Penn State trustees discuss downsizing the board

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s board of trustees, long a topic for change by board members and lawmakers, on Friday discussed restructuring its size and composition, and plans to choose a proposal in September.

Three board members put forth proposals in a meeting of the committee on governance and long-range planning, as did a representative for state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne. The three trustee plans share commonalities of wanting a student-elected student trustee and of removing the secretaries of the state departments of Agriculture, Education, and Conservation and Natural Resources. The battle over the number of alumni trustees could become contentious, though, with influential business trustees and agriculture trustees endorsing a plan to eliminate three of the alumni seats.

The board has 30 voting members: six gubernatorial appointees, six business and industry trustees, six agriculture trustees, nine alumni trustees and the secretaries of agriculture, education, and conservation and natural resources. Here’s a quick explanation of the different restructuring plans:

Plan A (which board chairman Keith Masser proposed) would reduce the board to 27 voting members. The three state secretaries would no longer have votes, and alumni trustees would be reduced to six. A student trustee, alumni association trustee and faculty trustee would be added. Business, agriculture and gubernatorial trustees would remain.

Plan B (which alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano proposed) would reduce the board to 27 voting members. Business, alumni and agriculture trustees would stay the same. Gubernatorial appointees would be reduced to five. A student trustee would be added. State secretaries would be removed.

Plan C (which alumni trustee Barbara Doran proposed) would reduce the board to 18 voting members. Alumni trustees would be reduced to seven. Gubernatorial appointees would be reduced to two. Agriculture and business trustees would be removed. The board would appoint eight at-large trustees, and a student trustee would be added.

Although the board reached consensus on the Pennsylvania secretaries and student trustees, the rest of the composition remains open for debate, particularly concerning alumni trustees.

Since the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal broke, nine new alumni trustees have been elected, riding a wave of board distrust after it fired Joe Paterno and commissioned the Freeh Report.

Tensions regularly arise between the alumni trustees and the business and agricultural trustees. Friday was no exception.

Richard Dandrea, a business and industry trustee, explained Plan A’s choice to cut three alumni trustees and none from business or agriculture by saying the alumni trustees had too much influence proportionally, particularly compared with peer institutions.

He said only three of the 36 university boards that Penn State studied had alumni trustees. With nine, Penn State’s alumni trustees comprise nearly one-third of the board.

“It’s not draconian,” Mr. Dandrea said. “It’s not radical. It’s a moderate change to the composition of the board.”

Mr. Dandrea accused the alumni trustees of violating confidentiality agreements and pursuing an agenda at odds with the board.

Mr. Lubrano, an alumni trustee, called it insulting that people would think the nine alumni trustees have been trying to harm the university.

“We could sit here and go tit for tat in a public forum, and if we want to, let’s do it,” he said to Mr. Dandrea.

That discussion, at least publicly, won’t come for a month. A delay until September was another point of trustee consensus.

All eight members of the committee wanted to wait before making a decision.

Mark Dent:, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05

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