After the election of its new chair and vice chair Friday, the Board of Trustees has found itself tasked with a host of duties as internal and external efforts for reform press on.
Following the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case and its aftermath, Penn Staters Reforming the Board of Trustees launched an endeavor to prompt changes in the board’s structure, governance and operations.
Member of the group’s executive board Helen Woodyard said the grassroots group, which is comprised of students, alumni, faculty and friends of Penn State, was founded a year ago.
Woodyard, class of 1969, said like-minded individuals convened on Facebook and turned the conversation to how the board can be more transparent, effective and responsive. She said she had considered the board’s governance until the scandal broke.
“Initially why we came together is the decision that they made to terminate Joe Paterno as coach and Graham Spanier was made without due process,” she said. “The message that they were giving any employee in the university was you can be fired at will with no [due process].”
Woodyard said the actions of the board were “hasty” and brought on “a firestorm of negative media, publicity that we are still trying to dig ourselves out of.”
She added that the board did not consult the crisis management members of the faculty before making a decision, citing “their rush to judgment and knee-jerk reaction.”
A licensed clinical social worker who has worked extensively in child sexual abuse, Woodyard said the group looked into the governance, structure, operations and rules of the boards of 63 other land grant universities in the U.S. and compared them to Penn State. After this, they met with outgoing Auditor General Jack Wagner last July and found considerable overlap with his parallel research.
Scott Kimler, Class of 1983, is also a member of the executive team PSU-ReBOT, as well as a candidate for the alumni trustees this year.
“We’ve been trying to advocate in Harrisburg with legislators demanding reform by legislative action,” he said.
PSU-ReBOT is specifically recommending a string of reforms including removing the governor and university president as voting members of the board, establishing a quorum that is equal to half of the voting member plus one and reducing the number of trustees.
Its members also are recommending reduction of trustee term lengths, as well as prompting the trustees to look at how the business and industry members of the board are selected or whether they should be elected at all.
University Park Undergraduate Association Press Secretary Kevin Horne said stripping the governor and the president of their voting rights holds practical significance, as the board is tasked with overseeing the president, thus lending itself to great conflicts of interest. He added that a minority of presidents across the nation has voting power.
Moreover, Woodyard said they also want the board to support the Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law, which she said stipulates that all university business becomes public information. Some of the meetings that they held when the Sandusky sex abuse case first broke were in violation of the law, she added.
Horne (junior-journalism) explained that, because Penn State is not completely taxpayer funded, a full disclosure is not legally obligated.
Pointing to the lack of nominations for the recent elections, Woodyard also said the board is not implementing change at critical points.
Though Student Trustee Peter Khoury said he could not speak on behalf of the board, he said comments from students, faculty, alumni and the community are appreciated.
“It is evident that they care deeply about Penn State,” Khoury said via email.
Horne said while the original idea championing the university “for the commonwealth” may have eluded Penn State, the Board of Trustees is still set up in a a way that maintains the “land grant spirit.” But, nonetheless, he said the Board of Trustees has been traditionally reluctant to change.