Pa. auditor general criticizes secrecy surrounding selection of new Penn State president


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All Penn State University trustees should have "all the information they need," including finalists' names, well before being asked to vote on the school's next president, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday.

"It's just good governance to clue your board in as to what's going on," he said.

He spoke as it remained unclear from Penn State how many days in advance -- if any -- the leadership of its board intended to give rank-and-file board members to familiarize themselves with and to vet finalists before a special meeting was called for today to vote.

The special session that had been scheduled for today was postponed indefinitely on Wednesday, a day after it had been announced. Trustees instead are to meet in a private session from 8:30 to 10 a.m. today in the Nittany Lion Inn on Penn State's University Park campus.

Neither board Chairman Keith Masser nor Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers responded Thursday to inquiries asking how far in advance trustees should be allowed to know who the finalists are and evaluate them.

There have been ongoing criticisms about information flow from and within the board at Penn State.

Abrupt postponement of a presidential vote sometimes occurs when the top pick suddenly drops out. If that happened at Penn State, its board would face the dicey choice of offering the job to its next pick or reopening the nearly yearlong search, potentially extending it for months.

In explaining the delay, Ms. Powers on Wednesday said only that "the board has slowed the process for more thoughtful and careful deliberation."

Mr. DePasquale said he does not know the circumstances, but reading between the lines, "it seems pretty clear that not all of the board members had all of the information about what was going on."

As a public university, Penn State receives millions in taxpayer dollars, he said, but institutions, public or private, have a responsibility to bring their boards fully into decision-making.

Mr. DePasquale said he recognizes that Penn State believes it must keep the process confidential to protect top prospects. And he knows the search's selection council includes a subset of the board.

But, he said, all members need to be involved in a decision of such importance "to ensure ... the best candidate for that university is picked."

He was reluctant to say how many days in advance of a vote such deliberations should start. But noting the 32 trustees are part-time members with outside jobs and travel schedules, he added, "To be asked to make that decision in 24 hours is asking a lot."

When the State System of Higher Education conducted its latest chancellor search, it broke with its practice of announcing finalists and conducted the search under an order of confidentiality. Nevertheless, the entire board of governors participated in closed-door interviews with the finalists two weeks before the board voted to hire Frank Brogan, system spokesman Kenn Marshall said.

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.


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