HARRISBURG — State senators raised questions of Penn State’s Board of Trustees Monday during a State Governance Committee hearing in which one senator equated being a trustee to being in a “social club.”
Some of the members of the senate committee, including Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-19th district, and Sen. Mike Folmer, R-48th district, raised questions about the selection of the trustees and their commitment to the board.
Dinniman expressed his frustration that trustee members were using their honorary roles to boost their resumes while also drawing parallels between the board and a “social club.”
“It is no longer nice or honorary to be on the board,” Board of Trustees chairman Keith Masser said in response.
Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-13th district, chairman of the senate committee, said the session wasn’t an investigation but rather a way to find possible structural improvements to the board.
Smucker had to remind members of the public in the room to remain silent during the session after some expressed their discontent with the board.
The session began with testimony from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who provided recommendation for governance reform at Penn State.
Depasquale’s main recommendation was the removal of the university president’s voting power on the board.
“No other public Big Ten university, or any of the 20 largest universities in the nation, give their president a vote on the board,” Depasquale said.
James Broadhurst, chairman of the Board of Trustees’ Governance and Long-Range Planning Committee, said the committee adopted the recommendation from DePasquale that will eliminate the university president’s voting right, pending approval from the general assembly in May.
DePasquale also introduced other recommendations the general assembly should take to “improve the governance structure at Penn State,” including evaluating the number of trustees that sit on the board.
“The quality of [Board of Trustees] members is much more important than the number of members,” DePasquale said.
Following Depasquale’s testimony, some current members of the board, including Masser and Ira Lubert, took the floor.
Additionally, Broadhurst highlighted some of the measures the committee has adopted and others they expect to adopt in May. Broadhurst introduced several changes to the Charter, Bylaws and Standing Orders of the University.
Broadhurst said the recommendations regarding governance reform were made from suggestions offered by the Freeh report, former Auditor General Jack Wagner’s report, Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Penn State Faculty Senate’s Special Committee.
Additionally, the waiting period for an employee to become a trustee has been extended from three years to five years, Broadhurst said.
The state senators also brought up the Right-to-Know Law and questioned how that would affect the Board of Trustees’ transparency. The members questioned whether or not the law would make it a requirement for the board to make meeting minutes open to the public.