Correction appended: March 7, 2013.
With the Board of Trustees elections approaching, Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship recently launched an ad campaign referencing two incumbent trustees' involvement in the November 2011 firing of Joe Paterno and the university's acceptance of the NCAA sanctions last summer.
One advertisement, which read, “Suhey & Deviney voted to fire JoePa. Now they want OUR vote. Really?” ran across the bottom of the front page of the sports section in Monday's edition of the Centre Daily Times. It references board members Paul Suhey and Stephanie Nolan Deviney, who were elected in 1998 and 2010, respectively. Both are seeking re-election.
Another ad, which ran Thursday in the Centre Daily Times, read, “Suhey & Deviney accepted Freeh & Sanctions without challenge. Three more years? Really?”
Board of Trustee members serve three years then are eligible for re-election.
Roger Williams, who has spent almost 10 years as the executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, said he could not recall an ad running like this in a Board of Trustees election, but that does not mean it has never happened before.
Steve Garban, a former board chairman who stepped down from his trustee position in July, said he does not recall “in the last 50 years” ads such as the one that ran on Monday being used trustee election.
The ad is currently only running in the Centre Daily Times, but the “extent of campaign is fully dependent on contributions of members,” PS4RS Spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt said. The ads will continue to run throughout the month of March, Schmidt said.
Schmidt said that while the ads such as the one in the Centre Daily Times are not often seen in relation to board elections, the actions of the trustees lately have been “unprecedented.”
“It is also unprecedented that the Board of Trustees fed a false narrative to the media and did not protect a university it was charged to protect,” Schmidt said.
Paul Suhey, a former Penn State football player who was first elected to the board in 1998, said in a statement provided via email that “the anger and divisive tone is unfortunate” because of the issues the university faces.
“As someone who played for Joe Paterno and was a captain, I know full well that he did a lot of tremendous things for the university and inspired generations of students and alumni. That is a legacy that will never change.” Suhey said, “But as a trustee, I have a responsibility to focus on the entire university and its many challenges in helping to educate our more than 96,000 students.”
Suhey said his focus remains on the university and “students and their families deserve the full attention of university leadership.”
Deviney, the other incumbent trustee mentioned in the ad, could not be reached for comment as of Wednesday afternoon.
With the campaign season for the Penn State Board of Trustees underway, Schmidt said PS4RS is both trying to vet the 31 candidates running for election with the goal of endorsing three and trying to educate the public on incumbent trustees.
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers referred comment to Williams and said the university had "nothing to add" in regard to the upcoming board election.
As far as the ads being viewed as negative in tone, Williams said it depends on the perspective of the person viewing them.
“Negativity is in the eye of the beholder,” Williams said. “The people that place the ad would not see it in that lens.”
Schmidt also said she wouldn’t consider the ads to be negative, but rather they stated the “undeniable” fact the two trustees voted to fire Paterno.
“I would take issue that they are being considered attack ads.” Schmidt said. “They call out the incumbents by name, but to clearly state the way the incumbents voted wouldn’t constitute an attack. It’s states a fact.”
Williams did not have a comment on the ad -- it’s up to the alumni to form their own opinions, he said.
The Penn State Alumni Association does not support, endorse, or campaign for candidates in Board of Trustee elections, Williams said.
Schmidt said PS4RS is “very much in favor” of positive change in the leadership at Penn State and that the organization has worked over the last twelve months to achieve “open dialogue” with the Board of Trustees, but the efforts they have made have fallen on “deaf ears.”
The membership of PS4RS grew by 1,500 in one week bringing the total membership to 17,000, Schmidt said.
Marianne Alexander, a trustee elected by alumni, characterized the ads featuring Suhey and Deviney as “unfair.”
“If I were Paul Suhey or Stephanie, I’d be very unhappy about these ads,” Alexander said.
An earlier version of this story misquoted PS4RS Spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt. Schmidt said the "Board of Trustees fed a false narrative to the media." The above article reflects the correct information. The Daily Collegian apologizes for this error.