Alumni choice of PSU trustees reflects discontent

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Not long after a small crowd of alumni cheered the Penn State University board of trustees election results at the group's meeting Friday, newly elected trustee Barbara Doran was asked what this could really mean, whether the three like-minded new additions to the board could shift the conversation back to issues related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

"We'll be able to bring in and represent the voices that we all have heard," said Ms. Doran, "and we've heard them loud and clear."

Ms. Doran, Edward "Ted" Brown III and William Oldsey won the election for alumni trustees. They replace Paul Suhey and Stephanie Deviney, who was the board's vice chair. Steve Garban vacated his seat in July.

The results illustrated that a significant segment of alumni is still not happy with a board that they believe acted unfairly and incompetently in its handling of the Sandusky scandal, particularly the firing of former football coach Joe Paterno and the Freeh report, which was critical of Penn State leaders' handling of Sandusky, a former assistant football coach now imprisoned for sexually abusing children.

The election process, which stretched through this spring, had been contentious, replete with an attack ad against Ms. Deviney and Mr. Suhey and endorsements from influential members of the Penn State community for the three winners. Mr. Oldsey, an educational publishing consultant and partner in Atlas Advisors, said on Friday that, "this is not an election for the faint of heart."

Mr. Suhey, a former Penn State football player who had been on the 32-member board for 15 years, in particular received criticism. In March, a group of 11 former Penn State football players, including Franco Harris and Todd Blackledge, denounced Mr. Suhey. In April, David Paterno, the son of Joe Paterno, released a letter to the group Penn Staters For Responsible Stewardship, saying, "we are not close to Paul Suhey and do not endorse him."

In a statement handed out to the media as the election results were announced, Mr. Suhey said, "Penn State was a great institution when my grandfather and father were here; it was a great institution when I was here; and it is a great institution today. I want to offer my congratulations to the newly elected alumni trustees."

The winners were endorsed by the Penn Staters For Responsible Stewardship (PS4RS), Mr. Harris and the Paterno family. Maribel Schmidt, the spokeswoman for PS4RS, said the alumni election "was a referendum on Penn State leadership or the lack thereof" and shows "we're not the fringe group we've previously been characterized as being."

In addition to advocating for restructuring the board's composition, Ms. Doran said one of her main priorities as a trustee would be trying to get the board to formally distance Penn State from the Freeh report. Mr. Brown, president, owner and CEO of the disaster recovery planning firm KETCH Consulting, echoed this sentiment, saying he also intended to use his expertise in crisis communications to aid the board.

Outspoken trustee Anthony Lubrano, who was elected last year, discussed the possibility of an alumni trustee caucus, in which all nine of the alumni-elected members could talk about priorities and issue a time line for proposed ideas.

In other news, trustees approved structural and oversight changes on Friday, originally proposed in March, including making the governor and university president non-voting members on the board, extending the waiting period for university employees to become board members from three years to five years, adding a section describing the process for removal of a trustee should it be necessary and strengthening its conflict of interest policy.

The agricultural societies elected Keith Eckel and Abraham Harpster as trustees. Mr. Eckel has been on the board since 2001. The business and industry societies elected Richard Dandrea and Karen Peetz, who has been on the board since 2010.

education - mobilehome - breaking - state

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com. Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com. First Published May 3, 2013 3:00 PM


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