Lawmakers seek smaller Penn State board

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HARRISBURG -- Two state senators on Wednesday called for shrinking the voting membership of Penn State University's board of trustees, a move intended to improve governance at the much-scrutinized university.

Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, cited the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal as he said the size of the board -- with 30 voting members -- presents too much opportunity for a subgroup to wield disproportionate influence.

With Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre and the Appropriations Committee chairman, at his side, Mr. Yudichak said he will introduce legislation to reduce the board to 23 voting members while prohibiting the governor -- who this year became a nonvoting member -- lieutenant governor and state row officers from serving as trustees.

The proposal echoes recommendations by former state auditor general Jack Wagner, who in a November 2012 report said lawmakers should reduce the board to 21 voting (and one nonvoting) members. The report found the Penn State board's voting membership far exceeded that of typical Big Ten universities, where boards averaged 11 voting members, and that of 69 land-grant universities, where boards averaged 16.2 voting members.

Mr. Corman, whose district includes Penn State, said he had met with board leaders about the topic. He said the Penn State board could decide itself to a change along the line of Mr. Yudichak's proposal, but that lawmakers reserved the ability to act.

"We're not trying to do a hostile takeover of the board," he said. "What we're trying to do is work with the board."

A spokeswoman for Penn State declined comment or to make available the chairman of the board but provided a statement saying the university appreciates Mr. Yudichak's interest.

"The trustees have been working for more than a year on improving the university's governance model and implementing best practices," the statement said. "Governance is an ongoing process and we look forward to working cooperatively with the General Assembly on this important issue."

She noted that the university has created new committees, established term limits for trustees and taken voting rights from the governor and university president, among other changes.

Jay Pagni, spokesman for Mr. Corbett, said the governor has supported efforts to overhaul the board.

"The governor is supportive of a size and structure of the board that is commensurate with putting students first and ensuring the needs of the university are met," he said.

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