to Board Chairwoman Karen Peetz, Vice Chairman Keith Masser and trustee James Broadhurst to offer to meet and discuss the recommendations, he said. They said they would take it under consideration, Wagner said, but he hasn’t seen any further interest.
In addition to not hearing from the board’s leadership with regard to the report, Wagner also said that he hasn’t seen structural change in Penn State’s governance — a step he said is vital to ensuring the university takes positive steps forward.
Wagner said current Penn State President Rodney Erickson has the exact same power that former Penn State President Graham Spanier had last November.
The president's seat on the Board of Trustees makes him more of an employer of the board, rather than an employee of the university, and undermines the board's oversight role, Wagner said.
“We take significant power away from the president of the university to make the president what he should always have been, an employee of the board,” he said.
Peetz said at the press conference following the Nov. 16 board meeting that she believes the president should have a vote on the board.
Some of the recommendations, such as making meeting agendas available online five days in advance, would require the board to amend its bylaws.
Wagner also said that at times, the board has forgotten Penn State is a flagship public university, leading to a lack of transparency and accountability to taxpayers.
Members of the public shouldn’t have to register 48 hours in advance to speak during a public comment session when an agenda hasn’t been published, Wagner said.
“If there’s something to be said, a taxpayer should be able to come in front of the board and say it,” Wagner said.
The auditor general’s report is different from the other investigations into the Sandusky case, because it examines how those involved accumulated their power instead of how they used it, Wagner said.
Other recommendations in Wagner’s report, such as removing the university president from the board, making the governor a non-voting member and reducing the board’s size, would require changing state law.
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said some of Wagner’s recommendations echo legislation he was already working on that expands the definition of individuals who need to report suspected abuse and provides additional whistleblower protection.
Benninghoff is also advocating legislation that prohibits any governor and any of his secretarial appointees from serving on any university’s board of directors if the university receives money from the state, he said.
He said he’s glad Wagner is supporting lawmakers’ concepts as they focus on protecting children.
“The atrocities that occurred are still difficult for me, to this day, to fathom as a father of five myself,” Benninghoff said. “The scars of those children don’t go away because of an auditor general’s report or legislation.”
Tor Michaels, chief of staff for Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, said Conklin planned to introduce legislation based on Wagner’s preliminary recommendations, released in July. Those bills died at the end of this legislative session, but Conklin plans to reintroduce them in January, Michaels said.
Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the recommendations require more discussion. Changing the structure of the board doesn’t necessarily produce better results. The president, board members and the board’s performance of its oversight role is key, Corman said.
Corman he expects questions about Penn State’s governance to be part of the discussion at upcoming appropriation hearings.
Various entities have inflicted “too much injury” on Penn State already, so a good working dialogue for implementing new governing procedures is important, Michaels said.
“We would like to have a dialogue with Penn State University to move forward in a constructive mannerism,” Michaels said. “To inflict more injury seems not helpful at all.”
Collegian staff writer Sam Janesch contributed to this report.
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