Democratic state Senator John Yudichak has proposed a reform to the Penn State Board of Trustees’ structure that, according to him, would make it “more inclusive, engaged and accountable.”
The plan, known as the Pennsylvania State University Commonwealth Act (Senate Bill 800), was introduced in Harrisburg on Wednesday.
“Under the current leadership of the Board of Trustees, the university has walked further and further away from its historic partnership with Pennsylvania acting more like a private institution than one of the Commonwealth’s state-related universities,” Yudichak said on his website.
The bill would keep the voting membership of the board at 36 members, but change the make-up of who the members are.
The Pennsylvania Governor, the Secretary of Education and Secretary of Agriculture would become non-voting, ex-officio members of the board — a change from the current board on which the Pennsylvania Governor and his Secretary of Policy and Planning are non-voting members, and the Secretary of Education, Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources are voting members.
The board would also consist of 14 Commonwealth members — six appointed by the Governor, four appointed by the President pro temp ore of the Senate and four by the Speaker of the House — 10 at-large trustees appointed by a trustee selection committee and 12 alumni-elected trustees.
Currently, six board members are appointed by the Governor, but nine are elected by alumni, six are elected by organized agricultural societies in the Commonwealth and six are elected by the Board of Trustees representing business and industry endeavors. In addition, the board consists of one student board member, one academic board member, the past president of the Penn State Alumni Association and three at-large board members.
“The current majority of the Board of Trustees has used the rhetoric of board reform as a blunt tool to exclude open, deliberative debate on the board and failed to responsibility engage the commonwealth in it’s discussions,” Yudichak said. “Any trustee reform effort must pivot on openness, accountability and respect for the nearly 160 year partnership between the commonwealth and Penn State University.”
According to his website, the reform would create a board similar to the governing configuration at the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University.
The similar governing structures are in order “to establish a more uniform standard for university governance that moves the Penn State board away from our insulated, opaque system of governance that hampered its operations and divided the Penn State community over the past several years,” Yudichak said.
However, the board already underwent changes to its structure last November, when it voted to increase from 32 seats with 30 voting positions to the current 38 seats with 36 voting positions.
"The board devoted well more than a year to working with a nationally recognized governance expert, conducted benchmarking and deliberated on various changes to its governance structure,” Penn State spokesperson Reidar Jensen said via email. "The board voted overwhelmingly to approve a new structure that it believes will serve the interests of the university into the future."
At the time, Yudichak called the decision a move in the wrong direction and one “not about good governance,” even arguing that it broke state law.