Pa. Rep. Conklin proposes changes for Penn State board

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Legislation calling for the removal of the Penn State University president and the governor as voting members of Penn State's board of trustees will be proposed today by state Rep. Scott Conklin, a Democrat from Centre County, in what his staff said is an effort to strengthen the university's governance and prevent future problems such as the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.

"This whole episode has been so injurious to our community," said Tor Michaels, chief of staff for Mr. Conklin. "There was no structure in place to make sure something like this never happens again."

Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach, was convicted in June of assaulting 10 boys over a 15-year period and is serving a 30-to-60-year sentence in state prison.

The legislation, based on a November report from state Auditor Jack Wagner, is expected to propose reducing the number of voting trustees on the Penn State board from 32 to 21, limiting trustee terms to nine years and including Penn State under the umbrella of the state Right To Know law.

Currently, state-related universities such as Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln are exempt from most requirements of the law.

Mr. Wagner said Monday he was "delighted" to hear of Mr. Conklin's legislation and said it will take not only legislative action but cooperation of the Penn State board of trustees to enact the changes.

On Nov. 14, Mr. Wagner released a 124-page report that included nine major findings and more than two dozen recommendations.

The auditor general's report said Penn State's governance was antiquated, particularly in the way it gave "extraordinary power" to the university president in that the president serves "multiple and conflicting" positions including university president, board trustee and secretary of the board. In addition the president serves on nearly every board committee, subcommittee and special committee of the board.

"The overriding issue is there is too much power vested in the president of Penn State University as the president, CEO and sitting voting member of the board of trustees. He is the employee and employer, and we feel that structure of governance is lopsided toward whoever the president may be," Mr. Wagner said Monday.

As for the size of the board, Mr. Wagner's report found that Penn State is the only Big Ten Conference school with more than 18 voting members. On average, others had 11 voting members. Penn State's board also was compared with the 20 largest U.S. universities, whose governing boards averaged 11.6 voting members.

Mr. Wagner, in his report, said large boards are more likely to allow governance to default to the university president.

Despite the fact that Penn State's board of trustees is larger than most other large public universities, decisions could still be made by small group of people as only 13 members were needed for a quorum, Mr. Wagner pointed out.

Mr. Michaels said the goal of the proposed legislation is "to start a dialogue with Penn State University. We feel that Jack Wagner's recommendations are a good starting point."

It appears that's exactly what may happen.

Penn State spokesman David LaTorre said in an email: "We welcome the input from Rep. Conklin. The University is currently working to assess and implement reform recommendations made in the Freeh Report. To date, 61 of 119 have been completed, including important reforms for the Board of Trustees. We are also anticipating recommendations from the Faculty Senate. We will closely review the Senate's report, as well as those provided by Auditor General Wagner, Rep. Conklin and others in the coming months."

Penn State Trustee Anthony Lubrano said he plans to attend Mr. Conklin's news conference in support of the legislation

"I see firsthand the concerns raised by the auditor general in his report and though I don't agree with everything in the report, I agree the time to act is now," Mr. Lubrano said.

Mr. Lubrano also supports requiring Penn State to comply with the state Right To Know law.

education - state

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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